does it matter?

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I know that loose physics analogies drive physicists to irritation, but I need to invoke one here: matter and antimatter. Those who have familiarity with CERN know something of the underlying science, including the understanding that these oppositional particles originate as pairs. One begets the other.

Similarly, there would not be any Science Education at the Crossroads were it not for the simultaneous presence of its exact opposite*. And yet, like matter/antimatter pairs, the two can only exist in separate spaces; otherwise they annihilate one another. This is why they are scheduled six months apart and why people shudder at one when “the conference that shall not be named” is invoked at the other. Yet, as profound and important differences exist, stories of contrast and origin are often apocryphal.**   When we tell these stories over pints at a pub, important contrasts and truths can be lost if viewed through the haze of unfiltered ales. Here I seek to re-clarify.

In spite of a rich history, stacks of journals and proceedings, and longstanding traditions, much of what occurs at NARST and the many gatherings like it does not matter. In fact, the longstanding traditions of the organization disable it. There are few authentic debates about substantive issues. When contradictory views are raised they typically emanate from old-timers eager to dismiss innovation.  Formal structures suppress deliberation. And, any movements in the direction of real action are absent. In defense of any mega-scholar-organization, intellectual indifference is its lifeblood.  And, either because of or in spite of this fact, it continues to attract ever-increasing numbers each year.

Miraculously, in the midst of indifference, lively and substantive debates thrive in the interstices where they can avoid collision with their opposites.  Celebration of academic discourse is consigned to the unscheduled and unsupervised spaces — third spaces, white spaces, open spaces — choose your space.  That’s where professional learning really transpires: not during keynote talks or symposia or anything scheduled in Ballroom C. To access these powerful moments you must violate the norms printed in the program and recommended by the President-elect.  In those spaces, you may even happen upon a pair of individuals getting to a point where they break past the tradition and enact something new.  But, alas, it’s rare, and for good reason.

The rarity is unsurprising because those spaces are not programmed nor planned.  The premise of Crossroads is that people — specifically you — are invested in coming together to discuss ideas that matter. This is enabled by the deliberate space, separated from the antimatter, but it desperately requires something more of the active participant. To be a productive collaborator at Crossroads, you must present yourself as somebody concerned about what matters. Your paper and presentation must reveal WHY you want to share. Is it because the topic is central to who you are and/or who you want to be? Is it because you are seeking compassionate critique from others who share your drive? Are you designing ways to empower a disenfranchised group?  Beyond nurturing deliberations about issues that matter, Crossroads serves as a springboard for doing things that matter. Don’t bring the lamentations about the insensitivity of your supervisor or the struggles you’ve been having with accreditation. (It’s a close competition, but we’ve got you beat on both fronts.) More important, we’ve learned that that stuff doesn’t matter. It will always be there and trudging through it only slows us down.

In contrast, if you find yourself longing to engage with others in a community that talks about what matters and considers ways to do something in response, we urge you to make that evident in your Vexation and Venture.  In return, we (the coordinators of the conference along with all of its participants, including you) dedicate the space to support and even push you forward in your actions.  We can save the antimatters for somewhere else — we all know where those papers can be accepted for presentation.  For Crossroads, we embrace the challenge to not only talk about what must be done, but to take responsibility to see it through.  We look forward to witnessing each of us take up that challenge and responsibility.

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* This entire argument is built on the premise that NARST is real. You can look in Wikipedia to see that a page for NARST does not exist.  Of course, its non-existence puts it in good company.

** Adam was not banned, the membership simply lapsed.  I resigned from the Board not out of protest, but to minimize conflicts and maximize focus.

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