Helping my hometown: Creating a learning community that fosters intellectual curiosity, democratic self-governance, and social responsibilityPosted: January 9, 2012
By Jawuan Miguel Meeks
Since I graduated from The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan in 2007, I have gone on to complete a master degree in education in Boston and I am presently working on my PhD in education at Michigan State University.
I entered the teaching profession based on a combination of two experiences. The first involved a process of deep reflection of growing up in my hometown of Detroit. Ever since I was a small child and up to the present moment in which I am writing, the narrative defining Detroit has been one of overwhelming gloom. While at the University of Michigan I began to explore counter-narratives and seek out ways I could contribute to, not criticize my place of birth.
The second experience that led me to education was my time spent at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, I enrolled in courses with social justice and social change orientations. Some of these classes had students engage with Detroit by having dinner in Mexicantown, or documenting and reflecting on the creative process of students embarking upon telling their families’ arrival stories to Detroit. Outside of the classroom, I was actively involved with the student government as an elected representative for my college and as a member of the student planning team for the Semester in Detroit program.
During and after my tenure at the university I was an associate—now I am an elected member—of an organization called Telluride Association. Telluride Association, which has offices in Ithaca and Ann Arbor, operates two summer programs on the campuses of the University of Michigan and Cornell University. During these 6-week summer programs, young people from all over come together under the spirit of creating a learning community that fosters intellectual curiosity, democratic self-governance, and social responsibility. Currently, in my role as alumni and development support chairperson, I am responsible for facilitating college weekends two times a year for underrepresented students.
Over the course of the weekend, students engage in discussions about the social and academic aspects of college as well as essay writing and financial aid workshops. The experience of doing this type of work becomes more meaningful and rewarding when I hear back from students. Just recently, three students wrote to tell me they were accepted to Cornell, Brown, and Michigan and they were so grateful to have participated in the college weekends. Since I am no longer in the classroom, connecting with these young people, as they pursue their academic dreams, allows me to stay engaged with my vision of a more equitable society.
In sum, my time spent at the university gave me the tools, language, and understanding necessary to process my experience growing up in Detroit. Moreover, my time at the university makes me grateful for how education has transformed my life and in turn, I now seek to provide the same opportunity for others. After being on the East Coast for three years working as a teacher in K-12 classrooms, I had the opportunity to return home to complete my PhD in teacher education at Michigan State. With this new start, I plan to return to Detroit and seek out ways in which I can contribute to better educational outcomes for all students and families in Detroit Public Schools.
Jawuan Miguel Meeks is a 1st year PhD student at Michigan State University studying curriculum, instruction, teacher education and urban education.
By William J. Doherty
We need a new crop of citizen professionals coming out of our colleges and universities. The term citizen professional emphasizes the role of professionals in rebuilding the civic life of communities in addition to their traditional role in providing specialized services to individuals. It moves beyond the late 20th century notion of the professional as a detached expert who informs other citizens but is not informed by them, who critiques social systems but does act to change these systems, and who sees patients, clients and communities in terms of their needs and not their capacities for individual and collective action.
Citizen professionalism is mainly an identity: seeing oneself first as a citizen with special expertise working alongside other citizens with their own special expertise in order to solve community problems that require everyone’s effort. This not just an idealistic self-image but comes from a grounded realization that the really big problems in health care, education, and social welfare—sometimes known as “wicked problems”– cannot be solved by professionals working alone, nor by government action alone. We will not make headway against the tide unless we all row together.
Here’s a short video describing the transformation of a student’s ideas about her future professional work after taking a course in Citizen Professional Work with Families and Communities.
William J. Doherty, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Family Social Science and director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota. He leads the Citizen Health Care and Families and Democracy Projects, which are developing the theory and practice of civic action by families and democratic public work by professionals. He and his colleagues currently have implemented 15 grass roots organizing projects among parents and other citizens around cultural, health, and community issues of importance to families. These projects range from the cultural discontents of middle class families (overscheduling, out-of-control birthday parties) to challenges of urban single fathers, from health care problems among American Indians to the enduring effects of war and trauma on an African immigrant community. For descriptions and publications, see www.citizenprofessional.org. Bill is also a practicing family therapist, does frequent media interviews to promote cultural change, and is past president of the National Council on Family Relations.
By Jeffrey Abelson, Founder of Song Of A Citizen
Ask any expert what civic engagement means, and you’ll hear mostly about voting and volunteering. Both big V’s are obviously vital to a healthy democracy and good society. But by themselves they’re insufficient to solve the growing list of crises and challenges our
country and communities face. There’s a missing third leg of civic engagement that we need much more focus on.
