Bojana Krsmanovic, our guest blogger this week, graduated from the University of Novi Sad (Serbia) with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English Language and Literature. She is currently in her fourth year of PhD studies in Education, with research interests revolving around diversifying and de-gendering STEM fields through the affordances of design, arts, and crafts, and specifically DIY practices and making.
What does it mean? Apart from the multitude of definitions found in countless textbooks, articles, magazines, books, and websites – defining it as ‘the process of teaching and learning, or the organizations such as schools where this process happens’ to those which deem it ‘the transmission of the values and accumulated knowledge of a society’ which ‘brings about an inherent and permanent change in a person’s thinking and capacity to do things’ – what does it really mean to eager kids starting school, aspiring teachers, proud parents, whole cultures and societies? What are the values it instills?
What does it make us, as people?
I have spent most of my life trying to find the answer to these questions. My earliest memories are of spending whole days without seeing my father – who would go to the university to teach early in the morning, and then, straight after, to the research lab to work on his doctoral research and thesis. He would come back home late at night, long after us kids were put to bed. Even though I would miss him immensely, I somehow had this realization that he was doing something unthinkably amazing that not a lot of people get to do, and it was only natural that some things needed to be sacrificed to that great unknown. I cheered for my Dad as he was defending his thesis, becoming a docent, then associate professor, and, finally, full professor at the university in the city I grew up in.
I remember him enthusing about his research and many projects, preparing his classes, grading student assignments, reading his students’ papers and theses that he would bring home and go over in the evenings before going to bed late. I was happy when he would tell me with excitement about the joy of doing what one loves, and I understood that he had found his true calling. More than anything, I was proud of him, and the child-me forgave him for all those hours, days, and years my sister and I spent with only one and a half parent around.
Yet, I also vividly remember when my father started coming home from work sad. He spoke of politics at his department, bad blood among his colleagues, nepotism and favoritism, and overall injustice – things too complex and scary for me to understand while I was still a kid – and too complex and scary for me to ignore as I was growing up. Over the course of many years, I watched my Dad slowly wilt, his enthusiasm falter, his happiness fade. I saw him sinking deeper and deeper into disappointment, until he got very sick and, last year, died. Doctors said it was cancer; I know it was academia.
Still, when I was able to choose my career path, I followed in my father’s footsteps. I studied to become a language teacher and was, at the same time, fascinated with the prospect of pursuing my education further – so, I came to Canada to start my doctoral studies – I guess I wanted to capture the true meaning and purpose of education with a, perhaps, pretentious idea to change the world through teaching.
Four years later, I find myself face to face with all the same complex and scary aspects of academia that slowly drew my Dad to his demise. I had thought it would be different on this side of the world, different from how it is in the small, perpetually war-stricken country I come from, but I came to realize it is exactly the same. Training to be the best possible educator proved to me to be unimaginably hard. How does one make a real difference as an educator or a researcher in the field of education when the institution, which is meant to mentor students, does so under false pretenses – if it is doing it at all to begin with?
I learned what education should NOT be, which, in turn, led me to start understanding what education has the potential to be. Memories of a few rare captivating teachers and courses come to mind as I recall the overwhelming joy to discover and question, and the excitement to learn – an empowering feeling that I can become and do anything I dream of, without constraints.
I then take a step back to the time before Canada, when I spent years teaching English in a small language school in my hometown.
I remember the joy and sense of fulfillment that I would go to work and come home with. It was in the small things – noticing smiles on students’ faces, even though it was late and they had been busy the whole day; receiving calls from students, years after their course had ended, thanking me for everything they had learned or for sparking in them a love for English; staying after class, and having students confide in me or seek advice; or seeing sadness in their eyes in the last class of the session. It is the feeling of making a difference in someone’s life. It is knowing that somewhere, somehow, I facilitated a change in someone and recognizing that they enjoyed this transformative process. It felt just like I thought it felt to my Dad when he believed he was doing something special.
I ask myself: how can education be freed?
Although I was never taught this at school – I define education as an endeavor that must be universal: accessible for everyone, meant for anyone, like a gift that is yours for the taking if you wish for it. It should not know boundaries or be limited by individuals or institutions. It should be shared generously, honestly, and with a clear and open mind. I do not believe that true education can occur in the presence of injustice, self-interest, or dishonesty. I align with those who recognize, disapprove of, and rebel against the mainstream preaching that the ivory tower is prone to. Perhaps together, we can free education and make a difference. For now, I ask you:
Why do you study education?
Why do you teach?
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind?