Greeting the Morning with Thoughts about Gatekeepers?

Carol A. Hand

It’s already late when I awake this morning, but it’s hard to kick off the comfort of the pile of warm blankets to greet the day. I can feel the cool air on my face. Yes, it’s that time of year. My room upstairs will be at least ten degrees cooler than the downstairs in this old house with rickety windows and no insulation in the walls. But it really is warmer than my bedroom in a cabin with no heat that I once lived in. I survived with a bigger pile of blankets, gloves, and a winter hat, being grateful for my relative comfort as I remembered the stores of elders. They needed to brush off the snow that covered beds in the drafty attics, hoping their parents had started a fire to thaw out the water so they could wash after they trudged to the outhouse through deep snow. (I’ve done that, too but that’s another story.)

I realize it’s the first morning that I didn’t automatically reach for the clip to hold my back my hair, forgetting that I cut it a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m still lost in the first thoughts that were running through my mind as I awoke. Academia and the trauma wrought by gatekeepers! I’m not sure I will ever understand why some instructors feel it is their duty to protect the world from the dangerous classes – those who see the world differently and express themselves in unique ways.


Photo: Ava, Pinto, and Me – October 2015 (with shorter hair)

I had hoped that cutting my hair would reduce not only the physical weight of a heavy burden of hair I carried everywhere, but also would put to rest the memories my hair carried from the past challenges I encountered when I tried to buffer students from this particularly destructive academic trend. Yet today I find myself once again working through anger and disappointment as I prepare to meet with a former student who is dealing with a gatekeeper who seems determined to prevent degree completion.

What makes me both angry and disappointed is the failure of institutions to be honest about what they really value – graduating students who dutifully conform to standards that will make them docile workers incapable of critical thought and creativity. Those who will never question the legitimacy of authority or social conventions. Instead, these are the values the academic institution proclaims to the world as their foundation in their never-ending advertisements on the classical public radio station I listen to every day.

benedictine values

Image: Benedictine Values (Source)

I’m not a religious person. If I need to label myself, perhaps it would be as an eccentrically spiritual humanist. Nonetheless, these are certainly values that I can agree with outside of the narrow confines of religious doxology. There are many differences between this student and me, yet I respect her many gifts and in the past, worked with her to help her succeed with the tasks that she found difficult. I took time to get to know how far she traveled in life before she found the courage and passion to return to school in order to help others who were still struggling with challenges she had been able to overcome. My job as an educator was to help her discover and express her potential, not dressage her to fit into society’s notions or mine about what she should be.

When my former student and I met later, I discovered that the gatekeepers had eroded her passion and belief in herself. It’s how the gatekeepers remain in power. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I would feel the need to enter oppressive settings to try to model another path.

Now, I realize I did so at great peril, and I think about the symbolism of names. My name, carol, at least in my mother’s mind, meant “song of joy,” “the one bright light in her life.” There are few things that frighten gatekeepers more than kindness and joy. They form alliances to eliminate this threat to their control. I remember the “magic chair” I had in one university where students learned to laugh again. In another university, it was a hall of laughter that I was able to create with my friend Cheryl Bates, a “safe zone” in many regards where students could come for mentoring and advice.

Now, I write about oppression and possibilities, remembering the importance of modeling hope and joy especially in places and times of darkness. Joy and gratitude are states of being I need to cultivate within myself, but I feel the need now to surround myself with people who keep compassion and joy alive in their work. Thank you, my virtual friends. Your work gives me hope.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

12 thoughts on “Greeting the Morning with Thoughts about Gatekeepers?

  1. Your thoughts and words do not fall on deaf ears. There are many of us who, by our own experiences in education, know exactly what you are talking about here, although not all at the collegiate level or the exact same circumstances.

    Almost everything that was once good and benefited humanity has been kidnapped and twisted into a retro-grade inverted perversion, a means of mind control, as you know all too well!

    For what it’s worth, I encourage you to never give up on staying and helping these students: “fighting the good fight.” You, most likely, and the few like you, are these students only hope for getting to where they want to go and be!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, Carol, academia as we once knew it is under severe threat. Not only from the politicians. (Ben Carson this week said that he would use the Department of Education to locate and defund politically “extreme” universities. Scott Walker has begun the decimation of one of the great public university systems.) A deeper threat, to my mind, is the filling of the administrative positions, not with liberal arts academics (and by that I include sciences), but with “learned professionals” (chiefly lawyers). Graduates of professional schools generally see education from a trade school perspective. And lawyers, at least the ones deemed “successful” enough to run a university, are usually the handmaidens of power and money (which is generally the same thing here). Add to that the trustees from business (usually financiers) and you have “leadership” whose values are perfectly in step with the plutocrats who have hijacked this country. Higher education used to be one place that offered some resistance to the notion that “value” is determined solely by “price.” That is certainly changing rapidly. But it’s not just higher education. This same insidious philosophy is trickling down to public schools, who increasingly feel that there role is to mold students for the indoctrination they will receive in the next phase of their education.

    I am rooting for your kindness-and-joy approach to gatekeepers to work. I fear, however, that people who have sold their souls have little ability to translate that into a change of behavior. I am still looking for more evidence, however.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing such crucial insights about academia, DK. Lawyers, yes, and MBAs. “Let’s pack those bodies in and indoctrinate them, turn them into a robotic workforce motivated by the need to pay off overwhelming student loan debts, locked for a lifetime into a series of soulless jobs for low wages.”

      It’s why I decided to retire, DK. But it’s also why I still help former students whenever they ask.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol, I am heartened to read your words. I believe modeling hope and joy is very important. It is very easy for someone to give up if they don’t have a leader who will reach out their hand and offer hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments, Bernadette. I agree that it’s essential to teach respect, kindness, competence and integrity through example. It’s so easy to destroy people and make them feel hopeless – while mentoring, supporting, and demonstrating alternatives take time. I remember a video of an athlete demonstrating this to students. He stood on a chair and demonstrated how difficult it was for him to life up even a small student. They switched places, and he showed how easy it was to pull someone down. The work you do to highlight women who do lead by example is crucial!


  4. You go girl and hang in there! Hope and joy need to be fostered and sadly so many of our young people today are being robbed of it. So don’t give up. Continue to be the light in the darkness, as it were. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤


      1. Carol, This is a major digression from your post, but you may be interested i this critique of academia entitled “The Neo-Liberal Arts” from Harper’s September 2015 issue. You (or anybody else) should be able to read the article without subscribing if you follow the link above. If not, and you are interested, let me know.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: