Two weeks ago, I was having one of those moments in my home office where I felt so helpless about the current state of affairs with my country. I tried to make several phone calls concerning our president’s latest executive order and all lines were busy. Then I drafted a snarky tweet and that felt shallow in the stream of despair that has become my Twitter feed. I sent some robo-letters set up by the AFT-WA and SEIU, and that too felt less than satisfying. I looked out the window and thought some more. What can I do?
Then I remembered that Whatcom County, where I just moved (back) to, has redrawn its district lines. Oh ho ho! Right. Who are my representatives? Who would have I voted for if I had lived here instead Portland, Oregon during the election? Perhaps I should do some research, I thought.
Well. Well. I discovered that I’m two blocks northwest of the true blue 40th district, and I live on the border of the ruddy pinkish red Republican 42nd District. By Bellingham local standards, I’m in the “Out County” district, which is local slang for the dwellings of the rural folk. Truth be told, the prettiest parts of this area are “Out County” and I love to Go East on the 542 to my favorite brewery. Somebody who uses the word “summer” as a verb in the San Juan Islands has little in common with a person who lives in the rural part of my district. By Whatcom County standards, I’m in the “less-affluent” part of the county which includes Native American reservations, two community colleges, and a very rural border with Canada. By Washington State standards, I reside in the lefty-hippy part of the northwest. By American standards, I live in a solidly Blue State.
This Red/Blue State talk is very American, I know, stay with me as I describe my Pacific Northwest 42nd District. Perhaps you light up a legal joint and celebrate your gay friends’ wedding while your shaman pal officiates the ceremony with nary a mention of a Higher Power. Maybe you sip small-batch whiskey that’s taxed to support our local schools. Maybe you ride your bike from your garage and never run into a car for miles. You ride by at least seven breweries and three hippy health food stores. You may see toddlers and tweens in Pussyhats. You can see an ocean bay that we’re trying to help recover after decades of corporate pollution. Look up on the hill above our city, and you’ll see a beautiful regional public university protected by a forest that will never be logged.
The 42nd District is not that PNW. It’s more conservative. Churchy. Rural. Back-to-lander hippies, I know you’re there. Yet.
This Out County narrative is the textbook split of demographics and socio-cultural norms that helped create the current administration.
Yes. At the time that I purchased new home, my main goal was to leave Portland, OR (another delightful haven for Blue State heathens that just wasn’t a good fit for me). When we were shopping for a home, I didn’t even think about districts. I only thought of what we could afford as I watched home prices soar. In horror. These last two weeks, all I’ve been thinking about in between pauses with my job is this district I now call home.
So what does it mean to live in the 42nd? I spent some time reading the republican webpages, blogs, what I could on Facebook (without an active account) and some newspaper articles. I decided to start with Luanne Van Werven because she is on the higher education committee which, ya know, is my wheelhouse. My heart started to race. Surely, the folks who represent me in this district, voted their party’s line. That’s democracy.
But I’m an open-minded gal. I enjoy learning about ideas. A woman of letters. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, I like to believe.
So I listened to Van Werven’s video. I noticed some photos of the 40th district including the waterfront near Fairhaven and Western Washington which is technically not Rep. Van Werven’s district, but instead of taking mean notes of inconsistencies, my heart swelled with pride. I love this area. I mean, I really love this area unlike any other place I’ve lived. Now that I work remote for my company, I could live anywhere. In fact, it would probably work best for us as a company if I lived in Iowa, maybe Nebraska, but this is the place. This is The Place. I’m going to live here until all of my hair turns gray.
In the video, I could sense Rep. Van Werven loves this place too even if our political affiliation is radically different.
Then I then read about Textbook Transparency Legislation and my heart really started to race.
The price tag of a college education has grown to become a financial hardship for many students and their families.
House Bill 2796 was part of a package of bills House Republicans pushed to help reduce costs and add transparency to some of the expenses associated with higher education. I have heard from many students about the cost of textbooks and materials. By providing the costs in advance, this transparency measure would have encouraged students to look at online alternatives to expensive textbooks.
A four-year college degree is not for everyone. Industries in Whatcom County have told me there is a real need for people with the skills like welding, agriculture and construction. Career and technical education (CTE) programs play a vital role, especially at a time when many struggle with the affordability of a higher education.
You had me at textbook affordability AND the mention of professional technical programs. That four-year-degree-not-being-for-everyone business? I’ll have come back to that in another post or this one will be 10k words. Everyone should be given a chance for that four-year-degree even if they were born on the other side of the tracks. Of a district where poor people live. They might think an LPN certificate is what they want, but what if they discover they want to be a Nurse Practitioner? A CTE certificate should open the door to more possibilities to all students not just a one-way path to a job. Unless that’s what you want, of course. Okay, see? I digress. Back to textbooks.
Here in my Out County District, there is a little ray of hope that somebody is working towards something I care about as a citizen. And as much as I loathe republican politics with every cell in my body, her party is in power.
At the bottom of a newsletter was a phone number, so I gave it a ring. At first I was channeled to the wrong district, and then I got another number to her staffer. I had fully expected to just leave a message yet here I was talking to somebody who was taking notes.
I launched into five minutes of non-stop data and facts about OER and community colleges. (Just try to interrupt me once I get started. I dare you.) I told this staffer that I would never become a republican nor have I ever supported any of his party’s positions, but I care a great deal about open education as a citizen of the 42nd district. I have quite a bit of knowledge to share about textbook affordability and I’d like an audience with Rep. Van Werven.
