My second week at the Center for Civic Reflection has challenged me to reshape my writing and make it more accessible. Studying for my PhD at Northwestern University has taught me to think beyond common sense, read in between the lines, and embrace complexity. While these intellectual habits can give depth to one’s reflection, they can also lead someone to lose sight of the essential questions and to isolate oneself from the insights of others.
On Thursday, I worked on a practice discussion plan to lead a reflective dialogue with a group of strangers, and this exercise made it clear how I needed to find a less academic voice if I wanted to reach a broader audience. The devil, as we say, is in the details; the difference between these two languages often lies on a slight but significant inflection. One of the tasks associated with writing a discussion plan is finding questions that are open enough to generate discussion and yet pointed enough that they connect with the participants’ experience. I was looking for relevant questions for the short essay, "The Lesson," by Toni Cade Bambara and realized I was looking too far into the text. The questions I was coming up with were not without interest, but they were clearly too specific. One question asked about the role of self-esteem in education, thus steering participants toward a particular issue without giving them the space to reflect on the much larger issue of learning in general.
My goal is not to ‘forget’ what I have learned in graduate school, but, rather, to recover a voice that finds an echo outside the ivory tower. The ideal, I believe, would be to find a passage between these two voices; in other words, to become ‘bilingual.’