Don't Be Safe
I confess, I am an academic.
I have a nice, cozy office with three screens for my computer. I have a phone line, a desk, bookshelves, and file cabinet. It is my camouflage.
You see, I am a punk rock academic.
I wasn’t always. This is a new me. This is a place where I have found myself after finding out I got tenure and my wife dying. They happened within days of each other. I was elated and broken. But, that is another story.
For a long time in my life, prior to that week, I played life safe. I was the dutiful husband, doting father, all of the cliché things that define an idyllic middle America. Yes, there were dark times and tribulations, but on the surface, it was a normal life. And, I made it look that way. Because I played it safe, I stagnated. Intellectually. Personally. Socially. Sexually. Academically. And all of the other -ly things in life.
Then, it all became clear to me. I was not living authentically. I was not being me. I was being safe. I was allowing the society, norms, opinions, administrators, colleagues control who I was and what I was doing.
In that moment, my worldview and who I was, was transformed. I said to myself, not, “What a wonderful world, but, fuck that.”
That is why I am writing today. Stop playing it safe.
It is fascinating to me that we, as academics, live in profession that clings to the notion of intellectual freedom (which is a myth). That is bullshit. We don’t have intellectual freedom. Not until we are full professors with tenure. And how-the-fuck many of those are there?
As academics, we live in a constant state of fear. We are afraid we won’t get promoted. We are afraid we won’t get tenure. We are afraid of student evals, administrators, our reputation, and, in reality, the opinion of our peers. And so, we play it safe. And what has safe gotten us?
As a teacher educator, here is what is has gotten us. I would say our education system is stagnant. We keep changing the paint. What we are doing is the same, it just looks a little different. Cleaner. Prettier. And there we remain.
As academics, we are pigeon-holed into a narrow research agenda. Looking at one thing. Over and over. Rotating it a few degrees and looking again.
What is dead? Innovation. Creativity. Intellectual freedom. We are paralyzed.
The BIG question? What can we do?
In the movie, “Pump Up the Volume,” the protagonist/antagonist extraordinaire says the following on his pirate radio show, “Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks.”
That is punk rock. This is the mindset we need.
No, I am not espousing violence. I am espousing not being safe in our profession. We are tied down by traditions. We are muted by promotion and tenure. We are forced to think narrowly and safely. Intellectual freedom my ass.
We need to step forward and change the rules. We need to change the traditions. We need to move into the 21st century.
Don’t be safe.
Try something new.
Create a zine. Create a YouTube channel. Create a podcast. Do radical art. Become a part of a new conversation.
I have said this before, but I will say it again. Stop thinking outside the box. Create a new box. Fuck that. Use different shapes.
Just, don’t be safe.
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Lifetime educator with a need for changing the system, because it is fucked.