One of the broader issues I’ve been struggling with is to what extent we should have children that have grown up in difficult circumstances do service-learning and civic engagement (SLCE) projects within the context of their own struggles.
For one, I’m not a fan of adults structuring SLCE for the kids in this context, since it’s likely that these adults aren’t from that community. It makes me really uncomfortable to think of projects that go into classrooms and tell kids how to address things in their communities.
But even outside of that, it’s still complicated in my head. There have been pretty good examples of how properly designed SLCE programs have really helped kids address issues in their own communities, changing these communities for the better. So I think it could work. But I also worry that it feeds in to this idea that all poor people have to do to get out of poverty is try harder.
I’m not saying that individual and community agency can’t address poverty. I think that poverty is realistically a result of structural restraints (produced by injustices) and problems in agency, both of the issues intertwined and reinforcing each other. I just worry that these kinds of projects, to a certain extent, absolve dominant classes of the responsibility for addressing these issues. Ideally, I’d like to see a SLCE program and culture that permeates all classes and balances these responsibilities while still helping communities and developing agency. But I don’t see that happening.
I once had a kid flat out refuse to work on a service-project I had designed because, he said, “This wasn’t our fault. They did this to us. The government should be fixing this.” I didn’t disagree, either. He was right. And in the end, I allowed him to sit out of the project because of his ideological opposition to the whole idea.
Fast forward to today, and I’m being asked as a small part of a class to develop, with a very vague context, an SLCE project for a school. Given my admittedly extensive experience with SLCE, I’m seeing this potentially being really difficult for me. But the other issues I have with SLCE, I think I have solutions for. This one, I’m still not sure what to do with. Any feedback would be appreciated.
So today, I had to explain service-learning to a Spanish-speaking student and work with them to figure out how we’re going to get their hours. Haven’t taken Spanish since high school. I think it went alright, except our discussion was limited to the vocabulary I know. So I got that she likes swimming and does not want to work anywhere with nurses or meatballs.
I’m counting that as a win for today.