What is that third leg? It starts with acknowledging that we each have a serious job to do as citizens that goes beyond what we’ve been led to believe. That job entails not only staying well informed on the issues of the day, but being actively engaged in hands-on political decisionmaking and problem-solving.
But most Americans feel there’s no way to make their voices heard in an effective manner. The good news is that there is. There are proven methods and processes that empower ordinary people not just to be heard, but to have a direct impact on public policy. And do it in a way that neutralizes polarization. Study up on deliberative democracy to learn how it works.
And then give it a try. Join or stage a deliberative forum on your campus, or in your community. Experience first hand what it’s like to be in a facilitated dialogue with other students, and/or faculty, or fellow citizens — where you learn about an issue together, and sort through the tough trade-offs involved in addressing it. And do it in a way that results in 70 to 80 percent agreement.
Imagine that. Not 51% Not 60%. But 80% agreement! Sounds nuts, but it actually happens time and again in these serious citizen forums.Okay, now imagine them happening everywhere, all the time. Imagine a country, and a Congress, that can agree on transformational cross-partisan fixes that 80% of us can understand and support. On
issue after issue.
Like the sound of that? You can make it happen. In fact, you’re probably the only ones who can. As college students, you have the opportunity to learn about and get inspired by the deliberative process. You can then lobby your schools to stage such forums on
campus — by and between students, and faculty, and community members.
And then you’ll be ready to take the critical next step. To lobby your parents and grandparents to get in the game as well. Because as much as we need today’s college students to immerse themselves in the never-ending work of the serious citizen — to prepare to run the country down the line — we can’t afford to wait another 10 or 20
years until you take the wheel. We need today’s grownups participating as well. Right now.
And nobody’s in a better position to inspire inter-generational partnerships than you are.
So the cliché is true. The future is literally in your hands. And in the sounds of your voices.
“The American idea is a beautiful idea.
It needs to be preserved, served, protected — and sung out.”
Happy Holidays from Song Of A Citizen.
Jeffrey Abelson is a writer, filmmaker, and founder of Song of a Citizen. His most recent PBS film was Drawing Fire, about Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad (narrated by Tom Brokaw).
Song of a Citizen is a non-profit, non-partisan collaboration of prominent thinkers and artists producing innovative films and web videos designed to spark a much-needed upgrade in how we-the-people view our role as citizens — and to demonstrate proven methods for transforming ourselves from passive civic spectators into hands-on political problem-solvers.
Jeffrey is also a contributing blogger to The Huffington Post.
By Kelly Cyr
I started volunteering at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) in the fall of my sophomore year in college. I was enrolled in the 096 Practicum, and picked BARCS as the site to get my 30 hours of service. I attended an orientation at the site in September, but due to a short amount of dog walking trainers and conflicts between my schedule and theirs, I wasn’t able to start volunteering on my own until November. Because of this, I was stressed out trying to cram my 30 hours into a month. The site also didn’t benefit from regular service on my part throughout the semester, because I had to cram it all into one month.
During the fall of my junior year, one of the Shriver vans became free on Saturdays and was offered to me to drive students to BARCS (prior to this, transportation had never been provided to the shelter). I agreed to drive students, and the site allowed me to train the UMBC students to walk the dogs there. Because I was now able to train students to walk the dogs and provided transportation for them once a week, students were able to get their training in earlier and could volunteer on their own for a longer period of time. This benefitted students because they no longer had to worry about getting into trainings in time and having to cram their 30 hours into the last month of the semester. It also allowed students who don’t have their own transportation to be able to volunteer at the shelter. It benefitted BARCS because they now had about 8 volunteers committed to coming to the shelter once a week and able to volunteer for the entire semester.
BARCS is now one of the most popular sites for UMBC students to do service at. I now drive about 18 students to the site two days a week. I’ve streamlined my trainings so that I can get students volunteering on their own as quickly as possible. This has been very helpful for the site. Every day I bring students there, all of the dogs get walked and most if not all of the cats get socialized, which greatly increases their chances of being adopted.
I am very glad to be able to bring this many students to the shelter. BARCS is doing great work in improving the welfare of animals in Baltimore City, and I love that I can be a part of that. I also enjoy knowing that the students who come to BARCS are being educated on the importance of improving the welfare of animals. This experience has greatly improved my leadership skills and confidence in my ability to create change on my campus and in my community.