Monday, June 1, 2015

Problematizing Problematizing

The last time I wrote a post was almost 9 months ago. Since then, a lot has happened.
  • I moved from the suburbs of NJ to the city of Los Angeles. 
  • I left my job as an adjunct and writing center consultant and took a job as an Instructional Designer at a startup EdTech company.
  • I developed courses about automobiles, medical compliance, and all things aviation (aircraft systems, aviation regulation, inflight service, etc.). 
  • I got promoted from Instructional Designer to Content Manager and now oversee a team of Instructional Designers and Subject Matter Experts. I also interface with executives from the client company.

So what's the biggest thing I've learned during this transition?

There's a problem with problematizing. 

From the time I took my first graduate Writing Studies course until I taught my last writing course, problematizing became a central focus of my life. Authority was demonstrated by the ability to find flaws in others' ideas, to be able to "make an argument." It transitioned from academic analysis to social analysis to picking apart every little facet of my life. To be smart, it seemed, I had to see the loopholes and the weaknesses in every theory, practice, and action, and to be socially just, I had to make sure to bring up the problems I saw in every space. I had to spread awareness.

Things could never be simple, and you could never take them at surface value.

When I became an Instructional Designer at a startup, there wasn't too much to problematize. I was given the content. I turned it into instructional materials, and I moved forward. I wasn't an expert in the content, and I didn't have enough authority to poke holes. I could learn without trying to be an authority on the subject matter. I was also too much of an authority on pedagogy for my colleagues in video production and animation to challenge. It was freeing.

When I was promoted to manager, however, I was given new authority. As I transitioned into the management role, I found myself problematizing everything. I'd essentially complain to the Director of Curriculum Development about everything that "wasn't working" and tell her why it wasn't working. On some level, I thought that showing her I saw that our system was flawed was demonstrating authority, intelligence, showing her I was smart enough to be a good manager. Now, I'm sure it was just irritating. It definitely wasn't good management.

Good management requires making decisions, taking action, and ultimately risking being wrong. These are not skills that are advocated in the current educational climate, where we are pushed to always be right, to make "arguments," and to strike at the weaknesses in other's theories in order to bolster our own, where we are taught that we need to make people more aware of their misconceptions.

Spreading awareness used to be difficult. It used to require action. Now, it's mostly kids whining from behind a keyboard, claiming that you "just need to like or share" to save the world or expressing offense over non-PC language (I've done this myself-- totally guilty).

What I've learned is that outside of academia there is little place for problematizing without action. There is only a need for solutions. Someone who can analyze then think beyond the form of the problem is valuable.

While I know the idea of using knowledge to take action was built somewhere into my education--  mostly in relationships with mentors-- it became buried in the layers of problematizing and reestablishing the hierarchy of experts and novices. It became the reason I left academia. I felt that everyone always needed to leave a mark on an idea and only did so by deconstructing it, by finding what needed to be improved, rarely by an act of support.

To take action is to take a risk, a risk that you might be wrong, a risk that someone else might exercise their "authority" by exposing your action as imperfect or faulty. Theory is, after all, built on ideal circumstance. Action is based in complex reality.

What I've learned from crossing the boundary is that it is much harder, but also much more necessary to become an authority through action rather than argument alone. That is true leadership, and I hope to be a true leader some day.

As of this week, I also traded in the car I drove across the country. It started to "problematize." 


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