Today is #NationalMentalHealthDay. For myself, every day is #MentalHealthDay. I wish it were so for everyone. But care and concern about mental health is just one of many, many parts of our daily context we ignore as [whatever the larger-scale equivalent of sensory gating — selective attention?] kicks in to, ironically, maintain our sanity in the face of living with all the things.

And I know we can’t pay attention to everything, in life or in teaching. In education there’s a standard litany of resistance: I don’t have the time, it’s not our job, those things aren’t the point of our classes. Simple pragmatic pitfalls abound, not to mention much deeper problems: we don’t know what all the things are, we don’t know what they mean when we do, we don’t know how to address them anyway.

Nor am I surprised that most actors in higher education—faculty, staff and administrators alike—pay little attention to things like mental health (before the point of evident crisis), wellness, the effects of socio-economic status, attention (and its attenuation), even basic awareness of metacognition…not to mention the attendant need to reframe entire conversation by employing different rhetorical approaches and less divisive and demeaning metaphors.

I’m not surprised because my experience is that most educators have trouble enough bringing basic elements of rich pedagogy to their teaching. This trouble is magnified in online teaching and learning to an almost ridiculous degree, resulting there in a selective attention that is practically partial blindness: teachers who I know care about students and are engaging, supportive classroom teachers that employ unconscionable methods (or perhaps more accurately, unconscionably employ no intentional methods and processes) in their online classes. It’s no great surprise that educators who are unable to recognize the problems of having no presence for, or engagement with,1 their online students aren’t likely to delve into the considerably more complex areas of the humanity within them as embodied by their homes, families, backgrounds and incomes.

This stuff is hard. Recognizing our own privilege and trying to change takes humility. Allowing for failure and operating in a manner that admits the chaos and shifting notions of control takes bravery. Trying to achieve a posture oriented toward collaborative flourishing, class after class, hour after hour, and moment after moment takes flexibility. And all of this is often demanded within institutions which largely don’t recognize subtlety or trust their teachers2. Like I said, it’s hard. But is it really harder than the position our students are in, lacking the inherent privilege necessary to maintain an artificial divide between class (in multiple senses) and life3, and paying (also in multiple senses) for our privilege to do so ourselves?

  1. And I mean, in many cases, literally no presence or engagement beyond being identified as the instructor in a syllabus…and even then I’ve witnessed teachers using hand-me-down information where even that was wrong. ↩︎
  2. The lack of trust that leads to shoehorning human beings into artificial matrices of measurables may be the most perverse symptom of a sick system. ↩︎
  3. Or learning and self. ↩︎