Before I dig into the conditions that I think will need to frame our future in small and big ways, I want to take a little side trip into some things that I don't explicitly mention when I'm talking about radical ideas about grading, for example. These ideas nonetheless frame the decisions I make on a daily basis and underpin my thoughts about the conditions that count and what I think we need to do as we move ahead in a post-pandemic world*. I think about what I said during this presentation on grading, for example, and the things that I didn't say.
*I mean, whatever. I know it’ll never be post-pandemic, but I think in shorthand.
I emphasized that my approach to the classroom is a whole package, for example: Relationships and power orientation plus how those things flow through (and flow from) course design, structural support, institutional dynamics, and broader formative contexts.
But what I am thinking these days is that my daily decisions are also about a way of being in the world. I reflect on how I use power when I have it in my own life, whether as a teacher, a leader, or even a parent; how every opportunity to share power always results in positive outcomes; and that the decision making for sharing power is largely driven by the demands of the situation.
It’s impossible to say, “use this technique in every situation” because context matters. For example, we don't want power sharing in life and death situations; we want strong hierarchy and directives for the ease of decision-making.
But in situations where we want sustained organizational change, for example, or where we want growth and learning, making space for people to flex their agency to the level of situational appropriateness is always the right thing to do, in my mind.
Some people are comfortable with that idea. Some people are not comfortable with that idea for any number of reasons that could relate to variables in brain stuff, religious stuff, cultural norm stuff, all kinds of stuff. And that's what leads me to think that power sharing is not just about what we do but also about who we are and how we are in the world.
Our notions about power inform our thinking around our political ideas (create our thinking, I might suggest). It informs our thinking around how we approach leadership in our jobs. It informs how we approach parenting. It informs any of our interactions with others. Creates, maybe, across the board. I don’t know.
An example: Allison’s (2017) investigation of a women’s professional soccer organization. In part, the analysis revealed the inherently gendered nature of the organization (not surprising; most orgs operate this way by default unless they examine those dynamics critically, and even then it's not easy to disentangle the dynamics) specifically through the tension between women’s grassroots marketing efforts in the org (successful, as it turns out!) and the male leaders’ discounting of their women colleagues’ work.
Further, “the expectation of women’s lower competence and leadership ability to men undergirded a routine enactment of paternalism on the part of men to manage and oversee women’s labor . . . women were given sole responsibility for cleaning and other menial tasks. Even in an organization dedicated to further the careers of women athletes in soccer, sport was nevertheless understood as a business best run and managed by men . . . As a result, women were less able to direct work practices and experienced less autonomy in their work than did men” (p. 82).
Who is presented as having authority in our culture? Agency? How do we use power when we have it? The answers to these questions for us individually inform how we enact environments for ourselves and create environments for others when we are occupying spaces of authority.
These answers also inform our thinking on matters related to rectifying the most troubling elements of our culture, the baked-in racism and sexism that continue to prevent the achievement of democratic aims on a broader level and compromise our organizations at the mid-level.
This whole line of thinking is central to my sorting out how to help people enact what I think are the conditions that count because I’m not yet convinced that healthier power orientations can be completely learned. I’m convinced some of them are simply at odds with the needs and preferences of people who require a clear hierarchy, closure, and clarity.
I’m also convinced that my view of what needs to happen is at odds with the values of the culture in which our organizations and classrooms function, and I don’t know if I can get around that. I think at the end of it, I’ll need to say that this is a very difficult road to walk. It’s easier, faster, clearer, and smoother to continue operating as we currently are. The status quo is such for a reason.
And my way is messy, inefficient, and irrational.
Just like humans.