Returning to optimism

This week I received two doses of idealism, which made me realize I’d sunk into something like pessimism of late.  As a result I’m more optimistic about the future, despite everything.

The first jolt came from a tv interviewer, who was asking me to imagine the world of teaching and learning twenty years from now.  Boston came up in this discussion, accidentally, as we first spoke by cell phones as I drove to and from that city, and then when the tv channel’s film crew traveled to my house along the exact same route.

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After I laid out a grim vision of the powerful forces keeping education from changing (you know the drill: economics, professional development, public and private bureaucracies, etc), the interviewer gently, very gently asked me to be idealistic.  Don’t be handicapped by what you think is most likely to occur, she said (and I paraphrase), but say more about what could happen if we make the right decisions.

Regis College towerThat floored me, and makes me want to apologize to you, dear readers.  I have been emphasizing the glass half empty, like campuses closing and performing the queen sacrifice. I’ve been spending too much time with macroeconomics, getting bogged down in the grim news about America’s employment and income data. I’ve had to do this, because these things are real, and we need to think them through.  But following these inquiries in depth, I lost sight of human capacity and agency.

The second jolt came from Regis College, where I led a one-day digital storytelling workshop.  After struggling through Boston’s hellish traffic and roads I staggered onto campus, to be met by… a group of passionate, thoughtful, and creative faculty and staff.  They were ready to start the new academic year, and were raring to dive in.  Storytelling and its digital manifestations lit their imaginations.  I left the day inspired and invigorated.  (That’s a fine stone tower on the Regis campus above)  I even navigated my way north from the Boston zone in happiness.  Yes, happiness in Boston at rush hour, that’s how far the day totally turned around my mind.

Analyzing education at the macro level in 2013-14 has infected me with gloom.

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 That’s not an irrational gloom, since we are in an enormously stressful time. Surely I don’t have to enumerate reasons here. My Russian ancestry doesn’t exactly predispose me to being chipper, either. But of late I’ve failed to pay enough attention to the positive developments.  And I haven’t been open enough to the ways we can shove history around and make things better.

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I’ll try to remember this.  I’ll hew more to hippies like Jim Groom and Alan Levine, folks getting the good work done.

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 The rest of you: let me know if I fall off the beam.

And how can there be so much optimism coming from Boston?  As a native New Yorker I’m a bit appalled, so I’ll conclude on a fiercely musical note.

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15 Responses to Returning to optimism

  1. Alex Kuskis says:

    Dear Bryan,
    I share your your alternating pessimism and optimism about higher education, and indeed, education in general. And I don’t think that has much to do with my Latvian and Russian ancestry.

    ‘Twas ever thus, as Machiavelli pointed out some 500 years ago:-
    “And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old
    conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience with them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly….” – Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)

    We have no choice but to persevere, as the alternatives are so unsatisfying and unacceptable. Keep at it……….Alex

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    thank you ~ and a post to share without alarming all and sundry quite so much (not that they still don’t need a dose now and again)


  3. Reblogged this on National Mobilization For Equity and commented:
    Bryan Alexander has written regularly about about Peak Higher Education and drastic cuts as “Queen Sacrifices.” Futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education, Bryan completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan in 1997, with a dissertation on doppelgangers in Romantic-era fiction and poetry and taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana.

  4. I am heartened by your post, Bryan, and by the thoughts and quote with which Alex Kuskis has replied. And, I have dipped my toes, actually more like my mental capacities, back into the realm of education with an interesting project for an online University … the phoenix rises 🙂

  5. “I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” – Antonio Gramsci.

    I loved this post. Thanks, Bryan.

  6. Brad Jensen says:


    In your mention of digital storytelling, in this post, and your commitment to optimism, I’d like to share a free-ish resource I’ve programmed and put on the web, It’s designed to let anyone who has something to say, to post web pages and a web site with the absolutely minimal amount of effort. Basically you write emails that become web pages, and you can maintain your anonymity if you want.

    I’m hoping that among others, teachers and their students will find a use for this.

    It is free to the web author, although it has embedded advertising to pay the ongoing cost of hosting and continued development.

    The idea behind this is to reduce the technological threshold for web authoring to as close to zero as possible, while encouraging people to have their say, and visitors to comment on the web pages to continue the conversation.

    I’d be interested in your ideas on this if you want to take a look at it at

    I don’t mean to spam your site. I’ve actually been in the elearning community for a long time.


    Brad Jensen

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