Rearranging the universe

The following is something I worked on in a group writing session after a tough day at work. I was a wreck afterwards & took me a couple of days before I could return to it. Unusually for me I haven’t edited it at all.

“Yes. There’s no progress without struggle.
Whether you’re an activist or just a kid in some trouble” Guante – Lightning
I know what you were doing today.
I know you were testing how much I know. I know that by pretending your ear defenders prevented you from hearing me you were challenging my authority.
In moments like that I wish I could tell you what I’ve learnt about challenging authority.
I wish you could somehow hear through our deafening culture-clash how much of a shit I give about challenging authority.
Instead I raise my hand and slice a finger across my neck in the universal sign of engine cut-off and I pass your test.
Instant silence.

But somehow I am still losing.

Because what you don’t know is that I don’t want to play this game and I sure as hell don’t want to win it.
I admire you for not taking commands from someone who hasn’t earned your respect, I just wish I didn’t have to become an asshole to earn it.
Sometimes it is so hard to find a way through this intersecting web of sticky paradox that I want to run away and fight battles with clear battle lines but then I realise that’s the kind of thinking that got us into this mess and I’m back in the web again. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
Out of the moment I check my ego and know that for as long as I know you you will know very little about what I’ve learnt about challenging authority, and I will know very little about what you’ve learnt about challenging authority. Sometimes whole lessons get filled up trying to prevent you learning bad stuff.


The responses I got from the group were encouraging and supportive… its strange to write when you know there will be an audience before you can polish… its hard but also affirming.

I’d like to try to answer the questions raised because I think they’re important and interesting.

Do we have to start from the bottom when we ‘earn respect’?

I think the idea of a universal assumption of respect is cultural. I think respect comes with shared understandings whether personal (we know each other) or cultural (we share the same values). My values mean that I respect anyone I try to teach and the vast majority of people in my life but there are some people who really would have to start on the bottom rung with me. I’m mainly thinking about power. About how people who abuse power don’t get my respect because they don’t show it to anyone else. So power and respect are intimately linked. And that’s why I’m careful not to assume I have learner’s respect; it feels like a way to use the power imbalance in teaching and learning. To redress the imbalance then I expect myself to respect every learner, but know that I start on the bottom rung with them. I know that sometimes not using my power is seen as a weakness. Only I know the difference. The fact that only I see it makes it hard to keep believing I’m not just being weak.

What would happen if that conversation happened for real?

If I really bared my soul about power and respect and game playing I’m fairly sure I’d lose my job! It sounds extreme but this taps into an important question: If I was genuinely and thoroughly congruent in my beliefs would I really be teaching on this course? But is extreme congruence really what is needed?

“My job these days is not to make a difference
It is to fight with everything I have for a world in which I don’t have to” Guante – Starfish

I think (as I suggested) that there is ego in sharing your vision of how the world should be and sharing your struggle for that. I want how I act when I am with learners to reflect how I believe the world should be. Would it be a positive thing to sit down and compare our struggles? I’m not sure. I’d like to think that how I act is the thing that is useful to learners, how I think is more useful in a different sphere. Is that just a cop out?

Maybe I have two jobs. Teacher ellie is there to make a difference, activist ellie is there to fight with everything I have for a world in which I don’t have to. I hope its complimentary parts of the same job.

What do you need (from us) that will strengthen and protect you?

The space to think through all of this with input of outside perspectives is incredibly strengthening as I said in my previous post. This links to being protected because I am able to construct my boundaries better when I understand the problem better.


Spaces are so important. Having different spaces to retreat to, spaces for thought, spaces for action, spaces to hold paradoxes, spaces to take sides and scream across the divide. And the permission to be different people in these different spaces.


I am thinking about how art (specifically poetry) has informed my most recent posts. I am thinking about how sometimes reading theory feels like deciphering poetry. You have to read slower, but when its good it feels like someone’s rearranging the universe.


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