Kevin Gannon’s “Radical Hope”: A Roundtable IntroductionHistorians in the News
tags: teaching history
This fall, I’m teaching for the first time in two years. It’s a seminar on digital media, a course I’ve taught twice, and always enjoy immensely, only this time, it will be taught, of course, entirely online. So, for the past two weeks, I have been meeting one-on-one with the 19 students I am fortunate to be working with this semester. I wanted my students and I to be able to get to know each other and have at least a taste of in person instruction, so, I proposed one-on-one Google Hangouts over the first two weeks of class. During our conversations, I could hear their desires to grow as writers and thinkers. I heard 19 students eager to read and discuss new ideas while demonstrating their improving abilities as communicators of complex issues related to digital media and digital culture. Like many teachers, talking with my students, and learning more about who they are as individuals, is fuel for me. Hearing about their interests and ideas gives me strength to make the next class better. These one-on-one meetings gave me something else, too: hope.
My students’ confidence in meeting the challenges of a new semester in unprecedented times, while facing increasingly unstable futures, speaks to Professor Kevin Gannon’s idea that teaching becomes a radical act of hope when students refuse to accept the problems of the present and instead seek to make a better future (p. 5). These students have sacrificed everything in the past six months. They have been even more confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed than usual, but they will not give up on receiving a quality education. They will fight for it and as educators, we are their allies in the struggle.
When Erin, Bill, and I first considered a roundtable discussion of Kevin Gannon’s Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto, we understood that higher education was already in dire straits. A sustained effort of disinvestment by state governments meant fewer jobs and resources, as well as a growing belief that a quality education is becoming more a private good rather than a public one. Our graduating students leave college with increasingly higher levels of debt, jeopardizing their future abilities to own a home or start a business or save for a family nest egg. Read about higher education in some of the U.S.’s elite newspapers and you’ll find many stories about freedom of speech issues or protests of controversial speakers but not enough about the pervasive sexual assault crisis or institutional racism of many American universities. With these serious issues already present, a global pandemic emerged and has completely upended what we consider a modern college education.
Contingent Magazine has published roundtable discussions before. In 2019 we asked scholars to consider what the film, Forrest Gump, said about U.S. history on the 25th anniversary of its theatrical release. Earlier in 2020, we invited contributors to write about how the COVID-19 pandemic had altered their lives, both as scholars and individuals adjusting to a new normal of quarantines, masks, and social-distancing. But we have never held a roundtable focused on one book, until now. This is something new for us, but Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto merits such a discussion. Released this past spring, the book is not only a call to arms for history teachers; Gannon’s work is a full-throated defense of the humanities, a liberal education, and the power of education as a transformational force. In his insightful book, the Tattooed Professor himself challenged teachers to rethink their pedagogical foundations and see ourselves, our students, and our academic institutions through different lenses (p. 6).
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