“So the help I need here is how to communicate meaning behind what we do without that broad-scale scientific evidence. Because what we do HAS meaning. Thinking small DOES matter. The communication of what matters is what’s hard, for me.”
~ Chuck Pearson
I had planned to write a different paper. I had wanted to write a different paper, the one that will likely feed right into my dissertation. I even started writing it, but then I suddenly felt like a fraud, observing my co-researchers, imposing my judgement on them. By the second page I was writing a paper that I would be ashamed to share with them, one imagining that I alone had the answers to charting our path forward in the lenses of curriculum theory that I chose for them, imposed on them. So I stopped writing that paper. Trying to clear my head, I returned to a collaborative document that I’d opened with another group of people in the hopes of proposing a book chapter. What I found surprised me. Over six pages of thoughts from five different contributors across two different examples of “open spaces” in terms of time, space, and the people involved.
The first example was the use of a new social media platform called Mastodon. Although the best well-known analogous tool would be Twitter, Mastodon has a number of attributes that also set it apart: The software is open source, non-commercial, it uses a federated rather than single instance model, many early contributions to develop were made by the transgender community, its strong and clear policies are moderated and enforced by humans, it offers a range of post-level privacy settings, it allows posts of up to 500 characters, and it is relatively small having grown from 10,000 users in November 2016 to about one million users by July 2017.
The second example was the Young Writers project, which started 11 years ago. “Its’ primary community is made up of teens who feel isolated (what teen doesn’t?)” (Geoff). In the first eight years, it only published work in a series of Vermont newspapers, radio broadcasts and websites. They then developed the site http://thevoice.youngwritersproject.org, a digital monthly publication that, for example, in April 2016 featured the work of a 16-year-old girl living in Sri Lanka. They have had nearly 40,000 users on the site who have responded to writing prompts and participated in special projects and online workshops.
Despite their differences, the themes shared were remarkably similar: the importance of building relationships and developing a sense of responsibility for the space, the need to take steps to protect users, the desire for a space to take creative and empathetic risks, the benefits of increased inclusion while acknowledging diverse groups “who are missing,” the empowerment that comes from thinking at a small or human scale, and the value of recognizing that something of value is happening without necessarily being able to name it.
That brings us to an interesting starting point, the point where we know (or think we know) something of value is happening and that the communication of what exactly “it” is is hard. There is a part of me that wants to walk away simply knowing good work is going on and that lives are changing, that part of me that fears that shining too bright a light can change the things that are quietly working just fine on their own. Yet another part of me is increasingly seeing the importance of noticing and curating and sharing the tiny glimpses of hope and goodness; not bringing these practices into the light and exploring them thoroughly and thoughtfully is an act of silence that ensures further entrenchment of the status quo.
To be continued…