Seeking provocations and reclaiming the numbers game

"And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -- Anaïs Nin

In she walked. Already I was braced. And was not disappointed. She unleashed her net of despair, insistent on the savior story; the bootstraps-blindside-redemption narrative.

I sat, with jaw clenched and teeth gnashed, interjecting occasionally when her questions led her to draw absurd conclusions from the responses. She already knew the story she wanted to tell: her questions felt like artifice.

But my anger and hurt/surprise at what seemed like a missed opportunity to tell a compelling story presented an opportunity for tremendous pride. I watched with a full heart as a young man of 20 years held his ground and conveyed his convictions with a resounding calm. I was reminded, by him and familiar and new graduate students, that I am truly part of a team of like-minded, earnest, creative others. The "risk to blossom" must be taken.

This woman, this reporter, presented a provocation -- a reminder that our work is about creating the spaces to cultivate and nurture forth the creative capacities of the youth with whom we work. I am naïve if I forget that the histories and institutional affiliations of "our" youth -- who are involved with the justice system - will be of great interest to distant others. But how might we communicate, effectively and passionately, that these are normal, everyday, engaged, playful, thoughtful young people who are not only so much more than their institutional labels, they often defy those labels entirely.

I was describing this year's project to a former student on the steps in between buildings this week. She noted that in her recent experience working for an academic research center, research like ours was not what was being funded or sought out by the funding agencies. They want numbers. So let's give them numbers:
- the frequency of smiles between youth and adults, participants and facilitators
- how long it takes someone to feel comfortable enough to offer a peer encouragement
- the average number of affirmations and to whom they are directed
- how often and how many genre risks a young person takes - in their composing, consuming, and distribution of texts
- how many, within a given educational space, feel a sense of belonging

And let us reclaim outcomes in the realm of participation - real participation and not merely the behaviors that have been sanctioned by "experts" -- and look for value added in how youth contribute to shaping the curriculum of the educational spaces in which they participate; of course, this assumes educators will allow them this invitation. Could we imagine outcomes that sought greater humaneness among members of a classroom community? Or the mere recognition that one is a member of a community...

Reclamation of the stuff that seems to attract and affirm the monetary risks funders are willing to take; actions that leverage the ideas that capture the broader social imagination by transforming it with tales of fantastical imaginaries -- this is the new frontier of socially conscious, morally committed, pedogically inspired research about the literate lives of adolescents.

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