Posted in Undoubtedly

Developing Perceptions on Place-Conscious Education

The reading this week left me with a lot to think about, but before I jump into my new thoughts, I thought I should explain what my conceptions of “place” and “Place-Conscious Education” were prior to this reading.

When I initially signed up for a course on “Place Conscious Teaching and Education,” I felt like I had little to no idea as to what I was getting myself into. The little I knew were things I picked up on in my last semester of undergrad at The University of Alabama. During that semester, I took a special topics advanced studies in writing course that focused on “Writing about Place.” My classmates and I were required to choose a place to study over the course of the semester. The primary boundary on our place selection was that it had to be located somewhere in West Alabama. Like many of my classmates, I chose a location on campus. The location I chose was the Million Dollar Band practice field – Butler Field. 

Over the course of my last semester at Alabama, I had to write three major papers for that class: a profile on the place, an oral history paper, and an archival research paper. At the end of the semester, my classmates and I each had to create websites about the places we had been working on as our final project for the course. This is the website I produced, complete with web links to PDFs of all of the papers I wrote over the course of the semester [See “References” tab]. This class taught me a lot about studying a single, local place in depth. It was also my introduction to any type of place writing.

Since this course, I personally define “place” to be “a location one connects with.” With this vague idea of place and place studies, I felt Dr. Brooke’s course would be the next logical step in continuing work of a similar style, work that I thoroughly enjoyed.

So here I am. After this week’s reading, I can say I am guilty of some of the problems brought up within the reading. Perhaps the one I am most guilty of is thinking of most places as transition points toward an ultimate career path as described in “Suburban Life and Place-Conscious Education: The Problem of Local Citizenship.” I haven’t always taken the time to become familiar with a place beyond the minimum interactions I have to have to do my work.  I’ll be honest, this was how I initially thought Lincoln, Nebraska to be when I decided to come here for my graduate studies – I would spend two years here, get my masters degree, and go somewhere else; however, I still have some social capital, or a “willingness or capacity… to work for the collective good of a community,”  which led me to explore all of the options outside of my classwork (Sobel 37). Lincoln has quickly become far more than a transition point for me through the volunteer work I have been doing over the last few weeks with the Writing Lincoln Initiative.

The Writing Lincoln Initiative is community made up of students, teachers, and local community volunteers who work with local community members and try to provide a friendly and supportive writing environment. Thus far, my work has primarily been with the Clyde Malone Center. Elementary school students (from Kindergarten-5th grade) come here after school and participate in various activities. One of the these activities is the Writing Workshop/Writing Club. Twice a week, for an hour, the children break up into three age groups (K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th grade) and do writing work under the instruction of myself and other WLI volunteers. Currently, I have been working with the 4th and 5th grade group.

As Linda Flower describes in the second chapter of “What is Community Literacy?,” I went into the Clyde Malone Center “armed with goodwill, a friendly smile, and the desire for a personal relationship,” but the children did not immediately appreciate my energy (Flower 54). These children did not have high hopes of my return the following session, because they are used to being let down and forgotten. The more I go back to the Malone Center, the more the children begin to trust and rely on me, which means they open up more during our sessions and make the learning process smoother.

This volunteer work has become a service-learning opportunity for me in that I not only teach the children, I learn from them, which has helped me appreciate this work even further. In the “What is Community Literacy?” piece, author Linda Flower discusses service-learning and its relations to the Enlightenment theory. I agree that much of this outlook falls within a utopian model, because volunteers do not always want to engage with community members as expected, but I also feel a person can be shaped from simply volunteering their time to service-learning through repeated interaction and commitment within the community.

Over the course of my travels, one of the repeated revelations I have is the realization that I am only one small speck in this massive world, and it is up to me to leave my mark. I always have this thought when I am in a plane and it first begins to go up in the air. Watching everything outside the plane turn from eye-level perspective to what looks like toys and eventually just large land masses makes me remember the size of our planet. While I am still young and continue to leave my mark everywhere I go, my work with the Writing Lincoln Initiative has opened my eyes to the different types of engagement I can have in Lincoln as well as the level of impact I can leave behind so much so that I have begun to consider staying in Lincoln longer than the two years for my masters degree (hopefully for a Ph.D) so I can continue engaging with the local community and understanding this particular place.

