WE FUCKING DID IT, Y'ALL
Another goddamned year.
Nice work, everyone. You made it.
It's been a weird one. Even by pandemic standards, 2022 has been a freaky little asshole. I don't think anyone really knew what to expect, but nobody got what they wanted. I had an absolutely ridiculously intense one, so "back to normal" was never the right concept, but I think even people who didn't find long lost family and start new jobs discovered that "back to normal" was a bullshit phrase, a lie and a myth, as there is only ever eternally forward.
And forward required us to have some idea of into what.
2022 was the year of figuring that out: none of the old goals and rules applied anymore. Life remained suspended between what we thought we knew, and what we needed to learn, and it was such a struggle, friends, sitting in this uncertainty.
None of this, of course, is new. Back in the aughts I worked for a very cool educational centre where we built a lot of groundbreaking engineering education curricula. One of our chairs was a materials science engineer whose job was to try new and interesting things to get students thinking not just about what they were doing, but why they were doing it.
She introduced an engineering practice course, where students had to work together and study famous disasters to learn engineering ethics. She staged theatre productions in the lobby by Ionesco and Michael Freyn, to teach them about the social context of our work; she held art installations in the labs to get them thinking about place and society.
She was also cool as hell; she went around being a tall, arty, motorcycle-riding poppy amongst the drab, dress-shirt and be-khaki'd faculty who viewed her with equal parts suspicion and awe. And one of the most fascinating concepts I picked up from her work was how, when we're learning something new, we enter an uncomfortable place in between knowing and not knowing.
Understanding something isn't like putting a book on a shelf; it transforms our minds. And it does this so powerfully that we forget what it was ever like to not know it. Things that do this to us are called "threshold concepts," and they is why good teaching is so hard. And they are intensely, horribly uncomfortable.
Difficulty in understanding threshold concepts may leave the learner in a state of ‘liminality’, a suspended state of partial understanding, or ‘stuck place’, in which understanding approximates to a kind of ‘mimicry’ or lack of authenticity. Insights gained by learners as they cross thresholds can be exhilarating but might also be unsettling, requiring an uncomfortable shift in identity, or, paradoxically, a sense of loss. - Land, Meyer and Baillie (2010)
And there it is: 2022, you big jerk, you goddamned liminal space, you threshold writ large.
This year has been a moment suspended between one time and another; one identity and another; one concept and another. Beginnings, endings, and this is not just a linear journey; it's a constant churn and dart of false steps, re-conceptualization, and discovery.
In short, there is no simple passage in learning from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’; mastery of a threshold concept often involves messy journeys back, forth and across conceptual terrain. - Cousin (2006a)
In so many ways, 2022 has been a year of liminality. Of asking questions, and the feeling of not knowing. Of waiting, suspended, dodging answers. And in times of global upheaval and pandemic, it isn't just you and me and all the overthinkers overthinking, as usual -- no, it's everyone, all doing it at the same time.
What a mess.
I can't tell what 2023 is going to bring, but I hope that your messes resolve into clarity and meaning, that we all get unstuck together.
Happy New Years, friends. For 2023, I wish us all ...just a bit less mess.