Aspiring to be an edupunk

This post was written 7 years ago.
Sun, 23 Jul 2017
Only four days back I gave a talk at the BathCamp Meetup, but it feels as if it was much longer ago. That's good because mostly, I'd like to catapult it into some distant past immediately, where it is not much relevant anymore, and I won't be reminded of it too much. I also don't want to go on about it too much. I just would like to draw some conclusions from it.

It is difficult to say what impression I made, and it will vary for different people, but I am pretty sure that, erm, the talk was not really what was to be expected. For one thing, I totally overran the prescribed time. It was supposed to be a lightning talk and it must have seemed as if I just completely ignored that fact. I rambled on about things, narrating little anecdotes and going off on tangents, and I just simply had too much content. Also, I started with three slides about me, which probably already took up 5 to 10 minutes, as much as the whole talk should have been.

And here's the other thing. In that strange interconnectedness I feel with the group I set up, where I don't know where I end and CodeHub starts, the whole thing, from when I started to prepare for it, felt intensely personal. It felt like it would be the hardest talk I could ever give, despite it being so short. Harder than the one about Responsive Design for Skillswap. I still haven't quite figured it out why this strong identification exists, in any case the whole preparation for the talk brought with it a long and somewhat uncomfortable investigation into what I was doing with CodeHub (or not!), what I wanted, what it could deliver and so on.. There were certain realisations and conclusions which I might write about some other time.

But in the talk, for some strange reason, I felt compelled to get across the following: I am an interloper, I am totally unusual (female, foreigner and old), I am not a geek, I took a strange path. I have often felt like a canary in a fish tank and I am a "bit of a punk", doing things whether I have the authority for it or not. (I left out that I feel totally insecure about it at the same time.) I even had a slide for that with an image of Johnny Rotten next to that of a (German) book about the "canary in the fishtank", written by an unusual manager in the car industry. The idea for that slide had just appeared out of the blue at some point, and I was aware that it might be a bit strange; at the same time it seemed weirdly important to have it in there.

So, basically I gave a strange sort of talk in which I told people I was strange. At least there is some nice recursiveness in there. And maybe it is after all a bit punk to just dare to do that.

What the point of it was though, I am not quite sure. In some way, maybe it was to unmistakenly say: Please don't keep telling me I've got impostor syndrome. I simply have hardly any credentials, that's what I find problematic. If anything I have been an impostor and am becoming it a bit less now. - Or it was just simply an act of self-sabotage.

And sure as hell, the next morning, when my nerves seemed to be suffused with red-hot lava and I literally wanted to disappear in a hole, I wanted to lay everything down, step down from the Meetup group. It was just unfortunate that I had already committed to organising a JS workshop with Gicela, and we'd already confirmed the venue. - Funnily enough that quite shameful feeling subsided much sooner than expected. It helped that someone sent me a message on Meetup saying that they loved my talk, I just seemed nervous. And Simon Starr had taken a picture of me in front of a slide showing Tom at Code Club and posted it to Twitter, which was also nice. Plus Gicela wrote an understanding and encouraging email.

So, what's to learn from all of this? - For one thing, it showed me again that I really struggle with structuring tasks so I complete them in an adequate time. I mean, I took absolutely ages to get the talk done in the first place, but it was not really properly structured, nor properly rehearsed. It was just not finished! And the main reason for that is that I always go into too much detail, want to cram too much in. But also I got distracted preparing it.

All of it also points to a now long-held belief that I am 'neurodivergent'. There was a lot on Twitter about neurodiversity just the past few days. I've written this before: I am convinced that as a child, I was on the autistic spectrum, an Asperger kid that was never diagnosed.

But here's the thing. I don't want to give a talk like this again. It is not fair on the audience, and it doesn't help CodeHub either, or me, for that matter. Having seen how things play out if I just jump in and 'somehow' write a talk, I have decided next time (if there is one) I will enlist help. I will need somebody who forces me to really script the whole talk and will rehearse it with me.

But also in general, there is this conflict in me, where I somehow don't even want to play along, don't want to try and belong to this tech elite. Or maybe I just think I never could? That is quite a biggy for me. How much is me, how much is them? In general, I've become more aware of power structures in society. There seems to be a divide between people that grow up with a sense of abundance, a permission to thrive, to try things out, to put things into action; and on the other side those who've been giving the feeling they just won't amount to much, who feel they don't even need to try, who do not even look out for possibilities though they are intelligent and creative. And there's of course huge divides between the wealthy and those more working class - but also, the knowledge and skills elite and those that did not reach the same level of expertise. In either case, the divide seems difficult to bridge. I see myself more on the 'knowledge-deprived' side, though I was once handled as somewhat of a prodigy (when I was ten, ha!). I'm not in academia, and I have gaping holes in my programming knowledge and skills.

I'd just like there to be less of that. Less of a gap. I'd like a society where those most expert help the newcomers, and advanced beginners do so, too. Where everybody can learn from everybody, a bit like Seymour Papert describes Samba Schools in his book Mindstorms. - I'd have to work extremely hard to be in the 'elite', and if I did belong, would I then still care so much for 'fellow travelers'?

Need to go to bed now.. I can't think properly any more.

This post was written 7 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)