December 2009 Archives

Sarah's interview with Katie Peacock


> How did you get involved with this program?
I started my work with higher education civic engagement as a community
partner.  I was the Volunteer Coordinator at Simpson Housing Services
and had hosted service-learning students for several years.  I found the
work of partnering with Universities to be one of my favorite aspects of
my job so when a position came up in the Career and Community Learning
Center, I jumped at the chance.  I have know worked at the U for 5 1/2
years and was a community partner for 2 years prior.

> How many service learning classes are offered at the U?
Each semester we have between 25-35 service-learning classes offered in
a wide range of disciplines.  There are 3 service-learning coordinators
in our office so we divide up the classes.  I generally work with
English, Social Justice, Youth Studies, Geography, Business, Spanish,
Chicano Studies, GLBT Studies, and Design, Housing and Apparel.

> How long has the U been offering service learning classes?
The first official service-learning class was offered in the late 1980's
though at that time there wasn't a service-learning office.  John
Wallace, who still teaches in Philosophy was one of the first faculty
members at the University to connect courses to community and he still
continues to teach to very popular service-learning courses.

> How many different departments include service learning options?
This can vary from year to year but on average there are about 25
departments from 7 colleges that offer service-learning classes.

> Can students in any college at the U take service learning classes?
The ability for a student to take service-learning classes depends
largely on what College they are enrolled in.  CLA has the greatest
number of service-learning classes in the widest range of majors.  CLA
students could take multiple service-learning classes that would fulfill
major requirements and CLE requirements.  In contrast, there isn't a
single service-learning class in IT, so those students have a more
challenging time to find a SL course that fits into their schedule.
Some Universities have a service-learning requirement for ALL students
on campus but I don't think that is a direction we are headed.

> What do you think is the most beneficial part of service learning for
> the student and for the organization they volunteer at?
I am somebody who believes that experiential learning- learning that is
rooted in a community- can be the most transformational and meaningful
academic experience.  In my own undergrad, I participated in a study
abroad program that was experiential based and that semester completely
changed my academic direction and gave me a clear focus on my values and
what I wanted to pursue academically and professionally.  I often hear
from students in service-learning classes that the experience clarified
their educational goals and gave them a clearer idea of what they would
like to do in the future.  I also hear students say that making
contributions to the community enhances their academic work and connects
them to communities and people they might otherwise not interact with.
Non-profits are often operating with limited financial resources and
small staff sizes so the support of service-learning students is
critical to fulfilling their mission.  I hear from our community
partners, that students often bring fresh and new perspectives on the
work that in turn, reinvigorates and inspires the staff.

Stephanie's thoughts on movie Precious

Hey class!
I watched the movie Precious and am going to talk about how it connects and doesn't connect with our class topics and discussions.  As you may know, I read the book Push by Sapphire that the movie is based from.  I was excited to see what the movie was like and how it would bring the story of Precious to life.  I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to handle the movie, as the book was quite graphic and hard to swallow.  In case you can't remember from the few presentations and Salma's post, Precious is about an illiterate teenage girl that is pregnant with her second child and has been kicked out of her junior high school.  The story tracks her journey to literacy as she is influenced by her new alternative school, her teacher, and her family. 

I think that this movie is intricately connected to the themes of our class, literacy and diversity.  The story says a lot about the power of literacy and the effect that it can have on one's life.  It also deals a lot with racial views and how being a minority can affect one's view on life.  In the beginning of the movie, Precious was a young girl controlled by her mother.  She sat passively in school, didn't know much about the world around her, and wanted nothing more to be a skinny white girl.  Precious is unsuccessful in the public school that she has grown up in and this may be attributed to things we have discussed in class, such as race, class, and the quality of teachers.  She has slipped through the cracks, and as she is a black girl living on welfare in an area with questionable schools, that fact seems more plausible.  Undoubtedly, Precious isn't dumb and as she is given the chance to master language, she blossoms.  Not only does literacy give her the ability to read and write, it gives her the confidence to take control of her life.  She uses her reading ability to figure out what the social worker is trying to accomplish.  She uses her reading ability to tear through books about black heroes.  She uses her writing ability to reflect on her life and to tell her story.  She also uses her mastery of language to stand up to her mother.  Precious' story definitely demonstrates the different levels of literacy and the power that is associated with them.  She starts out illiterate and then moves through the basic form of literacy, and by the end of the movie she is well on her way to the highest form of literacy.  She still has a long way to go, especially as factors such as her race and class are considered, but she has the motivation to make it.

