I take the most recent communication with the coordinator from my previous posts to finish up this semester's saga of the Internal Fellowship Gone Awry, aka the Scapegoating of Clio, Her Poison Pen, and Her Big Destructive Mouth. (That feels like it should be punctuated with a growl. Arrr!)
The last meeting of the semester took place last week. Unlike earlier meetings, this one did not take place at a museum but at one of the other campuses of our college. I went in resolved to take Ani diFranco's advice to "smile pretty and watch your back," and to work on something more creative to distract myself from any desire to participate. As you may remember, I've been restricted from saying anything that hasn't been cleared through this coordinator.
As the meeting progressed, I didn't so much smile as smirk cynically as the meeting -- for me anyway -- moved from infuriating to downright comic, leaving me feeling as if I was sitting at the Mad Hatter's tea party.
The other fellows voiced the exact same concerns about the program as I had, and made the exact same suggestions -- some almost word-for-word. The main concerns had to do with the fact that we all came into the fellowship with the expectation that we would learn some new pedagogical tools, that we would hear curators talk about social justice issues in their exhibits or museums, and that we would get tours of the exhibits or museums. As I've mentioned before, this was not the overall experience of the fellowship, and people pointed this out. They also gave suggestions for changes that might meet these expectations.
In response, we received the same lines, as if the coordinator were reading a script. The curators can't always take the time for the tours, so if we want to see more of the museum we have to come back on our own time. The curators aren't experts in social justice, so we can't expect them to speak to social justice issues in the exhibit. The curators aren't educators, so they can't give us any pedagogical assistance.
Well, then, what was the whole point of the fellowship?
Worse, the coordinator said it was our responsibility to address the social justice and pedagogical issues. Well, we did, and the curators were completely unprepared and unable to answer our questions. One fellow actually called a curator to interview him about social justice in relations his museum (and it was a museum dedicated to native people), and he not only needed to get back to her to answer her questions, but when he did, he still couldn't speak to them. What was going on there? Maybe they are all dealing with the culture wars, but couldn't they even talk about that?
All of our suggestions were dismissed in such a way that they essentially said we were at fault for having our expectations, and in a way that led me to believe that the museum side really does not see this fellowship as the advertised "partnership." You see, all of our suggestions meant that the museums would have to do some adjusting to meet our program's need. The museums have no intention of adjusting. So, the tactic is to turn on the fellows and tell them that they are at fault for the unmet expectations.
For the future, the coordinators decided to add an addendum at the beginning of the fellowship that refutes all expectations for the fellowship. I interpret this statement as saying, "Yeah, we know you all signed up for this because of the theme and because you want to learn more about the theme and how to use the museums in your lessons, but we aren't going to deliver that. So, if you want any of those expectations met, then it's up to you to meet them on your own time."
Again, what's the point of the whole program, then?
We next moved on to the whole electronic communication and blog issue in order to "come up with" ground rules for the future. At this point, all but two of the fellows had come to me and told me they didn't understand what the problem had been. Moreover, as the discussion progressed, once again, everyone else said the exact same things that I had, and sometimes in more confrontational "tones."
In the discussion, the man who had publicly come to my defense, took a look at the rules that were presented to use (not created by us, as implied, but to which we were allowed to veto or expand). "All of these focus on the writer or speaker," he said. "We should also have something addressing the listener. Especially in written language, things can be taken different ways. I could write something one way, but someone takes it another."
I mouthed "thank you" to him. The coordinator, on the other hand, said that the entire responsibility for language rested upon the writer and that the writer should ensure that any reader will take the written word in the intended way.
My jaw dropped. Would she feel the same way if I went up to her and told her that I found her to be patronizing toward me? Heck, she even told me that I was wrong in my reaction to some of the curators' presentations. That I needed to understand their intention. That isn't exactly following her view that the speaker has the entire responsibility for meaning. What world is she living in? On top of that, she did not see that discussions emerge from misunderstandings, and that those discussions help both sides clarify the ideas being expressed or examined.
Of course, I've encountered this attitude before -- the one that places the entire burden of communication upon the speaker. Haven't we all? It's a technique of control, and this woman seems to have some real control issues.
Well, she was in the complete minority. Everyone in the room agreed with the man who pointed this out. A statement went into these ground rules that the audience should assume the best intentions of the speaker or writer.
Still, as I looked over the rules, every one had the same phrases that she used in her confrontation of me. Yet, no one thought that I had violated any. Furthermore, if any had been violated, we can presume that it was the listener rule -- and that wasn't me doing the violating.
So, I just sat back, shook my head, and thought, "Fall is going to be a long semester." I also thought, "At least I don't have to deal with any of this between the minute I walk out the door today and the minute I walk into it in September."
You know that's not the end.
I just received an e-mail from the coordinator reminding me to adjust my fall schedule to accommodate our meetings. This was not a general reminder for all of the fellows. It was a pointed message to me that would have just been friendly except that she added that she had already contacted my chair to make sure that he was aware of the situation.
Like I'm not able to do that myself. Like I wouldn't do that myself. Like I'm five, and she has to check up on me to make sure that I'm behaving. She seems to need to control everything. Can she not control herself?
Meanwhile, suffice to say, this program and specifically this woman have worked my last nerve down to a frayed little thread. I'm doing my best to hang on to that last little bit because if I snap, the only person who is going to suffer is me. I focus on the image of water rolling off of a duck's back to keep myself focused.
In fact, that should be my mantra: Water off a duck's back. That, along with "smile pretty and watch your back" and "Moscow Rules." My unholy trinity: "the smile, the rules, and the water off a duck's back."
(Video has the F-word, so you be the judge of where to play it)