Gwyneth Paltrow Isn’t Going to Kill Anyone

There is a video going around the Internet that previews Gwyneth Paltrow’s new show on Netflix. She and her company get a lot of grief from academics. And those academics had a lot to say about her new show. The posted comments on academic twitter express either disdain or are fully loaded with expletives. I mean, more than once I saw a tweet that mirrored this statement, “This is how people die.” This is not only ridiculous, but it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

This arrogance of academics comes from a privileged state of mind that believes academia is the sole source of credible knowledge. I suspect that’s where most of this venom toward her is coming from. Just so we’re all on the same page, let me be clear, we don’t own knowledge. I wonder if these academics think that Indigenous ways of knowing have less value, or worse, no value. I doubt there are many willing to admit this but that’s what they’re saying when they see a video of someone doing something differently, that they likely know nothing about, and decide it holds no value.

She’s not claiming to be an academic researcher so why hold her to the same standards? And why disregard someone who is exploring areas of interest to many people? I suspect many of these academics are threatened. They are threatened by people who want to learn for themselves and who do not want to depend on experts*. And if someone wants to learn for themselves, it shifts the seat of power away from people who consider themselves experts. Few people embrace that loss of power.

As I write this I realize, I’m coming to an understanding of why this is so powerful an issue for me. I’m reminded of nearly every interaction with a doctor I’ve ever had. They were the doctor. The established expert of my health, of medicine and healing. Deeply understanding me wasn’t important because they already knew. A complete health picture wasn’t important because they were the expert. They were firmly rooted in the belief that they had the information they needed regardless of whether they actually had the information that they needed. Again, it’s a position of power and admitting to lesser knowledge shifts that seat of power.

I am not suggesting you should thoughtlessly embrace Gwyneth, or anyone for that matter. As we are encouraged to do in academia, check your biases and engage your curiosity. Because it is a biased and prejudiced way of approaching the world to assume we are the exclusive arbiters of knowledge. What you’ve decided is that, without knowledge outside a sixty second video, what she’s doing is worthless, or harmful. I worry about academics who don’t appear to be curious or perhaps are curious about a limited area that they happen to have expertise in. That makes me very nervous.

*I put an asterisk here because I believe there are different types of experts. Some who has lived an experience, for example, has just as much expertise as someone who has academic knowledge. But that’s not how our society generally values advanced knowledge.

How Did I Choose My Research Topic You Say?

Here’s a bit I wrote about my educational history after I got a nasty comment from someone on Twitter. The person assumed I didn’t have a trauma history and was challenging my opinions. I owe nothing to this person who I subsequently blocked — I intentionally carefully curate my twitter feed. But maybe I do have something to say about why I chose the research topic I have chosen for my phd, which focuses on how college instructors approach trauma-informed online learning. Here is what I wrote about how trauma affected my educational experience.

As a child, when I wouldn’t get up fast enough in the morning, my dad would pick me up and take me outside and drop me in the horse trough. When my parents divorced, it was a mixed blessing. I no longer had the physical abuse of my dad, but mom had her own unresolved trauma issues and was an emotionally and physically absent parent. For all intents and purposes, I was on my own. At some point before age ten I developed ADD, anxiety and depression – the sequalae of the trauma of having to essentially raise myself. I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and my mom rarely made me try. I missed a lot of school. I got bullied at school by both boys and girls from fourth grade all the way through high school. I was overweight, and they didn’t let me forget it. I got my first D for the semester in seventh grade but there wasn’t anyone at home who cared so the Ds turned into Fs – still no one cared. While all this was going on, I had some teachers who did care. Mrs. Branson, my junior high school counselor, was a loving adult presence when I didn’t have that at home. But teachers can’t replace the presence of a parent. I first tried to commit suicide when I was sixteen, but again, it did little to grab the attention of the adults at home. School was excruciating. Sitting still for all those hours on end with ADD was the worse kind of torture I knew. I became promiscuous. I would go to parties and sleep with the boys from my school. I could come home whenever I wanted, as drunk as I wanted, because nobody was up waiting for me. By my senior year I have failed so many classes that I wasn’t allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. It didn’t matter though. Nobody was paying any attention.

