As the debate about entry slides into discussions about the clinical necessity for master's preparation, and as our obsession with behavioral objectives is displaced by a more balanced concern for outcome measures, we can begin to immerse ourselves into the substance rather than the form of our life projects as educators. Because we are nurses and educators, our questions go broader and deeper than "How to prepare someone to work with others in promoting, maintaining, and restoring health?" In addition to this significant yet technical and utilitarian concern, our text includes moral and political questions: "How to educate for a life where health is both a concept and a social practice?" "How best to engage students in the process of teaching and learning about the joys and obligations of a critical citizenship?" "How best to promote the public and common good through the individualized exchanges among those who come together in colleges and universities?" and "How to move the 'curriculum revolution' from an exhilirating romp to a vehicle for social transformation?"
Our literature and conferences are increasingly filled with such questions and with critiques of the dominant ideologies. In addition to nursing's long-standing skepticism of the biomedical model, many now challenge the common lore that there be a natural and unbridgeable chasm between personal and professional concerns, between individuals and their communities, and between the public and private domain. Many now acknowledge that to accept such assumptions without critique, and to teach from them, contributes to a society such as we have now - one that is increasingly bereft of vision, excitement, and any sense of personal agency and accountability. Many have also come to know their role in the reproduction of such an order, are seeking ways to break the cycle, and, perhaps most significantly, are refusing to accept the isolation that usually accompanies the position of critic.
Those who move from critique to vision, however, will have to break rhythm and stride with the "procession of educated men." A community of critics rather than a group of individual malcontents challenges the status quo. Seeking the connections between our daily personal choices and the shape of our society challenges the neatness of our politics. Believing that things can be different and acting as if they will be flies in the face of rationality.
Those who have taken such steps are in the grand and noble tradition of the academy, where debate, discourse, and the ideas of community and public health once characterized the lives of educators. Reclaiming that history, however, will not bring us to where we need to be today. As you are undoubtedly aware, that grand old past did not generally include women, and most certainly did not include nurses or any others whose practical knowledge was of the struggles of those at the base of the social class pyramid rather than of those enjoying its privileges.
Herein lies the chance for nurse educators to create humane, compassionate communities. By simply talking about what we have seen and what we have come to know through our work with people in health and illness - not only with each other or in the health-care system but also within the hallowed halls of academe - we will connect our intellectual abstractions to the realities of lives. Nurses bringing into the public discourse their knowledge of the relationship between political acts and the well-being of individuals and communities blurs lines established long ago. Nurses engaging in public debates about the future of our society, the values of our culture, and the hopes of our democracy upsets the order of others and is in itself a political act, as will be the reactions to us. As the smoke clears and the mirrors can be seen, our private visions will take public form, and the politics of education will be hard to ignore.