Dear Governor Ducey,

What is your take on April? I expect it’s somewhat stressful for you. The legislature is meeting, coming up with next year’s budget which you already proposed. You added funding to the schools, both K-12 and higher ed, but the bills that have been coming out of the legislature don’t bode well. What do you do to help get your budget passed? Do you sit on the House or Senate floor? Do you send minions out to try to persuade the super-conservatives that the more money they put into education, the more they can siphon off for private and charter schools?

I’m on pins and needles up here all through April. Remember how T.S. Eliot said how April is the cruelest month? It’s so upsettingly beautiful out. It hasn’t even been windy (yet). There’s so much promise in the lilacs blossoming. The tulips. I keep checking on the apple trees. Will they repeat their performance from last year? So many apples.

April sits on the cusp—almost warm, almost summer, almost free. But underneath all the almosts, the potentials, the would-bes, sits the possibility for disappointment. Will the legislature hear our arguments for why education is the most important thing to fund? Will they see that we aren’t bastions for liberal bias but instead places where the free exchange of ideas works to strengthen student success? Will they see that student success doesn’t only mean a job but also means a person stacked with resources to make her community a better place? Will the apple trees survive the surprise snow?

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Ah, free exchange of ideas. It’s April, so everything, like the clods of dirt holding winter together, is falling apart. Potential for bad. Potential for good. It’s hard to teach in April. I have this way of teaching that is, as I hope you find my letters to you, basically positive. I try to underscore what a student does well on the hope that they can recreate that success. I offer suggestions and pose questions, but I don’t say things like, “This essay is the worst thing I’ve ever read,” or variations of the sort. It’s really not in my character to be hyper-critical. I know there are people who believe that shaming students is the best way for them to learn. I teach in workshop format. I shape every response to fit the particular student’s needs. There are other ways I maintain levels of strictness—everyone must write extensive feedback. Everyone must present their feedback. Maybe I’m too nuanced with the criticism. Maybe I should smack people down. Some students would like this, as long as it’s not they who get the smacking down, but my belief is that I’m here to support the students. I set the standards high but I do try to work with each of them individually on their particular skill set. Maybe it comes off as catering to the student, but I think of it as teaching.

Of course, I’m also teaching in a crazy environment—one where certain students are actively looking for ways of teachers showing their bias. As if, somehow, teachers were robots. Legislatures, especially the one both you and I are hoping will restore funding to higher ed, are on the lookout for “bias”—as if humans have anything but bias. They want to protect student’s free speech but mainly if that student presents conservative views. The progressive students? They’re left to their own devices.

I can imagine the president of the University of Arizona, who supported not the students but the border patrol when students who protested against current U.S. immigration policies and separation at the border were charged with disrupting the “peace of the campus.” The president didn’t defend them. He probably sensed the legislature, holding the bags of money in their hands, wasn’t going to release those bags to a bunch of liberal protesters.

And so the president took the side of not his students but of the border patrol. And so, the students, who were indeed biased against the border patrol, took their indictments and went home. One student is afraid to go back to class. They spoke to The Guardian about their surprise that their university didn’t back them up, but they understand the smack down was mostly for show. Keep the students in line. Make sure “standards are high,” which translates to conform to the singular, one-size-fits-all standard. Obey the rules. Mind the border. Stay in line. Keep the order. Pray that April is over soon.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com



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