Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading Reflection 1

Hello S-LC staff and alumni!

I hope you are doing well and enjoying your summers. This blog post will be the first of a series of conversations about the S-LC Summer Reader 2009. Whenever I blog, I will try to present discussion questions in such a way that focuses on the service-learning subjects, rather than the particular readings. Please feel welcome to post any responses, comments or questions whether or not you have had time to study the relevant reading.
How would you teach “social justice"?
This week’s conversation is about social justice pedagogy. In his essay, Educating for Shalom, Nicholas Wolterstorff describes his vision of social justice and several methods he uses to impress this vision upon young people. Wolterstorff’s vision of social justice is founded on “Shalom”: a specific vision of human flourishing in “ethical community” in which justice and happiness exist in harmony. In support of this conception of social justice, Wolterstorff cites Walter Brueegemann’s Living Toward A Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom, his own book entitled Until Justice and Peace Embrace, and one of his essays entitled “Why Care about Justice”. There are many interesting and provoking ideas presented in Educating for Shalom, but the focus of this blog entry will be the strategies Wolterstorff outlines for teaching Shalom.
  1. ILLUMINATION: Make students aware of their current framework for understanding social justice issues. Challenge them to consider the ways their past experiences have shaped the way they perceive the world and critique the legitimacy of this view.
  2. DISCIPLINE: Take a highly behavioral approach using a punishment and reward system to educate young people about the value of Shalom. Wolterstorff says punishments and rewards may be physical/material or based on praise.
  3. MODELING: Essentially the best teachers are the ones who live in a way that authentically reflects their values.
  4. EMPATHY: Cultivate empathy in the students by confronting them “with the faces and voices of suffering – with images and voices of the night.” Photography, film, and other creative mediums can be powerful forms of documentation, capable of educating and “illuminating”. However, there are several important caveats to consider. First, although images can cause a healthy dissatisfaction and discomfort in the viewer, sometimes images can desensitize and paralyze the viewer. Second, the education of the viewer should never be bought at the expense of the subject’s integrity. I respect a teacher who wants to challenge their students with real images, but I respect even more a teacher who preserves the integrity of the individual in the photograph, film, etc. What I mean is, the individual in the photo should be respected; the suffering should not be objectified.
  5. EXPERIENCE: Wolterstorff concludes his essay by suggesting the possibility that teachers cannot teach social justice because students only truly acquire social justice as they experience their own suffering. I prefer this option to the other five because personal experience of suffering can create authentic feelings of empathy. Experiential learning is the most intense of all learning styles and in my opinion, offers the greatest opportunity for growth.
I’m very interested to hear thoughts and comments about any of Wolterstorff’s or my own ideas presented here or in the reading. Do you agree with Wolterstorff’s definition of “social justice”? Do you think social justice (or shalom) can be taught? Should it be taught? If social justice is to be taught, what strategies should a teacher use?

Monday, June 15, 2009

The S-LC Blog Goes International!

According to this map provided by our site meter, we've got an international readership!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Faces in the Service-Learning Center

June 2009 marks a new milestone in the life of the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College. We, Megan and Noah Kruis, are serving together as the new Associate Directors of the Service-Learning Center. Together we will assist Jeff in the operations of the office, focusing on the Student Based Service-Learning activities (like Streetfest, Residence Hall Community Partnerships, and Spring Break Trips), while Jeff focuses on Academic Based Service-Learning. We’ll also help the office to remain better connected to our community partners and to assess the success of the S-LC.

We are excited to begin this new endeavor serving and learning alongside Calvin students in the community of Grand Rapids. Story is an important part of each person’s life, and we’d like to share a bit of ours.

Since graduating from Calvin College in 2003 and 2004 respectively, Megan and I have sought justice and pursued civic engagement in particular ways. These passions drew us to the work of the Service-Learning Center to share in this unique work.

Megan’s college experience did not really involve Service-Learning beyond Streetfest, but soon after graduating, she became enrolled as an Americorps Vista serving as an education organizer in the Creston Neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Her work there cultivated a passion for community, engagement, and urban renewal. In the subsequent years she has worked with many local non-profit agencies, working towards parent involvement in education, home ownership for low-income households, and home foreclosure prevention.

My own Calvin experience was deeply rooted in the Service-Learning Center, where I worked as a part of the student staff for two years. My career path has kept me here at Calvin, working in the Admissions Office in a variety of roles. One theme that I pursued during my time there was developing institutional partnerships with schools and organizations that help to promote college access for under-represented minority students.

Together, as members of Creston Christian Reformed Church, we worked together with partners in the church, at Calvin, and at the Inner City Christian Federation, to found Calvin’s fourth Project Neighborhood House, Nizhoni. We’ve served for the past two years there as mentors, ushering Calvin students into the Creston neighborhood for new and exciting ways to serve and learn.

In the Service-Learning Center, we hope to combine our networking within the non-profit community in Grand Rapids and institutional knowledge of Calvin College with our shared passion for community development and engaging students in the life of the city.