A question of voice


ConniAltmann_Gloria.jpg

I was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. On my birth certificate, you can read citizenship: Lebanese. But what does it mean to be Lebanese? Is it just another stable marker affixed to my identity? How is my default Lebanese identity different from my acquired Canadian citizenship? What does it mean to earn a citizenship vs. to be born with one? Am I a Canadian citizen because I completed the required period of residency and can now vote? Why should my citizenship be conditioned with my residency, my physical presence? Am I truly a citizen if I am still struggling in-between cultures? Does taking the oath of citizenship make me a citizen? What about my accent, my values, my thoughts -- don’t they betray my public figure (Rodriquez, 1982) as a Canadian citizen? Is Canadian citizenship really open to differences or are there subtle socially and culturally situated practices and expectations for being recognized as a Canadian citizen (Gee, 2001)? As a parent, I grow increasingly aware of how I would reinforce particular behaviors in my children from my fear of not belonging to the new host Canadian culture. To clarify my point, I quote a paragraph from my personal journal.

To be viewed as part of the Canadian community, I had to consciously remind myself to encourage my kids to say thank you and please at every single occasion….What is this obsession about making sure that the kids say those two words?….Isn’t an impulsive hug or kiss from a child much better than (mechanistically) saying the words that we adults expect them to hear? Are we assuming that kids are incapable of kindness? Or better yet, are we oppressing their own language of kindness?

How can I justify someone else’s research and ideas, no matter how interesting they seem to be, if I don’t identify on a personal level with those ideas? How would my writing be transformed if I truly believed and identified, mind and soul, with my own topic? As a graduate student working with my professor on his own work, I am doing a great job at compartmentalizing. When I am with him discussing his ideas, I am really drawn to what he says: his progressive ideas are really emancipatory and work to push for greater social justice, social accountability and active citizenry through education. Who wouldn’t I love such ideas? They inherently sell themselves and I find myself writing papers, presenting at conferences, advocating for what he believes in…..

But then I struggle, I am not an activist, nor am I a radical. In fact, I am afraid of radicalism, it only has negative connotations for me. Having been raised and praised for my obedience, how am I positioned to argue for a radical education that I have never experienced before and that I even consider to be a threat to conformity and to the values I have passively adopted? Still, I write about it, advocating for students and teachers to be involved in subversive acts that redefine, teaching, learning, schooling, democracy. Am I a hypocrite for advocating for something that I am not willing to implement myself? How can I communicate that to my advisor without shocking him? Why is there hardly ever time to discuss those issues but always time to discuss research, grant proposals, coursework?

Not that writing research papers are ever easy, from what I am coming to experience; but, I am convinced that writing will flow more naturally when it comes from one’s own values, interests and personal dilemmas. Having written this in less than half an hour is an indication that I was emotionally charged with questions that are leaving me in a continuously perplexing state … I write from a point of doubt, of skepticism, of uncertainty about my own questions, my own feelings, my own struggles….

How can I take charge of my own PhD journey? How do I make it a truly revealing and transformative experience? Forcing myself into my advisor's work does not seem to be the right way…A good friend said you need to find your own voice…should graduate students be assimilated into academia or should graduate students revolutionize academia? How should graduate student-supervisor relationships be redefined to allow for the student’s voice? How do we overcome the feeling of intimidation, of not wanting to disappoint, of faking interest? If voice is authentic, genuine and organic, how do we resist associating it with a superior and more authoritative voice? What room and which opportunities are being created for us to sit with our selves, and our own thoughts, to embrace uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt? Should graduate students break out of the norms and expectations set by academia and the institutions that prepare them for academia? How do we empower them to become activists in their own PhD journey? What are universities doing to prepare graduate students to become self-actualized through their own learning journey? How is creativity being nurtured if it is being nurtured at all?

References

Gee. J.P. (2001). What is literacy? In P. Shannon (Ed.), Becoming political, too: New readings and writings on the politics of literacy education (pp. 1-9). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Rodriquez, R. (1982). Hunger of memory: The education of Richard Rodriguez. Bantam Dell, New York.

Painting: Gloria by Conni Altmann

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