Last weekend, I attended the Digital Media and Learning Conference, themed “Democratic Futures”. I’ll have to say, I was more then excited to be in this space. Its pronounced commitment to thinking about the dynamic ways that “young people are redefining expressions of ‘citizenship’, ‘political engagement’, and ‘democracy’”(as the program read) was right in line with my own interests and curiosities as a teacher/researcher/geek/activist. I wondered how different stakeholders perceived this theme, and what they would prioritize per a forum like this. Would we have conversations about practices to support youth activism? Would we dialogue about access? What about the Common Core? Would we engage in strategizing sessions at dinner to expand issues emerging from DML to a wider audience? What would we do with all of these important conversations highlighted on the program? I arrived prepared to swap ideas and gain insight from the multiple perspectives offered.
I attended Zuckerman’s opening keynote and thought about what “thick” engagement might look like with young people who I’ve worked with in my past. I walked around with my iPad and tweeted the heck out of the sessions I attended. I kept a close eye on the monitors in every room offering snapshots of what was happening elsewhere via 140-character metacognitive musings, confessions, inquiries, ramblings. I listened to Kris Guiterrez talk about “Learning as the Organization of Possible Futures” and Institute of Play and DML folks offer participatory approaches to professional development in Education. Young and old debated the use of badges and MOOCS over drinks in the lobby. GAP youth, Watts Youth, and Detroit Future Youth shared participatory research models and community media projects. The days were full, and the conversations rich. That said, though the sessions were informative and sometimes even entertaining, what stood out the most to me were the conversations in the hallway.
That’s the best part, right? The huddles in corners where people convene and remember, amuse and reflect. (And also, being able to look out of a window on Saint Patrick’s Sunday and see a neon green river was pretty cool. It was kind of Ghostbuster-ish, really). Anyway, I think I spent more time engaged in these side conversations then I did in sessions, and walked away with plenty to think about.
Some of the questions posed in these informal gatherings were, “How do community and school organizations engaging young people in the kind of work that speakers at DML are championing sustain their programs?, “Where does the money to support initiatives like this come from?” and “how might we generate collaborations with each other across state lines to share programming and funding ideas?” These lines of inquiry emerged from conversations I had with community program directors, artists, and youth, in particular. They wondered about access and sustainability, and cared deeply about continuing their work. They listened to scholars on panels and in sessions, and wondered how they could be a part of the collective “we” that was referenced in talks. Who is this “we”, they asked? I think Antero Garcia even tweeted out something along a similar vein at some point during the weekend.
I thought about the references to “we” and these interactions when I came home, and began considering how much our digitalized democratic futures might very well rely upon our ability to provide ongoing and consistent support to the youth-driven platforms, movements and projects that are happening right now in several communities- those that have grown out of self-identified community needs. It also seems important that we consider what forms of care and support are necessary for this kind of work to transfer more fluidly into classrooms. Don’t we have much to learn from those who are currently positioning themselves as power and production mediators with youth? Or even from young people themselves? A fair amount of scholars in the field of education have been speaking about re-imagining education as of late, but maybe it would be equally generative for them to re-think and re-assess their role in serving as mediators and midwives within acts of re-imagining and producing that are already happening, bothin within and outside of classrooms. This could happen through advocacy and financing campaigns, committed scholarship, and the development of teacher professional development opportunities. More must be done, however, to financially support the transformational work that is happening on the margins. The question is, how?
As we consider how to best usher in democratic futures that are equitable and participatory, this feels like an important initiative to take up.
Join me and feel free to begin a discussion thread below.