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Writing Networks for Social Justice

Scene Report —

Teacher-Scholar-Activist: Making a Scene

We established Teacher-Scholar-Activist after years of seeing so much in the realm of public policy we found deeply troubling. Economic inequality in the United States has reached historic highs (Atkinson; Duncan and Murnane; Piketty). Books warn of the threat these disparities pose to the health of our democracy (Acemoglu and Robinson; Goldin and Katz; Mayer Dark Money; Mayer "Reclusive"; Reich; Stiglitz). States have disinvested from postsecondary education and implemented ill-conceived reforms across all educational sectors (Darling-Hammond; Ravitch; Ripley; Tucker). Interventionist legislatures have undercut the disciplinary and professional expertise of teachers (Hassel et al.; Sullivan "Ideas"). Communities dedicated to learning have been belittled by politicians and pundits. For decades, we have witnessed a systematic attack on open-minded inquiry, on unions and job security, on policies advancing racial and gender equity, on the idea of the public good itself.

We realized that we could no longer take the democratic commitments of public education for granted. Indeed, we never should have: who is included in "the public," what counts as "good," and how that good might best be achieved has always been contested. As teachers committed to access and equity, we believed we had values worth defending; we also knew many of our ideals for public education have never been fully realized. Our work with students, while important, was not enough. Our scholarship, while valuable, relied on a distribution system that was inaccessible to many and too slow to respond to the urgent political context. We were teachers and scholars, but we would have to become activists if we were going to create the educational system our students and communities deserve. As we thought about how we might work together to enact that role, we realized we needed a new kind of writing space. Thus, the Teacher-Scholar-Activist website was born.

Teacher Scholar Activist Logo
Teacher Scholar Activist Logo

Teacher-Scholar-Activist aims to cultivate a community of literacy educators across institution types to promote democratic engagement and social justice. We draw the phrase "teacher-scholar-activist" from a scholarly conversation that is reshaping professional identities among two-year college English faculty (Andelora, "Teacher/Scholar/Activist"; Sullivan; Calhoon- Dillahunt et al.; Toth, Calhoon-Dillahunt, and Sullivan; Jensen and Ely; Jensen and Toth; Giordano and Hassel). The term was first articulated by Mesa Community College's Jeffrey Andelora ("Teacher/Scholar/Activist") and further developed by Patrick Sullivan of Manchester Community College. Teacher-scholar-activists assert that two-year college faculty can be more than "just" teachers, and they must also be more than "teacher-scholars" who contribute to disciplinary knowledge-making (Tinberg, "Seeing Ourselves"; Border Talk; "Teaching English"; Reynolds; Andelora, "Teacher/Scholar"; "Forging"; Two-Year College English Association; Toth and Sullivan). In Sullivan's words, faculty at open admissions community colleges should also "deliberately frame our professional identity, in part, as activists–accepting and embracing the revolutionary and inescapably political nature of our work" (327). While teacher-scholar-activism emerged in response to the neoliberal pressures faced by community colleges during the Obama administration, it offers all literacy educators a framework for reconceptualizing their professional identities to contend with the threats to public education—and to broader efforts to advance social justice—exacerbated by the crisis of the 2016 election.

Teacher-Scholar-Activist is our effort to create a flexible and accessible space to foster solidarity among literacy educators in defense of open admissions education for the public good. We wanted to create a forum where teachers would share perspectives outside constraints of scholarly publication and professional organizations. Teacher-Scholar-Activist is a DIY undertaking: a friend designed our logo, we created a WordPress site, and began soliciting short essays from colleagues across the country. We have been amazed at the range of insightful contributions this effort has elicited.

Our first contributor, Paige Hermansen of Westfield State University, wrote that "now is the time to stand up for public education" as it "has been embattled for decades." She argues that these "attacks on our schools and teachers are delivered to the public in shinier packages every year" (Hermansen). These packages, emerging from foundations, corporations, philanthropist billionaires, and politicians make up what Linda Adler-Kassner called the Education Industrial Complex. The question is, how do we resist? How do we, without the megaphone of money, make a difference?

On Teacher-Scholar-Activist, educators share the work they are doing locally to counteract the forces that seek to instrumentalize education. We view this work as a form of what Shari Stenberg calls "feminist repurposing, a practice of locating and enacting imaginative possibilities for change and agency within—and often out of—prohibitive and even damaging cultural conditions" (2). We believe that stories of local actions in the face of such conditions are a resource from which our entire professional community can draw.

