What floats to the surface of history and what gets swept under the rug? How exactly does this process happen? Critical reflection is one of the many educational lenses we apply on the Bus to help us uncover the hidden dust and bugs.
During a southeast semester we were exploring the interrelationship between land and culture while spending a week in Eunice, LA where we were hosted by the legendary Cajun musical family of Marc and Ann Savoy. The Bus program had an ongoing relationship with the Savoys which allowed us access to the community in a very deep way. After days immersed in traditional Cajun music and culture Marc arranged for us to meet up with young Zydeco musician, JoJo Reed, also from Eunice, for another window into local Creole culture. In addition to speaking to us about his music, JoJo told us of his experiences growing up a young black man in the southeast. He described a recent situation in which he entered a bar and no one would serve him. There was no sign on the door stating “no blacks allowed” (as that was long deemed illegal) but not much had actually changed in practice. Ironically, one of his tunes was playing on the juke box at the same time that he was “ignored” in terms of being served. While he spoke to us without obvious rancor, it was clear that he was challenging us to look more deeply into the hidden structures that govern life in the United States. There was irony here to be explored, of course, and yet there was more. Students were appalled by the fact that a black man could essentially still be banned from public places in the United States in the late 1990’s. This seemed utterly archaic to them. They were all from northern states where they believed such racism had gone extinct long ago. Yet further reflection led them to question whether the behavior was really so different from one part of the country to the other. On the surface, perhaps. But was it not true that African Americans were still excluded and discriminated against in the north, sometimes just in more covert ways? Was covert discrimination really preferable to overt?
In 2016 we are no longer able to be as naïve about racism in the United States as we were that day in Louisiana. In the wake of Trevon Martin’s murder – and way too many others, acknowledged or invisible – came the creation of “Black Lives Matter”, the activist organization that continues to raise awareness about the ways in which Black people around the world are deprived of basic human rights and dignity.
This is just one story, from literally hundreds, about the profound “waking up” process that can happen while on a bus semester. Often this involves realizing that what we, as lifelong learners, have been led to believe is truth is in fact flawed and full of holes, promulgated by various arms of the media as well as within the educational system itself. Critical reflection, a significant element of education at EEI, involves examining power structures and how the effects, often hidden within the context of a learning environment, carry on into our lives outside of formal education. These structures may be conscious or unconscious (e.g. hegemony). The process of critical reflection must be a fluid and evolving journey and not a destination.