From this week’s readings, my concepts of place-based education have both expanded and been better informed. I understand and agree that place-based education is important in building community, which in turn helps a community grow. By making students more aware of what is around them, they will be more willing to do something than if they remain uninformed.

Similarly, I hope to continue to learn more about Lincoln and grow while giving back to the community in as many ways as I can, because I feel community engagement is a service-learning opportunity and this will help me develop a greater diversity of ideas and understand the ideas of others. I also maintain my personal definition of place in that it is something I must connect with, but now I understand how these connections impact the place over time.

To close, I am going to end with a relevant quote from one of the most inspirational speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing (about 5 times even), Scott Lang: “The more you give, the more you get.”

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4 thoughts on “Developing Perceptions on Place-Conscious Education

  1. Ashanka,

    I loved reading both your post here and your comment on my post; we are in an interesting position as co-teachers at the Malone Center and students in this graduate class on place-conscious teaching–as well as new friends! I hope our work will continue to intersect and overlap in interesting ways this semester.

    I completely agree with your initial idea that Lincoln would be merely a short blip or “transitional period” on your long journey from place to place. Before moving here, I, too, thought of Lincoln as a location where I might spend four or five years before continuing on, but I am already becoming attached to the area. Too often this field normalizes the idea of the the “migratory academic,” which Dr. Brooke details in his article for this week. In fact, many of my professors advised me NOT to pursue a PhD in the Kansas City area, since I earned both my BA and MA in Missouri; I guess it “looks better” to have degrees from a wide variety of places–a more diverse experience, perhaps? But that type of thinking discourages long-term engagement and investment in particular communities, which is something I think academics should value.

    I also really appreciated your discussion of our work at the Malone Center as a service learning experience, and this idea that you “not only teach the children, [you] learn from them, which has helped [you] appreciate the work even further.” I couldn’t agree more. Working in an environment so outside my comfort zone has forced me to consider the idea of a “student-centered classroom” and what that really means–which is NOT a space in which I make all the choices and strive to impose my own values on the kids. Our class also challenges my assumptions about good teaching and good students, complicating my understanding of both. I do feel that as each week goes by, the kids come to expect us and trust a little more, which is encouraging. I think Linda Flower would understand that just showing up is half the battle in this type of community engagement, even if we’re only armed with good intentions and a few poster boards.

    I have also really enjoyed the experience of co-teaching! It’s great to be able to share resources, think through lesson plans and ideas, and have support in corralling antsy 4th and 5th graders. I hope we’ll be able to keep connecting our experiences at the Malone Center with what we read for this course–and maybe incorporate it into some of our future place-conscious writing.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion!

    Katie

  2. Anshanka,

    Thank you for this wonderful post, it was such a good read, and thank you for your comments on my post as well. After meeting you last week, I was intrigued by your mention of prior place conscious education study, so I was thrilled you went into further detail in this post and even more thrilled that you posted a link to the amazing website you created. What a great, in-depth archival piece!

    Awareness really is the key, for ourselves and our students. I can absolutely relate to how easy it is to forget the importance in taking into consideration the place where you are and, as you say, not “become familiar with a place beyond the minimum interactions I have to have to do my work.” This is something I have been guilty of as I’ve bounced around. Cities like Boston and New Orleans I took more time to explore than others, which may have something to do with why I’m most attached to those places, but now, after the readings (and reading your post), I’m sad I didn’t explore deeper. I wish I would have taken the time, as you’re doing with the WLI to get involved at the local level. I’m so glad for you that Lincoln has become much more then just a place in which to study.

    Thanks again for the post!

    Biz

  3. Your in-depth study project sounds fascinating and like something I would love to do myself! I find it doesn’t take a lot to get me really interested in the history of and surrounding a location but I so rarely get myself motivated to start doing that kind of digging. Thanks for the link to the website you produced!

    After reading Dr. Brooke’s comment I wondered myself about my own views of place but what might be more disturbing to me as that I didn’t experience that guilt over how I’ve previously felt about place. I have found, however, that the longer I stay here in Lincoln, find myself associated with more and more places spread around the city and become familiar with the place in a way I’ve known few other places before it does start to feel more like home–more familiar to me, more interesting, and more like what I do here will matter!

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