Love and Other 4-letter Words: a #digped Discussion

“So why is it painful for the academic to admit that love stirs them? Why, even in writing this, do I find myself looking for more and more evidence to support my claims? Why is love considered uncritical when in fact it is only that fragile care for our fields that inspires the critical inspection that eventually grows into rigor? Can not I love my subject matter? Can not I love my students without reproach?”
Sean Michael Morris

To be unabashed in the academy is to invite derision. Passion and love, care, intuition are all inaccuracies, unsupported by data and research. One must never say “fuck” in a meeting or on a panel. If your britches are twisted about the mistreatment of students, or the second-class citizenship of adjuncts and grad students, or about the economies of prestige that suffocate public scholarship, then you should take a moment. Maybe there’s a better job out there for you than professorship.

And yet, many spectacled academics earned those spectacles by reading too late into the night, by following the white rabbit of their field down whatever rabbit hole it flew. It was passion that brought us to learning and teaching, an optimistic gorging upon the objects and theories of our affection. And though we may only admit it in the quiet of our study, many of us have felt a tingle of excitement or happiness when reading student work. It is love that fuels us—unproud, humiliating, deeply precious love.

A common myth in our culture is that knowledge comes from distance — from fact and not from feeling … But that is not the full story. The search for knowledge must include feeling. ~ Editors of Hybrid Pedagogy

As rigorously as we try to avoid it, love plays a part in our profession. We might propose that one cannot teach without love, and certainly one should not attempt to learn without love. But we should also not proceed in our collegiality without love. Lee Bessette, speaking about her approach to faculty development and instructional design, writes:

They say, give us the tools, give us “best practices,” give us the readings. I say, tell me what you want to accomplish, tell me what you’d like to build, tell me what you want your students to learn and how you want them to learn it … Praxis is to me…those moments of intimacy and vulnerability necessary to make real our pedagogy

Digital Pedagogy Lab and Hybrid Pedagogy are both labors of love, in the truest sense. We do not do this work for the profit it brings in (we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, for starters), but neither do we do this work because we particularly love the journal or the organization. We do the work we do because we love you. Our business plan echoes a claim that Cathy Davidson has made: “We need joy and positive energy to fight all the battles ahead.” This is the ultimate aim of the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute: to create a scholarly justification and a pedagogical foundation for love in the academy. And as strange and foreign as it may be to hear that, to accept that an academic journal could be founded and sustained on a need to extend care and positive energy into the scholarly world, it is equally as risky for us to say it.

For with professions of love slips away credibility. And we must ask ourselves why. Is it that “love” feels too saturated a word or emotion? Is academic scholarship too invested in a long, slow, persistent battle against sentimentality? Yet love is anything but simplistic. To love a thing is to embrace its complexity. Amy Collier writes:

When you love something, when you are part of something built on love, you accept—heck you celebrate—its complexity. You don’t try to reduce it to simple measurable acts, you cherish the messiness and complexity, the not-yetness, of that love.

Is it so far-fetched then to think that, in our railings against and around Digital Humanities, for example, we are not expressing a love for it? Or in our persistent questioning of the LMS and the MOOC, we are not embracing it? Can questioning, can inquiry—in short, can critical pedagogy—boil down to an expression of affection? Is it so unimaginable that maybe you are in your job because, at the bottom of it, you love what you do, who you do it for, and what it allows you to discover?

Of course it isn’t.

This Friday, June 10 at Noon Eastern, Digital Pedagogy Lab will host a Twitter chat using #digped to discuss the place and practice of love in academic, scholarly, and pedagogical work. We will hope to make this discussion as challenging as it will be open and nurturing. Some questions to consider in advance of the chat:

  • Why do academics eschew love in their professional work? What emotions, if any, are appropriate in scholarship? What emotions do we suppress in the process of omitting love?
  • What do you love about your work? Think about the field you find yourself in, the work you are invested in, that which keeps you awake at night in anticipation.
  • Can learning be accomplished—as a teacher, a learner, an instructional designer, an educational technologists, etc.—without love? Is there love in the design of a course? Is there love in the design of an LMS? Is there love in assessments?
  • What turns you off the most about this topic? What excites you about this topic? What makes you uneasy? What are you looking forward to discussing?

If you are interested in this conversation, join us Friday, June 10 at Noon Eastern. For those unable to join the conversation this week, the #digped chat happens on the second Friday of every month at Noon Eastern. If you have suggestions for future topics, feel free to add them to the comments on this entry or tweet them to @Jessifer or @slamteacher.

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