Not retreating, just…regrouping

I’m acutely aware of the juxtaposition of writing this post immediately following my post about not retreating into the private sphere.

Maybe it’s just denial, but I really don’t think that’s what I’m doing.

I know that I’ll never turn totally inward.

But neither will I be embracing this particular public role.

Maybe it’s a cliche, but I have been mentally writing, and unwriting, this post in my mind for a long time.

I didn’t finally draft it in earnest until, honestly, there was no way I could not.

I have to take a break from blogging.

It’s not burnout or lack of inspiration or feeling that I don’t have anything to say.

I’m assuming those would be the reasons that some people might step away from public presences like this that they’ve built, but that’s just not where I am.

No, for me, it’s just math.

There are not enough hours in the day.

With my new full-time position at the university and my ongoing commitment to stay at least somewhat engaged in supporting nonprofit organizations through their advocacy integration efforts, I’m overly extended, to say the least, professionally.

That means that whatever time I spend here is time that is taken away from my Mommy responsibilities.

I am staying up way too late at night–far into the next morning, really–and that makes me too tired to even have a shot at being a great parent.

I’m spending too much time with my eyes on a screen instead of my kids on the swing.

It’s just a price I’m not willing to pay right now.

So, until I find a professional role that allows me the time to blog as part of my ‘work life’ instead of my ‘home life’, I just can’t. Or won’t, I guess.

As with any transition, there’s a lot that I’ll miss about this regular venue, especially the interaction with so many of you.

But I’m missing other things now, and, if something has to be missed, it’s not going to be these guys.

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I hope you’ll understand.

Let’s not be turtles

I do yoga.

I sometimes even curl up on the couch and read. Yes, it’s usually a book about human rights or climate change or sociology, but, still.

I understand the need to turn off our compassion and to console ourselves.

But we cannot retreat, not really, from the horrors of tragedy and the mundane suffering.

We cannot.

We cannot lull ourselves into thinking that caring for ourselves requires hiding from the world, or that we are somehow entitled to ‘peace’, if peace is purchased at the price of tremendous injustice and pain.

In One Nation Under Stress, this idea of ‘stressism’, of stress as a mentality and a sort of collective infatuation, is related to our self-talk that tries to convince ourselves that what we need (and deserve) is solitude and release and ‘free time’, when what we really need is improvement in the conditions that prompt this stress response in the first place.

Because there are two ways to respond to the unimaginable and the predictably wrong: to resolve to respond with all energy and passion or to draw into our shells and hope that things will somehow go away.

Our desire to flee the discomfort of stress leads us to retreat, when what the world craves–and what, in the end, is the only thing that can bring real relief–is concerted action to address the factors that contribute to our stresses.

We cannot be turtles, withdrawing in timidity, when our age demands tigers.

We cannot.

Starting in the Classroom: Blended Instruction for Policy Practice

I can definitively say, now, almost 4 years after the university started its experiment with instruction that is part traditional classroom format and part-online, that, for teaching social policy, I totally love it.

I promise it’s not because scheduling class around my practice and my kids’ schedules is easier when we meet only 7 times/semester, instead of every week.

The late nights on the discussion boards and trolling the Internet for new content that I want to introduce (and, still, sometimes, soothing students anxious about the long stretches we have between class periods) sort of make up for that.

No, what I like the best is how much more closely it parallels how social work practitioners engage with social policy, as compared to having access to an instructor like me for 3 hours every week.

Students learn to navigate policy information online, evaluating the respective biases of each perspective, just like they have to in practice.

They build communities of other social workers who can support them through the often isolating experiences of unraveling the layers of social injustice that constrain their effective work with clients. They pivot between untangling root causes and applying salve to the wounds of those injured by our society. They turn their attentions to the ways in which clients experience policy most–in the policies that agencies develop in order to operate within these external parameters.

They find ways to weave advocacy and investigation and constituent development into their direct practice, without overwhelming their days or (hopefully) antagonizing their practice organizations (too much).

And, I guess, that’s our hope for students in any social work policy class, but, again, year after year, my students have returned to tell me how much harder it all gets, when they graduate and no longer have the classroom experience to ‘root’ their social policy studies.

It’s one thing to stay grounded in a dual micro/macro practice approach when you have half a work day, every week, set aside for that express purpose.

It’s quite another when you’re literally on your own.

So, while I don’t consider my responsibility to my students any less in a blended course than one where I’m in front of them every week–quite the opposite–I know that they do experience me differently, and, so I leave a different impression on their social work identity.

It is my hope, and I think, it has been affirmed at least somewhat over these past few years of experimenting, that this instructional format equips my students to take on social policy in the arena where they’ll need to be effective, as policy practitioners.

In the ‘real world’, which is to say, increasingly in today’s context, online.

