Part 1 – The Fish
One of my favorite Black Studies scholars, Dr. Jared Ball, often references the foundational media studies scholar Marshal McLuhan. McLuhan has a line that goes something like, “we don’t know who discovered the water, but we know it wasn’t the fish because an all pervasive environment is beyond perception.” Jared loves this line because it gets at the core of our modern media environment. In this metaphor, we – the people – are fish, and media becomes the water. We swim in the water all day without questioning its toxicity, its ability to sustain us, or its relationship to our broader ecosystem. Sometimes fish swim in highly polluted water. Do they know it’s polluted? Of course they see some other fish dying around them, but do they know it’s because of the toxicity of the water?
The toxicity doesn’t only cause death. Sometimes it causes fish to mutate. Sometimes they can’t procreate. Can it ironically make some fish smarter? I imagine some fish swim in search of another environment where the water is less murky, easier to breathe in, and feels good in their bodies. The first part of my learning journey was a search for this kind of environment. The problem for the fish is figuring out where to go. How can they tell what water is less toxic? I would imagine that they somehow communicate with each other, saying, “Hey! It’s easier to breathe in this direction!” – probably away from the humans.
My learning journey first took me to a cabin with less toxicity. I was surrounded by other fish in search of the same water I needed. Together we analyzed the water. We didn’t discover it, but we could tell if it was better for our bodies, and it was.
Hosting a horizontal leadership retreat was a necessary first step in my journey. The best way to figure out where you are is to ask the people around you. Together, we became smarter about the work that is necessary and strategized ways to tell the other fish that we found cleaner water.
Part 2 – The Worm
Do you ever think about worms? I never do. Well, I guess “never” isn’t accurate since I’m writing about them now. Whatever. I don’t usually think about worms. So why did they come to mind? I have been in multiple spaces with others where we are asking the question, “What are we?” This question has generatively pestered Education for Liberation Minnesota since our inception. It now itches at the developing skin of a new national Ethnic Studies entity I am part of forming. “What are we?” is a fun question to have to confront. It’s a relational question – a question about relationships between people and relationships to the environment, both social and natural. Worms know the ground better than any other species, I think. They move along the terrain and get their nutrition from the soil. I have continued to question more deeply the terrain on which I travel and what nourishes me.
On my first of several writing retreats this year I have begun to write a critique of how educational research recreates race as a social construct. What I am coming to see is that the axiom that is used in the soil that has nourished me is that “racism is bad, but race is just a benign social construct.” I am approaching this writing with the spirit of a worm because I need to move slowly and delicately through this precarious terrain. Too many people I care about are wedded to this problematic axiom.
Part 3 – The Eagle
As an educational leader I am required to know the landscape - to see through the eyes of the eagle. One of my learning goals is to effectively communicate my vision to others. I am heading to attend a three day retreat for national leaders in educational research. I feel as though my communication skills are sound for a particular audience. What I am coming to know is that I must be able to hear others who are not in this core audience. I have been in conversation with community members who desire a different form of justice than I know how to communicate. Our unjust world turns on multiple axes of disadvantage. Communication is always asymmetrical. I need to be able to tilt in multiple directions to be able to understand what is being said to me about the spaces where eagles don’t fly.