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.”