The sun rises over the Bay Area with smoke-filled air from the recent wildfires in a week of an intense heatwave; continuous concern over the COVID-19 pandemic; and more jarring images in the media of racism and police violence against black bodies. And I pen this message to you as a new academic year begins. Strange times, indeed. No, I have not depicted a rosy picture here. I recognize the importance of acknowledging the intensity of the current moment whose events preoccupy the thoughts of many of us.
Strikingly, our society and its key sectors — from healthcare to education and research and technology — have never ceased forward motion. Human resilience and adaptability resound all across the globe. Here in the United States, schools, colleges and universities have opened, none unscathed by the challenging decision-making processes of whether to rely on distance learning or to tempt fate with in-person instruction in the midst of an unrelenting virus spread.
As the Year 2020 (the commencement of a new decade in the 21st century) recedes, I find myself in a great deal of introspection about the mission at the Graduate School of Education. In my view, the conditions of our times present us with an opportunity to critically reimagine the functions of education and schooling — how we do it and for what purposes we utilize and engage in it.
Areas of research, practice, and policy where the GSE has steeples of excellence, and where it continues to grow, are at the center of what our society and communities need right now — including innovative thinking about learning and educational technology; dismantling inequality by elevating equity; producing high-quality teachers and leaders; and leading in new theories and concepts of a more perfect union, a nation whose lines of social differences are no longer enveloped in racism, anti-blackness, and other systems of oppression and marginalization.
Now is the chance for us to engage in more courageous conversations. Though we may be physically apart, we can do community virtually. I invite you to use any discussions you have to push the boundaries of thought and practice; to ask deeper, harder questions; and to be both active speakers and listeners. I invite you, especially, to take the time and participate in the GSE’s various community (virtual) events this year, including our upcoming speaker series. We will have a special guest or two.
I urge you to be patient and kind to yourselves; your colleagues; friends; and family. For those of us on campus, remember that legions of committed individuals work diligently and responsively to meet our various constituents’ needs at the university in the face of severe fiscal constraints and continued anxiety amid the unknown of this merciless virus. Let’s support one another and commit to allowing our School’s greatest good to prevail over narrow self-interests.
For me, the great Indian novelist and activist, Arundhati Roy, has articulated it most aptly and incisively:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
As we continue to confront and bear the heavy impact of climate change, pandemics, racial and economic injustices, and political churn in a critical election year, I stand ready to continue to work with you toward a better tomorrow. For me, this means sustaining a commitment to the work that will eventually usher in an empowering, just, and liberating education for all. I hope that you stand ready, too.
Here’s to a productive, enlightening year. Be healthy and stay safe.