I come from stubborn stock — New Mexico ranchers, Pittsburgh ghetto-dwellers, descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants all. My wife jokes that our kids are the stubborn children of two stubborn parents (Polish immigrants, on her side — different ethnic food, same harsh winters): stubbornness baked right in.
So it’s no surprise I endured the ramp-up to this term internally kicking and screaming. Constant masking; overhauling our courses to pivot online; stressing over Echo360’s sound pick-up abilities; conforming syllabi to “Quality Matters” standards for remote learning: I have done it, but I’ve whined and griped about it, even out loud as much as I could get away with, with propriety.
And now I see I was wrong.
It wasn’t a genuine fault in QM I was complaining about, I now see. It was just my discomfort at being forced from my comfortable old way to someone else’s new way.
Come to think of it, this has happened to me before — this bitter complaint against forced change, leading to resignation, then acceptance and unexpected benefit. A few recent cases come to mind:
The push for allowing “distance learning,” which at the time seemed dangerous, foolish and a selling-out of our educational ideals.
The change from “Old Pipeline” to “New Pipeline,” which seemed irrational, obtuse and “unusable.”
The inclusion of “learning outcomes” in every syllabus.
One more example — the removal of our family’s cheese-grater from the left-hand kitchen cabinet to the “more convenient” right-hand drawer — and I think I’ve made my point.
Each time, I’ve poured out tremendous energy rationalizing my hatred of the new way. But then the forced change happens, and our lives go on, and we realize the new way may even be (gasp) marginally helpful.
None of this is to minimize the real and painful burden of having our world shaken, then upended, and all of us and our relationships and our work and time and focus and resources and money tossed about, rattled to pieces, or swept away. The traumas of this year, for most of us perhaps, defy words. And those hurt most may now be beyond our hearing.
Still, humbled and apologetically, I want to say thank you to the support staff and administrators who poured out so much work and care (while I was pouring out hissy-fit drama) to make it possible for Harding to reopen. You have given me the greatest gift a professor could receive: you’ve made it possible for our students to rejoin us on Harding’s campus. I was wrong to complain.
Even when I still bristle against some part of this weird new pandem-U, even when I find myself thinking, “Who in their right mind would choose to make us do it that way?” I want you to know it’s not you, it’s me. Stubbornness, baked right in. Someone had to step up and work out some way to do it, and then make it work. You did. And then — you did. (Even as I write, you’re doubtless still doing.)
We are all under stress, but those deserve special praise who serve where all the stress-lines converge: each administrator choking down the worried complaints of multiple departments or colleges, each staff providing coaching to hundreds of professors making thousands of courses online-capable all at once. Provost, deans, E-Learning: We appreciate you.
As I write this, I feel like I’ve suddenly taken in a big breath of fresh air and then given a big sigh of relief. The sleep-debt of the ramp-up is gradually being repaid. It’s wonderful to see our students back. We’re sort of getting through this.
And I know we’re not in the clear yet: personal illness, general outbreak, cycles of quarantines, or a sudden full-campus pivot may rock us yet again. No one knows; anything may happen. It feels like we are living on the raw front edge of history. And we’re entering a political election cycle, amid layoffs and protests and an ongoing plague in the most ideologically-polarized time in memory. From our dorm rooms to churches to colleges academic and electoral, in the months ahead we’ll need a high tolerance for having to do things someone else’s way.
There may be good reason to freak out, but I take hope from realizing that most of my anxiety and stress, leading into this semester, was misplaced: sheer whiny stubbornness, and no real threat.
God has placed eternity in our hearts, and though we may go kicking and screaming, life finds a way forward.
And I am humbled and thankful to be here, now, with all the present moment’s restrictions and difficulties, with people who daily earn my trust — with such faithful and hard-working colleagues — with such bright-eyed, eager students. God help us all.