For example, in one recent post, Danielle Helzer, who teaches at Nebraska's Central Community College, relates her experience of blending social activism into her curriculum. She recounts the resistance she met from her administration in teaching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," with her principal making her send home a permission slip and letting her know that not all parents might want their child to read the work of a "black man." The racism she describes is palpable. Nevertheless, she persisted. And her students created projects that engaged the community. She notes that it was the only project that had a 100% completion rate (Helzer). It is this kind of work that heartens us and, we hope, bolsters other educators.

In his post on Teacher-Scholar-Activist, Seth Kahn of Westchester University reminds us that there isn't a monolithic public for us to reach. He tells us that "we've said the magic words, thousands of times, to millions of people, in print and in person and on social media. Our best representatives [...] have been arguing from our professional knowledge about writing instruction for years. Just telling the truth isn't working" (Kahn). Explicitly complementing Linda Adler-Kassner's recent Teacher-Scholar-Activist post, Kahn articulates two approaches for working for change–one from the inside and one from the outside. We are aiming Teacher-Scholar-Activist at a specific set of publics: teachers and students who believe that education and activism can be blended for the public good, both from within and without, at local as well as national scales. We hope Teacher-Scholar-Activist will bear witness to this work in all its permutations.

As a matter of principle, Teacher-Scholar-Activist works to bring voices from across institution types into conversation with one another. We view this as an activist challenge to institutional hierarchies within the discipline that too often render community colleges invisible. We particularly hope the site will become a resource for graduate students. In the estimation of many two-year college faculty, too little is done to prepare these students for the political realities of education in the 21st century (Hassel et al.; Calhoon-Dillahunt et al.; Jensen and Toth). We hope our efforts to promote a spectrum of voices across institutional boundaries will provide a more inclusive vision of English Studies and foster cross-sector allyship. We believe that inclusive vision is vital to our survival as a profession.

We pursue these commitments with passion, and with humility. We have much to learn from veteran activists, both in and beyond the academy, who have long been working to address the persistent inequities that have always been a part of our educational system and our society. Further, we know that reading and writing about activism is not enough. We hope the site will become a place for sharing not just stories, but calls for action. Ultimately, Teacher-Scholar-Activist will be shaped by its reader-contributors. We invite you to join us in making this scene.

Works Cited

Acemoglu, Daron, and James Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. Crown, 2012.

Adler-Kassner, Linda. "Because Writing Is Never Just Writing." CCCC. Portland, OR. 2017. Chair's Address.

Andelora, Jeffrey. "Forging a National Identity: TYCA and the Two-Year College Teacher- Scholar." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 35, no. 4, 2008, pp. 350-362.

---. "Teacher/Scholar/Activist: A Response to Keith Kroll's 'The End of the Community College English Profession'." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 40, no. 3, 2013, pp. 302-307.

---. "The Teacher/Scholar: Reconstructing Our Professional Identity in Two-Year Colleges." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 32, no. 3, 2005, pp. 307-322.

Atkinson, Anthony B. Inequality: What Can Be Done? Harvard University Press, 2015.

Calhoon-Dillahunt, Carolyn Jensen, Darin L., Johnson, Sarah Z., Tinberg, Howard, Toth, Christie. "Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College." College English, vol. 29, no. 4, 2017, 550-560.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. Teachers College Press, 2010.

Duncan, Greg J., and Richard J. Murnane, eds. Whither Opportunity?: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances. Russell Sage, 2011.

Giordano, Joanne Baird, and Holly Hassel. "Unpredictable Journeys: Academically At- Risk Students, Developmental Education Reform, and the Two-Year College." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 43, no. 4, 2016, pp. 371-390.

Goldin, Claudia, and Lawrence F. Katz. The Race between Education and Technology. Belknap Press, 2010.

Hassel, Holly Klausman, Jeffery, Giordano, Joann Baird, O'Rourke, Margaret, Roberts, Leslie, Sullivan, Patrick, Toth, Christie."TYCA White Paper on Developmental Education Reforms." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 42, no.3, 2015, pp. 227-243.

Hassel, Holly, Jeff Klausman, Joanne Baird Giordano, Margaret O'Rourke, Leslie Roberts, Patrick Sullivan, and Christie Toth. "TYCA White Paper on Developmental Education Reform." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 42, no. 3, 2015, pp. 227-43.

