- One of my favorite (read: least favorite) rhetorical moves is when people appeal to the authority of "Real World". I know I'm guilty of this too, though I'm actively trying to quit (2012 Resolution #3). For example (Click the timestamp on each tweet to read the context),
- Referencing the so-called "real world" is an attempt to de-legitimize what another person is saying, by suggesting that they're out of touch with how things are.
The problem with this, of course, is that no single individual or group is fully able to apprehend the entirety of the whole world. Some get closer than others, but ultimately it's an impossibility. You literally CAN'T know or experience everything, so there's automatically a limit to how credible you can be when you argue from this position. (That limit's a lot tighter if you actively refuse to listen to what other people have to say. #JustSayin)
The two Twitter conversations above reminded me of a cringe-y moment I had a few months ago, when Rick Hess came to Denver to moderate a panel discussion about education reform.
- As is too often the case, the room was filled with the local political elite, and a few of us who learned about the event in passing and made a point of being there. At one point, Hess made an insensitive remark-- something along the lines of how unions are left over from a time when principals/employers mistreated teachers/employees, as though that no longer happens. (If only.)
- Looking back, though, I can understand why he might feel that way. As a fairly powerful, White man, he is probably unfamiliar with being discriminated against on a regular basis. It may also be true that the last time this happened to him (if it ever has), he was probably a lot younger. And doing what he does, where he does it (a powerful think tank), he's surrounded by people who, by and large, have very similar life experiences to his own. Given all that, it might appear to him that these things no longer occur. But they do-- especially to people who don't inhabit his station and identity, people with whom he (probably) doesn't regularly interact.
His 'real' world looks different from mine, which looks different from those of the tweeters referenced above. That's why it's dangerous to make decisions based on only one person's (or one type of person's) definition of reality-- it's incomplete. If we act on that, we're bound to include oversights that will create other problems.
If Rick Hess' world (which, right now, is the one in which decisions are made) is accepted as Real, we'll continue lose important protections that enable good teachers to speak up for students. If Sahila's world is Real, then nothing teachers and activists have worked hard to accomplish in the past couple of years makes any difference, and continuing to try would be a waste of time. If J.R.'s world is Real, then it's useless for employees to expect the working world to ever be better than it is right now, which isn't great.
Fortunately, we don't have to accept their viewpoints as Real, authoritative and complete. We shouldn't accept anyone's viewpoint that way. Reality is like a puzzle, and we each have a piece. A piece. We have to connect with each other in order to see the whole picture.
Something to remember the next time someone goes off on a rant about how "Collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,"
- or tries to reduce the concept of diversity-- of any kind-- to a Hallmark pleasantry instead of the necessity it is. Collaboration isn't just something we do to make people feel good--though that's nice, too. And diversity is not just a way to make a pretty picture or avoid lawsuits. They are vital elements of any productive decision-making process. They're how we avoid making unnecessary mistakes. They are how we figure out what really is, so we can move towards the better things that could be.