Jessica on Dangerous Minds

Hi all,

So I watched the movie Dangerous Minds and my post will be very similar to Selma's in the sense that I will tell you a bit about the movie and then discuss connections to class concepts of education, literacy, and racial/class discrimination. The movie opens with an urban scene of as students are making their way to the bus. Throughout this introductory scene, we see broken down homes, graffiti, what looks to be a drug deal, and many other factors of what an audience would expect in a "ghetto" atmosphere. While these images have all been filmed in black and white, the film then changes to color as the students are actually on the bus and going through the suburban areas of the town--in which we see big homes, parents dressed in professional job attire, and kids off to school in their own (pretty nice) cars. So right from the beginning of the film we are meant to recognize this contrast from where these two different groups of students are coming from--I particularly liked the change from black and white to color in the film and I feel that really heightened the contrasting areas of this city. These two groups of students are then constantly made aware of their differences throughout the film--as any authority figure in the school will always trust a student that comes from suburbia over the urban kids, and the teachers' attitude towards the urban kids in the school is always one that exhibits classist, even racist ideas. A quick example of this is when a student from an urban background goes to see the principle-he is sent away for not knocking--and when asked about this the principle explains how they need to "teach these kids manners" and "learn how to live in the world." We continue to see how the urban kids are discriminated against in the school system throughout the film.

We are then introduced to Lou Anne Johnson, a former marine and someone interested in becoming a teacher. The film illustrates a scene in which she is being interviewed by the school's assistant principle. Even though Lou Anne has never taught before and is only interested in becoming a teaching assistant, the assistant principle assures her that they can provide her with some emergency certification in order to teach the "academy" students--since the last teacher left without notice and they really need someone to fill her spot. This all sounds great to Lou Anne--who is unaware that these "academy" students are the ones we first saw in the beginning of the film that come from urban areas of poverty and have been basically kicked out of the 'traditional' classes.

When Lou Anne goes in front of the class the first day, she does not last 5 minutes--the students first ignore her and when she tries to get their attention they shout at her, calling her "white bread" and explain how the last teacher had a nervous breakdown. Lou Anne was completely unprepared for this--but she does not give up like many other teachers have with these kids--but instead begins to get their attention using more non-traditional forms of education. She gets in trouble for teaching the students some karate moves, and is criticized for using Bob Dylan's poetry that discusses "inappropriate" topics like drug dealing as parts of her curriculum--but it is these forms of learning that the students really gravitate towards and excel with. Lou Anne's ability to capture the students' attention is also illustrated by her ability to adjust her teaching methods to relate more to the students. When teaching the students grammatical concepts, she uses phrases like "Never shoot a homeboy" in order to communicate things like verbs, nouns, and direct objects. As the story goes on, she gets more and more involved in the students' lives and really makes a difference in the way the student's view their education.  And, of course, the students end up really affecting her life as well--I won't get into all the details so that you will go watch the movie since it is great! J

The biggest challenge Lou Anne had to overcome was the view of these academy, urban students by the school system. Lou Anne had to consistently fight against what we saw in Anyon's view of working-class schools, and she is even criticized by one of the parents for teaching her children "meaningless" poetry when she felt they should be learning something more practical for their current, low-paying jobs. The parent even states that she is "not raising no doctors or lawyers." In the movie, it seems that everyone has already counted these kids out of education. Even Lou Anne's friend, who encourages her teaching, tells her, "poetry? For these kids?" I think the biggest thing Lou Anne was able to give these students was her belief in them--which was unyielding from beginning to end. On one of the first days of class, Lou Anne tells the class that they all had A's at this point in the class--and it would be their job then to keep that A throughout the semester. I'm curious if any of you guys have dealt with similar issues in your community sites? Or if you are coping with students who have negative influences around them that are clearly affecting their view of education? I know the students that I work with are really motivated to get an education, but even with dedicated students I think I still have to battle against other forces telling them they "can't" or "won't" be able to achieve their goals. 

