Random reflections – Jan. 31, 2021

I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to write once a week in 2021. My mind is ajumble today, however. So I am going to write out a few notes, to come back to, and make sense of, at some future point. Or at least that would be the plan.

Note 1: I am reading Dr. Bettina Love’s book We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. It came to me as part of a school-wide effort at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (where I work), led by Dean David Figlio and team. Dr. Love also shared more about her work in a recent webinar hosted by Dean Figlio.

So I have had one of those experiences where a book comes alive, in the middle of reading it.

Dr. Love’s book draws on her personal experience as well as her research, philosophy and advocacy. It is not a book written from some distance, observing the topics and questions; it is personal, and human. Listening and watching Dr. Love in the webinar just added to that experience. She is a force.

I am always in awe of those who can do this. Sasha Constaza-Chock does it in the book Design Justice, as well. Both authors bring in their own personal stories, but both authors also bring in the stories and voices of so many others.

I think what I am taking away from all of this is how – as we work to dismantle white supremacy, patriarchy, mysogyny, racism, hatred – we really need to do the work to feel it and not just conceptualize it. I am thankful for those authors who bring me toward that outcome.

Note 2: I am still astounded by the insidious trap that practitioners working in organizational learning and knowledge sharing fall into: All we need to do is make something explicit, share it with those who want or need it, and we’re done.

In one the readings we do in one of the courses I co-teach, this is referred to as an “objectivist perspective” (Hislop, 2018). Knowledge is an object. We just need to yank it out of people’s heads and transmit it to others. Hislop writes about this perspective in a historical way, mapping the thinking about knowledge management as it has evolved. “Objectivist” is arguably the “least evolved” way of thinking about knowledge sharing.

It’s a very similar mindset to what philosopher Paulo Friere refers to as the “banking model” of education. Teachers “know” and work to deposit that knowledge in the mind of students.

In the course, we contrast this “transmission” mindset with a more complex and social view of learning and knowledge sharing (a social-practice perspective). For many reasons, this perspective has appeal and often captures imaginations.

But then we continually hear – as we did at a recent gathering of practitioners – how they are still fighting the battle of convincing their organizations that the transmission/banking model leaves a lot to be desired.

I’m thinking we’re just not doing a good enough job of changing leadership mindsets about the social nature of learning and knowledge sharing. Or maybe – they just don’t want to think hard.

Note 3: Thinking about: Critically evaluating the tools we use.

What I am getting at is becoming better at identifying tools or methods or frameworks or models we use that are either blatantly evil, deceptively evil, or subtly evil. And I am thinking about this in terms of the general practices in which I engage: higher education, adult learning, community management, knowledge sharing, design, leadership.

I have my list. And it grows – often by others pointing out the subtly evil examples that I had not considered.

What I am thinking about is a better framing for myself: How do I routinely think about the critical evaluation of tools, methods, frameworks, models in a way that improves my judgment?


Hislop, D., Bosua, R., Helms, R. (2018). Knowledge Management in Organizations: A Critical Introduction. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

3 thoughts on “Random reflections – Jan. 31, 2021

  1. For a “jumble” of thoughts, this is quite a coherent post Jeff! Your sentence “we really need to do the work to feel it and not just conceptualize it” feels particularly close to the vest for me right now. I just listened to a podcast about Octavia Butler’s life and work (NPR’s “Throughline”). They played a clip of her talking about the moment she decided to write the book Kindred—a colleague of hers was touting all these facts and figures about African American history, and said a few things that showed how emotionally disconnected he was from the facts he knew. She said she set out to write Kindred as a means of helping people feel history, rather than just know facts about it. That has stuck with me, and I think there are parallels to your thoughts! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks Chels. Too funny – I listened to that same Throughline podcast some time after writing this post. Hadn’t made the connection you did. Spot on though. And now have Octavia Butler on my radar for reading, too!


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