When I went to the community college near me it got better. I didn’t have to sit for the whole day at a time. An hour or two was manageable. I also didn’t have to go full-time. I could go at a pace that didn’t require too much stress that would trigger my trauma. I was able to transfer to a four-year college, and I got my Bachelor’s degree. I later followed this up with a Master’s in Linguistics and a Master’s in Educational Technology. School was easy for me is some ways. It required minimal interaction with people, who were the main source of my trauma triggers. On the other hand, my attention and memory have been severally affected by the trauma I experienced over the years. I got my Bachelor’s in English because I was a good enough writer, and it didn’t require me to memorize anything. My difficulties with my memory and my focus for a long time had convinced me I was stupid. I couldn’t stay focused enough to understand complex concepts, and I couldn’t memorize anything. But in college I was able to construct an educational plan that would work for me and my trauma affected brain.

Higher education, as a profession, worked for me too because I wasn’t required to sit for eight hours a day. I had interaction with students, but on a relatively superficial level so no one was challenging my interpersonal trauma issues. It was different every day and every semester, so I wasn’t bored. I liked technology because there is always something new to learn, so again, I don’t get bored. It is often very independent work. A college instructor rarely has a supervisor looking over their shoulder, so there wasn’t a lot of interpersonal emotional burden.

When I started my phd I liked online learning because, for me, it was the ideal workspace – no people, work at my own pace, with technology. I loved it. In my second year I discovered trauma-informed educational practices. What if, I wondered, people could go through their educational life without being traumatized by it? Or, better yet, they were able to be supported when they brought their own trauma with them into the classroom? What if school felt like a safe space instead of a physical threat? And what are they doing to provide for this type of environment in online classes — my favorite type of classes? So here I am.

My educational experiences have both saved me and were the source of a lot of suffering. Much of school was excruciating. It still is. Sitting through lectures is still a painful experience and all the theories and concepts rarely stick. If I weren’t a capable writer, I never would have found any success at school. Or what if I weren’t bright enough to figure out how to make an impossible system work for me? It all could have been very different.

But I believe it can be different. I’m not necessarily trying to make it different myself; I’m just holding the vision for it. I still struggle with interacting with people, so I’m happy to work on the tools for other people to make it different. Movement forward. I hate to say this, but all through school I knew it could be different. I knew it should be different. And that’s where I am. Just wanting it to be different.

How We Interact with Students Matters

It’s hard for me to distinguish among the many traumatic events that I experienced in grad school which was the most traumatic. But thus far, it was probably the interaction I had with the professor in my seminar class. In the middle of one particular class, I had an emotional flashback so overwhelming that I left the room and didn’t return until class was over. I didn’t feel safe returning, and I felt deeply ashamed of being so emotional in front of my classmates. On my way out of the building, I saw my professor and knew he wasn’t going to allow me to simply go on my way, which I desperately wanted. He walked up to me and started demanding answers about what happened to me, answers he wasn’t prepared to receive. My response was this, “I can’t talk about this right now. I just calmed down.” He totally ignored my request and continued questioning me, pushing his agenda which had nothing to do with my well-being. When he was done talking, he instructed me to thank my classmate for collecting my belongings and turned on his heel and walked away.

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FAQs about PhDs

What I wish my friends and family knew about my PhD. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to start with the previously hyperlinked article. The title is self-explanatory, and I’ll leave it at that. As I was read it myself, it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write something about this for some time now. As far as I’m concerned, Kate Samardzic got it exactly right.

