Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Are We Spectators or Actors?


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​(this blogpost is influenced by recent discussions with friends from my digped community – i say “my” because I feel like I belong among them, that kind of “my”)

Photo by me. Please don’t reuse

So much going on in the world right now, keeping everyone’s emotions on a roller-coaster and we are so busy reacting to that, and so little energy left for anything else…

What can/should we be doing to address how people are feeling right now? What’s the place for open learning and open education in the context of what’s happening in the world today? Are the challenges of open learning greater now?  E.g. Because of risks of surveillance and cyberbullying? Is the need for open learning more urgent? E.g. To counter hegemonic discourses that are anti-social justice? What can open learning do to help us cope with the world as it is unfolding in front of us?

Egypt is right now playing against Cameroon in the African Cup final. It made me think of emotion in spectator sports. How we have such emotional reactions to something we have absolutely no control over. Maybe audiences in the stadium can make a little difference because players can feel their energy and support…but viewers at home, on TV? The players aren’t influenced by them at all. Those people watching together are only influencing each other and not the players. What is the point? Some psychologist must have discussed this stuff at some point, I bet.

Are we all mere spectators of the politics unfolding around us, only able to cheer and shout out disagreement, give out orders that no one follows, or are we actors on that stage, able to effect change? Are we cheering and resisting in our own echo chambers, or are we able to build something together to truly challenge the status quo?

Education isn’t like sports. You don’t have to have access to the big stage to make a difference. Working on the small stage is also important work of resistance. But we still have to ask ourselves why we do what we do, and whether it’s achieving what we thought we were hoping to achieve.

How important is it for the work of resistance to be able to seek comfort in communities where we feel we belong, knowing together that we need to venture out into the wild to see what we can do beyond the safety of our community?

I have no idea where I am going with this. But maybe you have ideas?


  1. Thanks for this probing, thoughtful reflection, which led me to pose similar questions and to think through the tensions of the moment. I, too, find myself discouraged as a teacher and as a thinker. The ways in which sports and political conflict and violence strike our societies as far more spectacular and influential in some ways than what we do regularly in classrooms or seminar room or online. In the end, though, our praxis and the effects that we produce over the long term will do more for our fellow humans than any goal, however spectacular. Courage, my friend! What you do is precious and resonant because it builds learning and constructs networks of meaning in ways that the spectacle of sport does not. You are a builder, a creator, a thought-leader, a mentor, a shaper.

  2. While reading about boycotting science conferences in the US, it at first seemed empowering to take a stand. But more directly it feels like defeat to allow Republicans to “have” America like it was for the taking by any fool who came down the road. That said, there are vulnerable people who can be very badly hurt here and do need the comfort and safety of community. Maybe remaining outside the US is best for them?
    For me, it makes sense to figure out a way to dis-enable the Trump project somehow. That sounds really presumptuous though.

    Scientists urge boycott of U.S. meetings
    By Kai Kupferschmidt Feb. 3, 2017

  3. OMG – I LOVE that photo!!! So much wonder.

    I like this discussion between spectator and actor. I’m new to it but it seems familiar to me. I tend to think that the spectator role is undervalued. I do think that the TV viewers influence the players. Maybe not in the way that the cheering crowds do but the fact that the game is being televised, the fact that so many are watching, I think it changes things. I do think there is a problem with spectatorial culture in accountability – in understanding one’s self as a consumer. It also seems that we are all spectators and actors simultaneously… but again I’m new to the discussion.

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