No Obligation in Education

There seems to be a trend among those who are interested or uneducated in feminism and other social justice movements. This need almost always comes from those who are from the majority (thus, generally white, straight, cis men) who feel that they can demand education from those who are knowledgeable in the subject. They get angry or upset when someone refuses to educate them or does not want to answer their many questions.

Often, the questions that are asked are easily answered via Google. There are many, many 101 courses that people have written to cover these questions. Many people have to answer the same questions, repeatedly, and it can get quite annoying. For example, I often get asked what the asterisk in trans* stands for or what does queer mean. These questions are easily entered into Google with hundreds of resources for people to look into.

People feel that their need to be educated trumps people’s times, personal wants and needs, and their own choices. They do not ask to be educated, they often demand it. What seems like a harmless question to them could be the 30th time they have been asked that question that day. Just because someone is open and vocal about a cause does not mean they have an obligation to teach anyone if they do not want to. If you see a teacher talking about math passionately (because they may be a math teacher), they have no obligation to teach you the basics of trigonometry. In fact, the only time I see these types of demands being asked are by people who want to be educated in social justice movements, even ones as big and broad as feminism.

Those who make the demands never intend to educate others. Usually they will shuffle the person to the one who answered their question, even if it is the same ones they have, even if they have been given resources to answer their question and many others. They expect those doing the educating to always be open to educating others as well. If a question was answered for them by someone, they expect it to be answered for everyone else, and then some. If a question regarding trans* issues was answered, they won’t pass on the knowledge and continue the education, they simply pass the question on. They never have to deal with the incessant and redundant questions that the vocal or open person has to deal with nor do they ever dream of doing it.

This obligation to teach has its basis in laziness. With the age of the Internet and massive search engines like Google, education is at our fingertips. I understand people are concerned about incorrect information, since that is a problem, but they can always ask someone who is willing to teach and to educate. Just because someone is outspoken and open does not mean they have to educate. This is for anyone, but I see it used most against minorities. An openly trans* person does not have an obligation to teach you about trans* issues, a person of color does not have an obligation to teach you about race issues, a woman who is passionate about feminism does not have to teach you about feminism.

There is also a small notion (or not so small, depending on how you feel) about being able to demand an education on certain issues. Cis people demand to learn about trans* issues from trans* people. They are able to learn about the issues and discard the knowledge as they see fit. They are allowed to learn about these issues for their own personal amusement and interest, since that is where many of these questions come from, an interest. However, the trans* person does not have this privilege. These are experiences they need to know for basic function in a cissexist and trans*phobic society. They cannot merely shed the knowledge and education on these issues because it is something that affects their very lives and their very rights. This obligation to teach comes from the belief that lived experiences are more important and vital than any book or resource center, even though many of these are written by people who have a very personal stake in such issues.

You can do your own legwork. If you truly want to learn, you can put the time into it. There are many free resources out there as well as books. In fact, it is better than you self-educate. Talking to one person about issues gets you their experiences, their sides, their theories, and so on. It does not allow you to expand and grow into your own ideas and theories as well as your own personal education. Instead of creating your own unique view, you end up with something of someone else’s. Going to someone about certain issues as opposed to doing your own education, does not allow you to get all the sides and the full scope of a problem or movement. It allows you a glimmer of one small fraction of it. Self-education means self-improvement and self-growth.

No one is obligated to teach you anything. No one is obligated to educate you. No matter how open or how out-spoken someone is, they have no obligation to take time out of their lives to teach you or answer your questions. It is on you to educate yourselves. If you feel something is incorrect in a resource, cross-check! There are hundreds of online resources, books, zines, and so on that cover everything from basic 101 to more in-depth theory. If you truly have a will to learn, you will put in the legwork and the time. If someone does not want to take the time to educate you, do not react with anger or frustration.  This includes if the person reacts with anger, hostility, or snark. Most of the time, people get the same questions on repeat. Take the time to look for yourself. You’d be surprised what a simple Google search can answer, cause most likely, your question has been asked before.


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