Perhaps he was thrilled to speak to somebody who wasn’t ranting about Obamacare while simultaneously praising the ACA. Sigh. Hard to say. He asked if I would be willing to come “all the way” to Olympia. Yes, I said, you bet. My average “commute” to talk about OER spans several time zones, so I thought this warning of the meeting being “far away” was pretty cute.
Now let me be clear.
I’m not your “average” citizen in Whatcom who is concerned with textbook affordability. I work for a company where our central mission is to care about students succeeding in colleges. Community colleges specifically–though I’d love to see us grow into serving our regional publics. When I really get into magical optimistic thinking, I see our R1s hopping on board and building on what already exists. I’m lucky. I have access to very smart people who will share their words and ideas with me as if my project were their own. I spend a lot of time thinking, writing, planning, and talking about open education. My pitch is concise. My words are sincere. I don’t have to pretend that I care because this is more than a job to me, this work connects me to people I care about and love deeply. If something like open education had existed when I was student, maybe I could’ve become a teacher sooner. With less debt.
I want your sons and daughters to have a better experience with their educations. I want teachers to enjoy true academic freedom that only open education can provide. I want quite a bit of change in the way education works in this country.
I’ve helped a teacher recently who had calculated how much food her students could buy when they don’t have to purchase her textbook. “I can’t take meals from my students and pretend that book is worth it,” she said. As a scholar, she is not satisfied with what exists in her discipline, but she’s going to adopt a course any way. She did the math based on her students’ food insecurity and I shared that she may enjoy reading the work done by Sara Goldrick-Rab. “What heart-breaking research,” she said. As if her own working reality was uplifting.
“Social justice” is a phrase I’m hearing more and more from teachers as they consider adopting OER into their teaching. And this to me, my friends, is where it gets really interesting. These teachers are considering adoption of currently existing materials with very little support. Without stipends. Or very small ones. Without tenure. Without hope of tenure. Without job security. Without union representation. Without a safety net. Without a sabbatical. Without any promise that it will help their careers. Without a care that there is such a thing as an open education community. They simply want what’s best for their students.
These teachers, in my opinion, have little to lose in Donny J’s America. They’ve already been practicing for the wave of austerity about to hit our colleges. This political reality has been part of their careers for years. Everyday I hope that Merriam-Webster will feature the word “Adjunctification” to bring awareness to a labor cause that is firmly forever under my skin.
An adjunct said to me recently, “Nobody gave a fuck about my skills during the Obama years, so why will this administration be any different?”
Good times. [Drink!]
My work, as lucky as I feel to be able to do it daily, can be simultaneously uplifting and utterly devastating. Everyday is a new day. Every hour is a new wave. Cresting. Crashing. Rinse. Repeat.
One of my promises to myself in the post-election, is to focus on three areas where I could affect some direct change.
1] I’d commit as much energy as I could to helping teachers adopt OER. Call me. I’m ya girl. 2] I’d support bike advocacy by encouraging more women and girls to ride bikes. And 3] I’d keep a closer eye on my local politicians.
Which brings me back to the 42nd, my Out County District. There are some bipartisan glimmers of hope. Maybe. My meeting went really well with Representative Luanne Van Werven. I’m sure I overwhelmed her with my enthusiasm. I did most of the talking; she took a lot of notes. She asked if I could put together one page of plans of what could work based on my original document of talking points. You bet, I said, I would love to and I have a lot of ideas for Washington State.
I’m a big fan of the work of my colleagues with the state board. We have one of the best eLearning Councils in the country who collaborate in ways that save tax payers tons of money yet they get very little, if any, recognition for it. I offered to speak to anyone anywhere any time about OER in this great state. I told her that my company has the best solution for scaling OER but the rigorous RFP process prevents any possibility of a state-wide contract. We have the talent here in Washington to make this happen, but there has to be a clear connection between our rural and urban colleges. We agreed that this is a bipartisan issue. We shook hands. I thanked her staffer. I took a mint, smiled, and greeted my fellow citizens who were waiting to see her.
So, dear readers, there is so much to despair about and be worried about with our country. Quite frankly, things have been really bad for a lot of people for a long time and if it’s taken this political horror show to help you see that reality, then I tip my pussyhat to you. Welcome to The Good Fight.
Feminism taught me that the personal is political. It personally offends me that education is expensive. I can’t fight every injustice, but this is my tiny little corner of the fight.
My question then to you, my American readers: Have you checked out what your local legislator is doing about college affordability? Why not? This is an easy problem to solve. Low hanging fruit. Easy-breezy. If your politicians’ focus is on textbooks, then treat them the same way you treat your students. Be patient. Start with what’s easy. Build up to what’s harder. Don’t use so many acronyms. Don’t mention open pedagogy or any other future goal we have for higher education and OER. Just focus on saving students money. Tell them what you think works. Explain how. Why. As a concerned citizen. Start there.
We know that open means so much more, but people who are new to this idea do not. They only see The Good Fight for students.
I’d be remiss here if I didn’t thank Mike Caulfield and David Wiley who shared their counsel and their wise words so that I could create this document. It’s licensed CC BY, so you’re welcomed to 5R it and create your own.
I’m still writing my OER Pilot document and I’m not sure if it will make a difference. I’m not sure if my trip made any influence on my representative or anyone else, but I had to try. For my team. For my company. For anyone who has devoted hours and hours into making OER adoption at scale a reality. For my district. For my community. What I do know is that it felt really good to inspect the hyper-local. My backyard. Your backyard. Our backyard.
Call your representatives and speak about OER as a concerned citizen. Let me know if I can help you. My district is your district.