On being an elder…

The Beauty of Old Age

CC Licensed (BY) flickr image shared by Vinoth Chandar

This fall semester, we are hosting something we are calling the LwT Challenge (that’s Learning with Technology). We have created a series of monthly ‘shares around a guiding question:

How do you mentor and/or model using technology to learn?

(You can learn more about the challenge here on our Populr page. Feel free to join in if you like)!

The suggested September share is a visual representation/answer to the question.

  1. Make a doodle on a whiteboard.
  2. Use colors/charts/diagrams.
  3. Make an infographic.
  4. Use a digital drawing tool.

thephotoSometimes when I walk quickly past a mirror I have this flash of a thought…wait-a-minute. Who IS that person? Hahahahahaha….it’s ME! Gray hair, sagging chin skin, wrinkles and all. I don’t know how I got here – in really late middle age. It is so very trite but so very true …that the years fly by. Both of my children are adults now…trying to find their way. The infant years of sleep deprivation and the elementary years of juggling schedules and the middle school years of angst and the high school years of exposure to so much different from our family’s value system are all behind us. They are pretty much launched. I have been at this place where I work for 30 years. So now what? (I made this image using an iPad app called VisualPoetry using a pic of me I took last week and my favorite poem by Jenny Joseph.

That brings me to the idea of being elder. What does that mean? How do we live differently when we are elder? Most certainly there are many cultural differences in the way we regard our elders. In our Western culture, we tend to isolate and ignore most elders. Other cultures value the wisdom of age and persons who have acquired it. I refuse to accept the projected elder persona our culture forces upon us. I won’t behave in certain ways because I am older. I won’t stop doing certain things because I am older. I won’t dress and style my hair certain ways because I am older. I won’ become sedentary because I am older. I won’t. I refuse to be what I myself used to expect of persons my age. All that said, I AM more audacious now. I AM more powerful now. I AM different, and smarter, and wiser, and all that…the things we usually attribute to being older. I might even tip over into the eccentric from time to time….because I care most about what I think of myself…much, much more than my concern over what other people think.

For this post though, I am really thinking about being elder in the context of institutional situatedness (is that a word?). I am thinking of longevity and influence and institutional memory and how all of that relates to our obligations to persons at points earlier in their careers.

The Hastac/Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring & Student-Centered Learning Discussion for this month was quite timely. As I participated in the live-streamed workshop on peer-mentoring last week I was thinking more about my own role as ‘mentor‘… that ‘thing’ that happens by default and because I am elder. I think about opportunities brought about because of circumstance and unintentional institutional relationships. I’m thinking of daily opportunities, not formalized or formulaic enactments of mentoring. I don’t schedule a time to mentor someone. I don’t make appointments to mentor. It’s more about the offering of a hand up; the encouragement to accomplish; the acknowledgment of achievements; the sharing of expertise and experience. All of these things can (and should) happen as a part of how we work with each other. It’s really an extension of that caring I wrote about in my last post…this caring for each other is a normal and natural extension.

It really is about helping others find their voice. Cathy Davidson writes:

Formal education is as much about power and compliance, conformity and regulation as it is about knowledge, mastery, intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, innovation or originality. …it is about a system of social regulation where deviation has consequences – advancement, recognition, achievement, graduation and rewards or detention and failure.

Amen. So what do we do to make sure we ‘do the right thing’ where our colleagues are concerned? Well, accept the role of ‘mentor‘ whether it is assigned formally or not. Realize that an important and elemental way to gently, ever so gently push towards more naturally flattening the traditional higher education structural hierarchy is to mentor. As elder. Do it. Well.



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