Helzer, Danielle. "The Path of Most Resistance." Teacher-Scholar-Activist . teacher-scholar-activist.org/2017/03/02/ the-path-of-most-resistance/. Accessed on 6 June 2017.

Hermansen, Paige. "We Can't Stop with DeVos (Even If We Stop DeVos)." Teacher- Scholar-Activist. teacher-scholar-activist.org/ 2017/02/04/we-cant-stop-with-devos-even- if-we-stop-devos/. Accessed on 6 June 2017.

Jensen, Darin, and Susan Ely. "A Partnership Teaching Externship Program: A Model That Makes Do." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 44, no. 3, 2017, pp. 247-63.

Jensen, Darin, and Christie Toth. "Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty." College English, vol. 29, no. 4, 2017, pp. 561-92.

Kahn, Seth. "From the Outside: Inside/Outside Strategy and Professional Advocacy." Teacher- Scholar-Activist. teacher-scholar-activist.org/2017/05/05/from-the-outside-insideoutside- strategy-and-professional-advocacy/. Accessed on 6 June 2017.

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Doubleday, 2016.

---. "The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency: How Robert Mercer exploited America's populist insurgency." The New Yorker, 27 March 2017, newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/27/the-reclusive-hedge-fund-tycoon-behind-the-trump-presidency. Accessed 6 June 2017.

Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. Knopf, 2013.

Reich, Robert B. Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. Knopf, 2015.

Reynolds, Mark, and Sylvia A. Holladay. The Profession of English in the Two-Year College. Heinemann Educational Books, 2005.

Reynolds, Mark. "Two-Year-College Teachers as Knowledge Makers." The Profession of English in the Two-Year College, edited by Mark Reynolds and Sylvia Holladay-Hicks, Boynton/Cook, 2005, pp. 1-15.

Stenberg, Shari J. Repurposing Composition: Feminist Interventions for a Neoliberal Age. University Press of Colorado, 2015.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. W. W. Norton, 2012.

Sullivan, Patrick. "The Two-Year College Teacher-Scholar-Activist." Teaching English in the Two Year College, vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, p. 327.

Sullivan, Patrick. "'Ideas about Human Possibilities': Connecticut's PA 12-40 and Basic Writing in the Era of Neoliberalism." Journal of Basic Writing, vol. 32, no. 1, 2015, pp. 44-80.

Tinberg, Howard. Border Talk: Writing and Knowing in the Two-Year College. National Council of Teachers of English, 1997.

---. "Seeing Ourselves Differently: Remaking Research and Scholarship at the Community College." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 20, no. 1, 1993, pp. 12-17.

---. "Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges: A Review of Selected Studies." The Profession of English in the Two-Year College, 2005, pp. 137-145.

Toth, Christie, Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt, and Patrick Sullivan. "A Dubious Method of Improving Educational Outcomes: Accountability and the Two-Year College." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 43, no. 4, 2016, pp. 391-410.

Toth, Christie, and Patrick Sullivan. "Toward Local Teacher-Scholar Communities of Practice: Findings from a National TYCA Survey." Teaching English in the Two Year College, vol. 43, no. 3, 2016, pp. 247.

Tucker, Marc S., editor. Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems. Harvard Education Press, 2011.

Two-Year College English Association. "Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges." Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 34, no.1, 2006, pp. 7-19.

About the Authors

Darin Jensen is an adjunct English instructor at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa. He is a co-founder of Teacher-Scholar-Activist. His work concentrates on the two-year college, especially issues of teacher preparation and professionalism. His writing appears in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Writing on the Edge, College English, Composition Studies, and Prairie Schooner. He has a forthcoming essay in Pedagogy. Darin is committed to the democratic vision and potential of the community college.

Patrick Sullivan teaches English professor at Manchester Community College in Manchester, Connecticut. His recent work includes A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind (Utah State University Press 2014) and Economic Inequality, Neoliberalism, and the American Community College (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).

Christie Toth is an assistant professor in the University of Utah's Department of Writing & Rhetoric Studies, where she works with students and faculty colleagues from Salt Lake Community College on a variety of inter-institutional initiatives. She has published in Assessing Writing, College Composition and Communication, College English, Journal of Basic Writing, Mentoring Across Disciplines and Cultures, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and Writing Program Administration, as well as the forthcoming collections Class in the Composition Classroom and Writing Assessment, Social Justice, and the Advancement of Opportunity. She is grateful for all that her community college students, collaborators, and co-authors continue to teach her about what it means to be a teacher-scholar-activist.