Academic journal article English Education

Finding Common Ground: Reasonable Compromise, Gray Areas, and Telling It Slant

Academic journal article English Education

Finding Common Ground: Reasonable Compromise, Gray Areas, and Telling It Slant

Article excerpt

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. This maxim, used liberally in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s writing and speeches, came to mind when Michelle Zoss presented sj Miller and me with her first sketch of the concept map that now graces the cover of this journal. MLK's presence is still palpable where Michelle abides in Atlanta, and even though she wasn't consciously thinking of him when she designed the map, my reader-response interpretation envisions him guiding her pen in the arc that connects Assessment to Social Justice. The arc is adorned with three verb phrases to suggest the action sj and l feel will be necessary to effect a just environment for English teacher education: having a voice in policy, combating1 neoliberalism, and speaking truth to power. I'd like to tender my thoughts on this interrelated trinity in this editorial in a manner that I hope is consistent with MLK's teachings.

Before I begin, a little background that I found edifying on the maxim: The metaphor is attributed to Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker (1853), whose published sermons include the following passage from "Of Justice and the Conscience":

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble. (pp. 84-85)

Parker was prophetic; America did indeed tremble with cannon fire not 10 years later. Though the plight of English teachers and teacher educators who feel voiceless and powerless in our current neoliberal context doesn't compare to the issues of Parker's day, I cling to his confidence that things refuse to be mismanaged long. However, nearly 15 years of mismanagement-if I (somewhat arbitrarily) mark NCLB's passage as the rising action of the high-stakes testing and accountability era that has been the blight of many students' and teachers' educational experience-is a long time. It's a lifetime for young people who have grown up in the era and thus, like caged birds, sing "of things unknown/but longed for still" (Angelou, 1983). I wonder, then, what might precipitate America's trembling over the issues that matter to readers of English Education, and how we might best ready ourselves for the battle? Is it possible-and if so, desirable-to eschew warfare altogether through civil compromise, perhaps by identifying common ground with people who could be something other than the enemy after all?

The 2015 AERA Annual Meeting in Chicago provided editorial fodder for sj and my inaugural issue, and the feeding continues for this one. I was drawn to a panel of august personages whose session was titled "Justice Requires Informed Action: Fighting Anti-intellectualism with Educational Research" (Alexander, 2015). Typically I just quietly absorb the wisdom of such charismatic speakers, maybe because there's still a little of the starstruck graduate student in me, or maybe because my synapses are frustratingly slow when it comes to distilling and articulating my thoughts into artful sound bites. But I caught myself with a furrowed brow a couple of times during the session, which I'll attempt to convey in what follows (the italics coincide with the furrows). Bear in mind that I'm relying on jotted notes for the content, except quoted material, which I captured verbatim. But first, a quick definition of neoliberalism from the Collins English Dictionary for readers who haven't had the benefit of an enlightening conversation with Jory Brass, whom I consider to be our field's expert on such matters (see Brass, 2014): A modern politico-economic theory favouring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditures on social services, etc. …

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