Selma's take on the movie Precious

I watched the movie Precious to make up for my missed lecture on how to volunteer. I had read the book and I thought that it would be interesting to see how the movie differs if at all from the book. The movie was about a sixteen year old African American girl who is struggling in school. She is illiterate and is sexually and verbally abused by her mother and father. This is distracting her from doing well in school. Her father is never around and her mother does not help her with any of her assignments, she just sits and watches television all day while living off welfare. The movie focuses on Precious and her journey through life and becoming literate. She transfers out of public school and starts going to an alternative school called Each One, Teach One where she is able to earn her GED. Precious is a very motivated and determined girl and she works very hard to take care of herself as well as her son Abdul who is fathered by Precious' father. This movie mainly focuses on the importance of literacy and how crucial it is in to get a decent job. In the case of Precious it is important for her because she wants to be able to take care of her family and leave her mother's home where she is unable to live her life like a normal teenage girl.

I think that this movie ties in very well with this class because it does focus on the issue of literacy and diversity. The main theme of our class was how literacy and diversity are intertwined. This connects very well to the class and especially to some of the readings that we have discussed at the beginning of the semester. The issue of literacy and diversity also ties in greatly with the issue of poverty and I believe that this is one of the reasons that there is this issue of being illiterate in some cultures. There are many connections that are seen and the first one would be the fact that Precious is illiterate and her goal is to become literate. Earlier in the semester we had discussed readings that taught us how to teach students to read and there was a seminar we were encouraged to attend. This ties in greatly with the movie because the school Precious goes to is all about the different ways in learning to become literate. Her teacher, Miss Rain uses these different techniques to get her students to think differently as well as work as hard as they can. She encourages them to write even if they are not able to remember what they have written. The school Precious goes to is somewhat diverse and she learns about what others have gone through, other cultures as well as her own.

Another example of how this movie ties in with our literacy and diversity class is when we were discussing local issues about how the diverse neighborhoods are affected by literacy. These articles showed that no matter how much interest in education the students had, their main priority was to make sure that they as well as their families had something to eat for dinner and a home to stay in for the night. These students would skip school to work so they could help their parents buy food or pay for the bills. When students are living in poverty it is much harder for them to concentrate on their school work. There are many issues that could contribute to this such as being too hungry to think, too worried about where their next meal is coming from or even if they are going to have a place sleep that night. I think that even though Precious did not have all these issues to worry about she had an extremely difficult home life where it was hard for her to concentrate on school. Her mother and father, when he was around, would constantly yell, verbally and sexually abuse her. Precious would have to cook meals for her mother and had no support from anyone to learn until she started going to Each One, Teach One. After going to the alternative school she became very motivated to prove to everyone that she could be whatever she wanted to be and worked very hard to earn her GED.

There are many issues that the movie discusses and the main one is learning how to achieve literacy. These themes connect very well with what we have discussed in class as well as the main topics of this course. I think that this was a very good way to finish the class because everyone was able to discuss their thoughts, ideas and feelings about the issues of literacy and diversity especially when we were working on our team teaching projects and discussing how they tie in with our community work.

Final Project: Ideas, Concepts, Reflections


Hey Everyone: As we're nearing the end of the class and working on our final projects I thought it would be a good idea to create an entry that gives people a chance to throw out some broader reflections about their community work, some of their ideas about the final project and how it's reflected in your experiences this semester, or anything else that you might like to say.

If you're still struggling for something to create for the project, or have a general idea of your goals but it needs some refinement, maybe this could serve as some idea generation.

