Fly on the Wall—Stare Decisis and Staring Down Our Past

Fly on the Wall—Stare Decisis and Staring Down Our Past

Looking to the Future at AU while Putting Cultural Conniptions in Perspective

Staring down our own spotty academic past, such as when life that got in the way of our best intentions to complete our degree in a brick-and-mortar setting, it’s easy to see how gratifying our return to the role of avid learner has been.  If we’d not adjusted our reality to redress our priorities many at AU never would have enrolled in that first course.  So when gazing at our personal past we might shout what are you staring at when applying that core conception of legalese called stare decisis.  The weight of past rulings and decisions, though important, are not all that goes into our decision making in our future.  Were that so we’d have left our moribund academic career in the bygones-be-bygones category.

Topically, the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned the half-century ago Roe v. Wade decision justifies itself with the phrase.  “A proper application of stare decisis, however, requires an assessment of the strength of the grounds” of the original conclusion.” (1) Whatever our opinion on that topic, the consequences of which are often rather dire for the maintenance of diplomatic exchanges with those with whom we share a planet, the reality for our AU career is that we can learn to adjust our definitions of any situation as our life evolves.  Anything less would leave us paralyzed by our past.

Few of us at AU would ever become adult students had we trusted our past shortcomings in the academic realm of schooling to be our guide.  Our inner Jiminy Cricket conscience has guided us back to the righteousness of self-improvement at AU precisely because we did not trust our past experiences alone.  Learned from them, yes, but didn’t take them as set in stone.  Evolution is, after all, core to personal learning as well as to cultural, political, and jurisdictional life.  To be still is to be immobile and lacking in innovation; likewise the Latin term stare decisis refers to foundational stones that are useful up to and until a river snakes away from a bridge or an oxbow washes out as the socio-geological sands of time unfold.

Unlike in the rat race of the real world, the realm of ideas and actions at some level is tethered to the pole star of ethics.  Freedom to change our priorities and liberate our inborn capacities for academic excellence is a personal matter, to be sure, yet one tied to our circumstances.  A half century ago there wasnt’ even a whiff of an internet and most rural students or college cast-offs (like this Fly on the Wall) had little recourse to return to their studies.  Athabasca University was not even in existence in its early cassette-tapes-by-mail iteration at the time of Roe v. Wade just as countless forms of birth control, erectile improvement, and pregnancy cessation pharmaceuticals were undreamed of and/or not available on the market.  Correspondingly, there are nowadays countless ways to upgrade our educational pedigree when we cease to seek refuge in our past.  Even the simplest things like a computer have long ago replaced the typewriter, it’s like how condoms were once made of lamb’s skin and now are made of disposable petroleum product.

Definitions change, as do priorities and context; our freedom to study by distance is augmented by the opportunities of our time.  The Supreme Court ruling notes the subjective nature of liberty and how it depends on context: “The term ‘liberty’ alone provides little guidance…In interpreting what is meant by ‘liberty,’ the Court must guard against the natural human tendency to confuse what the Fourteenth Amendment protects with the Court’s own ardent views about the liberty that Americans should enjoy” (3).  Normally, an obvious conclusion would be that each of us can do as we feel but, of course, culture comes into the picture and where offspring are concerned it takes two to tango (not to mention relatives with a vested interest in their progeny).  Likewise, to embark on an income-free adventure into adult education likely involves consultation with others in our lives.  Choices about one’s body are inherently personal yet their consequences are invariably social.  Yet in academic terms, there’s no doubt that when we feel the pulse of an inchoate desire to learn and grow and create then there’s little that can hold us back.  Call it creative baby fever, if you will.

Quickening our Creative Impulses

Consider the concept of quickening, referenced in the US Supreme Court document about their decision to overturn Roe v.  Wade.  This moment is where the Mother becomes aware of a being within her as the fetus begins to move and generally become felt as a form of potential life within oneself.  Whether we can stifle our academic desires is clear: we can, for reasons economic, social, or psychological.  Or we might start a course or two and decide it’s not for us.  While it’s imprudent to make light of the fact that symbolic creation, even the greatest of literature, is different from the creation of a human, to broaden perspective on any issue is part of thinking critically.


Supreme Court of the Unites States.  (2022).  ‘Dobbs, State Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health et al.  v.  Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al.’ Retrieved from



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