I just came back from (driving, solo, with the two kids) from Montreal. We spent every day at the same public pool where I grew up. The kids played in the shallow end while a water polo game took place, with coaches yelling the same things in the same way they did when I started playing, and then started coaching. Groups of tweens followed one or two of the lifeguards like puppy dogs, like I had done. Another lifeguard was followed by the younger kids, like I had been followed. Once the water polo game was over, a synchro practice broke out, with the coaches bellowing exasperatedly at the swimmers, banging the counts and begging them to keep count, keep time, remember the moves.
That pool for me, for a large part of my life, was my favorite public place. I was there when it opened; I carried the scissors to the mayor for the ribbon cutting at the grand opening. I spent my entire summers there; I would arrive early in the morning and stay until closing, sometimes past closing. It was, above any other place, where I felt like I belonged.
But pools are not the welcoming public spaces for everyone.
Next week, I’ll have been married for ten years. I’ve never stuck with anything this long, except for swimming.
We got married in a National Park in Canada, a public place, where we could invite whoever we wanted (small circle of friends) and get married and then go out for pizza. It was, quite honestly, the wedding of my dreams. A justice of the peace married us, and we signed our papers, filed the paperwork, and then traveled together to the United States to start our lives together.
Marriage, for me, was easy. Or rather, getting married, for me, was easy. Getting married, for others, is more difficult.
And I had and still have a choice about how public my marriage is. The ceremony itself was in a public space, but attended by a select few. My marriage is public knowledge, but the relationship is largely a private one, one that I have, that we have managed to control, or at least mediate. There is still privacy. My marriage is not for public consumption, spectacle.
But its very existence influences my other public and quasi-public interactions. It matters. It has mattered in my career. It has mattered in many other ways as well.
Over my career, classrooms – both traditional and virtual – have become contested spaces. What are these spaces, particularly at public institutions, to be considered? What are the walls, the barriers, between the classrooms, between the students and their peers, the administrators, their parents, other faculty, supposed to represent, to accomplish? We speak more of open classrooms, but can they ever really, truly be an open space for learning to take place?
Now, I consult daily with faculty on these issues: what takes place inside versus outside the classroom, what takes place inside and outside of the confines of an LMS. How do places like libraries or residence halls or commons fit? How do spaces on social media fit? There are paradoxes of the overlap and confluence of these spaces; I myself was able to blog publicly about what I did in my classroom while it remain essentially unknown and private at my own institution.
We don’t control what our students say about us and our classes and their classmates on platforms. This upsets the traditional hierarchies, makes us (rightfully) nervous about where these bits of commentary will end up, how they will be used. Our knowledge and expertise and experience and inexperience mixed with their knowledge and experience and inexperience. And there are more of them then there are of us.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think it’s a “teachable moment” for all of us. Publicly and privately. Privately, many students and faculty have suffered because of the so-called private nature of teaching. Publicly, as it gets exposed, the walls try to become harder, but instead seem to get brittle in the stress and strain, ready to shatter, to crumble. And then what?
I have been blogging for five years, in various public spaces, and more closed spaces. There are days where this space, and the other spaces where I live so publicly, have become both more public than I can handle and less public than I’d like them to be.
I have been vulnerable, very vulnerable, in these public spaces and I have been lucky that this vulnerability has been accepted. But it is not luck, it is privilege.
I don’t swim anymore, and I have lost the desire to swim. But if I ever want to swim again, I know I can walk into a pool with suit and goggles and swim.
I am still married and choose everyday with my partner to remain so. But I could change my mind, and I could end the marriage; I don’t want to, but I could. And I could remarry someone else or the same person.
I don’t teach anymore, not in the same ways I used to. But the classroom is always open to me, and that I can have larger conversations around the place and space of a classroom, from individual teachers to institutional-level talks, I am in a place to help guide change.
I don’t blog as much anymore. It’s been an exhausting year, and an ever more exhausting summer. There is so much to hold in my head, so many layers that words often fail me in ways that they never did before. Blogging got hard. But this space is here, and it is still a public, my public, this public space.
For all of this, I am grateful. But my public, these publics they are not universally our public spaces. And it is this, ultimately, the problem.
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