To give you some idea of what this pursuit has been like for me, within the past couple of weeks I came to realize that this past year was the hardest I’ve had since I went through cancer treatment nearly fifteen years ago. And to be entirely honest, cancer treatment was significantly less traumatic – or at least what I remember of that painful time. To be clear, it’s not the content of my PhD program that is so challenging. It’s negotiating the expectations I have for myself, trying to navigate the emotional side of an extremely competitive environment, as well as a situation populated by highly intelligent people many of whom do not have my best interest at heart. Or, if they do, their idea of supporting me is unequivocally wrong regardless of how well intentioned they may be.

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Equity Unbound Weeks 5 and 6 Equity

#equality but I still don’t know what ba” (CC BY 2.0) by  leighblackall 

This section of Equity Unbound looks at equity. It’s a hard one. Don’t go into Weeks 5-6: Equity thinking you’ll breeze right through them. Space them out.

I’m especially interested in access to online resources. And the first activity for this section is the article we were asked to read and annotate called Digital redlining, access, and privacy by Chris Gillard. The point the article makes about not all schools having access to the same online resource materials seems bizarre within the context of high education, as I mention in my annotation below. Isn’t that the point, to allow exploration? I also had a few thoughts about my time at Divine Word College.


Next we read Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab  by Hoda Katebi. Just a few sentences into this I knew where it was going. Not everyone sees the flag as a symbol of hope and freedom. It is also a symbol of hate and war, especially if you are on the receiving end of many of our political actions in certain parts of the world. As an American that is hard to write. The American flag is hardly the pure expression many U.S. citizens assume it is. It holds as much, if not more, negativity than the freedom we see it symbolizing. I would feel better about addressing this if the current administration wasn’t steeped in violence, hate and psychopathologic dysfunction. I’m not sure if we can come back from it.

I feel slightly better reading the Paul Gorski article called Imagining Equity Literacy. I have lived abroad so have learned through concentrated effort about the culture that some of my students come from. Having just said that, the next line I read in the article says this: I wonder whether we have become so focused on culture in education that we have failed to address inequities like heterosexism, ableism or racism sufficiently. Yes, I need to do better here.

At this point I’m feeling overwhelmed. I feel like I’m falling short in all areas in my pursuit to bring more equity into my actions and how I interact with the world. While I am expanding my understanding of equity, it’s still deeply emotional and in that sense draining. There is research out there encouraging self-care for people doing social justice work. I’ll have to look into it.

To be honest, I have limited time, and even though I would like to take a break, I’m pushing through it. I’ve chosen to look next at The urgency of intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw. I’ve heard the word intersectionality quite a bit lately. Based on what seems like common sense, I can make some assumption about what it means. But I didn’t know explicitly, and I wanted a better understanding.

This was a lot to process. I wish I had time to spread it out some over the two week period of this section of the class. Time made that difficult though. There were a couple of other videos in this week’s block, but I’ve reached my limit for the time being. Even though I only saw a couple of seconds, the videos of assault in the Kimberlé Crenshaw video were too much. The rest of the day I will work on self-care. Here is a helpful article I found on taking care of ourselves Self-Care for Warriors of Social Justice. by Katie McBeth in case anyone else is feeling like I am.

Equity Unbound Weeks 3 and 4 Empathy and Bias

#equality but I still don’t know what ba” (CC BY 2.0) by  leighblackall 

I am leaving in exactly two hours to drive to the airport and board a plane for Hawaii. I’m giving my first official presentation on my research. The conference is called the 8th Conference on Social Justice in Education. I write about my research work extensively in this blog, if you’re interested. In the meantime, I’d like to describe my experience with Weeks 3-4: Empathy and Bias of the Equity Unbound class.

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Equity Unbound Week 2 Introductions Continued

#equality but I still don’t know what ba” (CC BY 2.0) by  leighblackall 

This week in Equity Unbound, we are looking at the “open web for the vulnerable.” One of the activities was a Twitter scavenger hunt. We were asked to tweet a mystery object and respond to someone else who posted an object.

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