If you need to see the tangible direct results of your effort, education is probably not for you. Think about something transformative that you learned. The first time you heard the message did you stop, pause in wonderment, and immediately and gratefully thank the person who shared that with you? Not me.
The first time I heard the message that rape was not a women’s issue but a men’s issue, I was furious and let the guy (Troy Headrick) know that I thought his message was problematic, sexist against men, and creating fear where fear need not exist. But I never forgot that message, at least in part because I was so angry. Each time I heard the story of someone in my life who had been sexually assaulted, I came back to that message – and then dismissed it again. It was years later when I was working in Greek Life and heard nine women in one week share their stories of being sexually assaulted that things shifted for me. I was also learning about my White privilege and was beginning to see the structural and systemic aspects of oppression. I called Troy and brought him to campus. At the end of his visit he handed over the presentation (literally disks) and told me that he didn’t want to travel and speak as much so that he could spend more time with his two daughters. I did my first campus visit in 2000 and have spoken at over 60 campuses on the topic since then. The message, theory, examples, and references have evolved since then but the core message that I continue to share is still that message that I argued with as a sophomore in college.
I’m fortunate enough to have stayed in contract with Troy and he is aware of the difference he made in my understanding, despite my initial reaction. But most people are not that fortunate.
When we hear messages that truly shift our entire world view we rarely meet them with gratitude and appreciation. Usually, we meet with them with resistance. We dismiss, argue, ignore, or worse. It often takes hearing the message again and again, years of maturity, reflection, personal discovery, other learning – or in my case all of the above.
By the time the message really connects and is internalized the person who first got us started on that journey is nowhere to be found.
As educators we often see the dissonance and resistance, but rarely do we get to observe the transformation and appreciation. If you do get to see this, savor it and let it wash over you. This is rare.
Education is an act of faith. We must believe that we are making a difference, even when we don’t see it, even when what we see is resistance and the opposite of what we may hope for from our efforts. We have to have faith and educate in a manner that will help that transformation come about even when we won’t see it and even when we will most likely not get the credit.
And when the faith gets shaken, turn to the folder/box/wall of notes from those who care. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss the notes, or toss them out during an office move, but in a moment of need the notes restore faith.