All in all, take this as a chance to offer your final reflections, good or bad, praiseful or critical, on things you have seen at your community site or that we have discussed in class.

Anything goes.

            I watched the video of the symposium on civil engagement held at the University in January of 2009. There were four professors from around the country discussing their ideas of civil engagement, what it means, and the problems with it. This symposium involved a question period as well, to allow the audience to pose thoughts to the lecture.

            The first speaker was Professor Richard Battastoni, who first of all acknowledged the University of Minnesota as one of the institutions in the nation to have the highest level of an Office of Public Engagement. He then went on to mention that the term civil engagement can be very cloudy because while history refers to the idea of belonging to a city as the definition of citizenship, the term can also be extended to politics. In the university education system, the idea of civic engagement is equated with the concept of service learning. In high schools, the term civic is meant as a memorized system of government and politics.

Professor Battastoni felt that this term should not only include elements of service, but also means of public engagement as being an active role for citizens. This was interesting, and there is a program that I became familiar with in high school called Project 540, which is intended to help high school students create an active role within their communities. I knew several students who were involved with this group and think that it is really special that this was mentioned in his speech.

            The next speaker was Professor Joel Westheimer. He posed the thought of entering a totalitarian school system and comparing its lessons of experience to schools in democratic areas. He wondered if there would be distinct differences between the ways children were taught. He then went on to discuss the different ways of approaching teaching democratic engagement within US K-12 schools.

He noted that there are three categories of citizenship taught in schools throughout the country today. The first type of citizen he defined was the personally responsible citizen. This is the type most taught in education systems today. The personally responsible citizen is respectful to the earth and strives to be a "good" citizen by performing good deeds. Yet as Professor Westheimer noted, there is nothing specific to democratic engagement within government or social systems being taught in accordance with this type of citizenship.

The second type of citizen is a participatory citizen. This citizen is taught about how the government is run, how bills become laws, and all the mechanics of a democratic system. These students are taught to be involved through knowledge and action.

The last type Professor Westheimer discussed was the social justice oriented citizen. This type of teaching is the least represented in North American education systems, and is, to him, the most important. These students are taught to think critically about democratic systems and how they can challenge conventions and ideas throughout. He then went on to criticize the No Child Left Behind Law, suggesting that it is almost demeaning to children because it devalues the idea of thinking. He in fact called it the No Child Left Thinking Law, which I think is interesting. I would actually agree with this idea, because this law doesn't actually help students think or develop as citizens. They are instead forced to memorize and conform to one thought process and then recite it through testing in order to pass to the next level. There is little room to debate and discuss democratic concepts.

When I think back to high school, I think that I was perhaps involved in the social justice citizenship "training" I will call it. I think that it may be because I was in mostly AP classes, which were designed to function as college level courses, and perhaps that is why critical thinking was so encouraged. Meanwhile, I think that perhaps my fellow classmates were not allowed to think as critically as I was, because they were in "Regular" classes.

Professor Connie Flanagan spoke next about the roles of higher education. She quoted Vygotsky saying "What we do shapes what we think" and brought about the ideas of service. I think that she means by serving and participating actively, we define ourselves as an identity and perhaps then are able to think critically about the roles we play in our activist lives. She felt the role of the higher educations systems is to teach students to speak up because they have a right to, rather than to sit still and be force fed ideas without the opportunity to question or think about what these ideas mean. She also mentioned the idea that knowledge evolves through interaction, so by volunteering or actively serving in our communities, we are learning.

This is certainly true at my community site. I think that I have learned more about literacy by being involved with those who are considered illiterate and my knowledge of the education systems has been rectified and grown through my work experiences. This allowed me to think critically about the class readings and form questions regarding the education systems.

The last speaker was Professor Harry Boight who talked mostly about the ideas of the past presidential election and how the concepts of service were evident in all the candidates. He felt that by organizing ourselves we limit how we see people. This means that by defining ourselves in categories of politics, race, and other identity traits, we form this invisible barrier between ourselves and other people. Instead we should be flexible and seek to work together to define citizenship through service.

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