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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Fear, deceit, and surveillance

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Anne Magnan Park
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“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” We are all too familiar with this proverb. But I tell you what, Indiana, something teachers are truly passionate about and can do really well is – guess what ? – teach! What I’d like to argue here is that teaching should be left to the experts, the teachers themselves, and I don’t mean this in a cocky way at all. I truly don’t. Along with student teaching evaluations for each course, we, university professors, also submit annual reports documenting our teaching philosophy and practices, which are in turn sent into a humbling and motivating feedback loop of critique and enhancement. We seek out and receive all kinds of suggestions all the time, from peers inside and outside of our own institutions, centers for excellence in teaching housed on our campuses, administrators, and politicians. We listen and implement changes based on this feedback. We really do. Our understanding deepens. We keep an open mind. We engage respectfully. We ask questions. We examine the answers we are given. We draw conclusions. And when we do, we owe it to our students to be guided by the result of our analyses and our own conscience, which we often don’t share with our students because, well, that’s up to them to draw their own conclusions.

Indiana, I am truly distraught by the political pressure imposed on us educators to dispose of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) initiatives under the guise of promoting “intellectual diversity.” Promoting diversity by eliminating diversity is a confounding paradox. Unless, of course, one promotes their conservative idea of diversity by eliminating pluralism. The impetus for these deceitful and punitive procedures contradicts and ignores the facts compiled by the Indiana Campus Free Speech Report from 2023 (Indiana Commission of Higher Education) which found that 78.1% of the 18,559 students who responded to the survey declared that they “can express their opinions freely.” 75.4% further stated that “free speech is highly valued at [their] university.” In other words, there is no actual crisis on our campuses where intellectual diversity is being actively eroded.

I am also particularly disturbed by the unfounded push to institute on our campuses a heightened culture of surveillance, distrust, intimidation, and control where students and employees are encouraged to report their grievances to the administration, thereby intensifying mechanisms that are already in place on all campuses. Do we want our students to learn to engage with one another through spirited but informed and respectful debates, or would we rather have them tell on one another and their professors? Classrooms are learning communities* which operate on the notion of trust. Without trust, in the classroom and the institution at large, there is no learning. Without trust there is no curiosity, critical insights, delight – yes, delight – compassion, generosity, nor civility. By undermining the power of open dialogue, we break the promise of democracy. We fail our communities by failing to find common ground and shared aspirations within ideological diversity. A prejudicial culture of surveillance, deceit, and censorship not only controls the place students hold as individuals in a learning community, it also taints the knowledge they create by dangerously limiting their imaginations as the makers of the future of our society. But perhaps, this is what these recent senate bills are designed to do. Trust and informed, respectful conversations must remain at the heart of classroom interactions. There are very few other spaces outside of the university classroom where these vital civil conversations are allowed to happen, so let’s ensure they continue to flourish.

As a professor, I offer my students what I call a pedagogy of impermanence, which, as its name indicates, evolves constantly. This pedagogical approach centers on the circumstances of insight, growth, and transformation through the process of unlearning. I arrived at this practice after teaching French literature to first and second generation junior high school and vocational school immigrant students from northern Africa in a France still very much reluctant and ambivalent about reckoning with its colonial past. I learned then that teaching is highly contextual and that non-inclusive, non-transformative learning leads to indoctrination, perpetual marginalization, discrimination, and social division. What I also learned is that a country that is unwilling to face the layers of its violent past, holds everyone – oppressors, oppressed, and their descendants – hostage to perpetual deceit, censorship, and pain. What I have learned is that the State demands that education be complicit to its grand-scale deceit. Indiana, let’s not stand for a culture of fear, surveillance, and deceit and let’s move instead toward an open-minded community based on trust, honesty, and partnerships.

For Michiana Chronicles and academic freedom, this is Anne Magnan-Park.

PS: This commentary is dedicated to my mother, Geneviève Magnan – a school principal and teacher in rural Provence (France) – who would celebrate her 84th printemps today. It is also dedicated to Aaron H. J. Magnan-Park, a brilliant pedagogue, alongside whom I have taught and learned for the past thirty years.

*I borrow “learning community” from bell hooks’ Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.

Music: “What Did You Learn in School Today?” by Tom Paxton sung by Pete Seeger

Anne is a literary translator focusing on Indigenous literatures of the Pacific. She has been writing for Michiana Chronicles since 2019.