To be asked to speak of education in 2016 seems to be asked to speak of crisis: student loan debt, budget cuts, evisceration of arts education from public schools, mass shootings, trigger warnings (the linguistic slippage here is unnerving), ideological take over of textbooks, skewered assessments, teacher layoffs, exploding tuition costs, adjunct faculty on food stamps, open carry in classrooms, free speech violations, micro-aggressions, ballooning administrative costs, deflated student performance, for profit fraud, Trump University.
It is a landscape of which we should all be wary and weary. Yet we teach. It is the core endeavor within the larger discipline of education – its foundation – often difficult to discern, not only in the landscape above, but also in the institutions of learning themselves, where other activities might seem more impressive or urgent. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney note in The Undercommons:
‘But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books,
and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching.
Before the research post with no teaching, before the graduate students
to mark the exams, before the string of sabbaticals, before the
permanent reduction in teaching load, the appointment to run the
Center, the consignment of pedagogy to a discipline called education,
before the course designed to be a new book, teaching happened.’
While education, with it setbacks, might be the field on which we are asked to play, teaching and learning are the stakes. More crucial than ever in an age of sound bytes and updates, and despite the increasing demands made upon the task, teaching is a space of thinking and learning, a two directional human endeavor, as all good teachers know. When I think of the accomplishments of ArtCenter over 85 years, or Designmatters over 15, it is, in the end, the teaching that happened, that matters.
Jane McFadden is Associate Professor and Chair, Humanities & Sciences at ArtCenter College of Design
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