The best of both worlds, I hope.

Starting in the Classroom: Safe Spaces

One of the parts of my teaching that I take most seriously is my obligation to create a ‘safe space’ in which my students can grapple with their professional ethics and the conflicts between these ethical standards and students’ own personal values and beliefs.

This is true in most social work classes, I think, and there’s certainly a strong practice component of these concerns; students want to talk, for example, about what they’ll do if a client wants advice about getting an abortion, if they are opposed personally.

But there is an undeniable policy element here, too, as students grapple not just with how they feel about these ‘hot button’ issues, but how that needs to translate to their support or opposition for specific social policies, and, then, even for candidates.

As a professor, I struggle with the balance between making sure that students feel that they can authentically question the different venues through which to achieve given policy aims…and my desire to see the social work profession articulate a compelling, and even a commanding, commitment to policy ‘goods’, because that’s precisely what I believe our profession, and our social policy, needs.

And this means that, even within our classroom, different ethical principles can collide, particularly our desire to support the individual self-determination of all human beings (yes, including social work professionals) and our need to be a more effective voice for policies capable of delivering greater social justice, which demands a more unified front.

I don’t have the answers for this, but I hope that it’s a case of where being transparent and wrestling with these questions alongside my students gets us at least focused on the issue in a constructive way.

We have to come to terms, after all, with the messiness of trying to bring a diverse group of professionals to consensus on a variety of policy issues (and, surely, questions about taxation and criminal justice and foreign policy and public assistance are no less thorny than marriage equality or reproductive rights), but also with the real risk of our irrelevance if we conclude that we can’t deal with these divides and, so we must stay largely out of the political arena.

And that’s where I think my classroom comes in. I hope it can be a laboratory for democracy, a safe place to prepare ourselves for advocacy, which is inherently risky.

I hope that it can help my students to construct a mutual aid group, of sorts, as we navigate the policy arena together.

Because we can’t hide, within the four walls of our classrooms.

But hopefully we can sharpen our skills and focus on our values and gird ourselves for debate, here.

And then feel ready to engage. Where we need to be.

Together.

Anniversary Week: My favorites!

I can rely on the site statistics to tell me the most-viewed and most-commented posts, but coming up with my own favorites list is much less automated. So there aren’t a nice, neat 10 of these, and they’re not in any particular order, and some are from a long time ago and some I just published.

Cut me some slack, OK? Summing up five years of mostly very late nights writing is tough. Especially late at night. Again.

Anniversary Week: Your favorites!

The top-viewed Classroom to Capitol posts of the past five years (in order):

Lessons here?

You care about ethics. You are committed to social change. You are questioning the commonly-accepted truisms of our profession and our society, and you’re not afraid to challenge orthodoxy.

You want to make a respectable living while improving the world.

No wonder I like you so much.

Anniversary Week: FIVE YEARS of C2C

When I started this blog, my twins were infants, my Sam was just out of diapers, and my now-two-year-old wasn’t even in our imaginations.

I was an adjunct instructor trying to figure out how to translate my nonprofit advocacy career into the classroom and into nonprofit Board rooms, while spending the bulk of my days at our local parks.

In other words, a lot has changed.

And much hasn’t.

My kids are older and, in many ways, need me more.

I am more thoroughly ensconced in academia, with all the tremendous rewards and considerable additional responsibilities that come with that (Case in point, I’m wrestling EPAS curriculum standard tables this evening. Those of you in social work education are shaking your heads right now.).

I am satisfied beyond measure with my advocacy consulting work, having grown significantly as a practitioner, in my theory base and my skill set, and still struggling alongside nonprofit advocates to figure out sustainable ways to drive at advocacy impact.

How I use this blog has changed, certainly: recently, it has been much less a transmission of what I have learned and more of a conversation with those in the broader field, including my own students, as I found a lot of success assigning blog comments in my advocacy practice course this spring. My reach has grown, and I still find the chance to have a substantive exchange about social change work the most rewarding aspect of this whole exercise.

I would say that I’m struck by how little has changed in the advocacy landscape over the past 5 years, and how much time I’m still spending talking about the very same issues.

Except I’m not really surprised at all. I am encouraged by how some concerns have percolated up a bit more–income inequality certainly rises to the top of that list–but others seem even more intractable than before (immigration reform, I’m looking at you).

And I’m still trying to fit in as much park time with these dark-haired wonders as I can.

I would be beyond honored and delighted if anyone is willing to share any reflections on their own last five years–what has changed, what hasn’t, and perhaps any small role that this online space has played. It has been a rather incredible journey, even through the haze of my sleep-deprivation.

Thank you for sharing it with me. It’s supposedly our ‘wooden anniversary’ together, but I say we just virtually pat each other on the back.

And keep on.