This essay was written in the spring of 2007 and submitted to Rhode Island’s NPR station for their series, This I Believe. It was not published but does not mean it should be posted here, as ideas in process. It is comforting to note that what I wrote earlier in my teaching career at Bryant University still holds today eight years later.
This I Believe
As a sociology professor, I believe in creating ethical struggles and stumbles for students. I believe in a classroom that creates tensions, that rouses students’ values. I believe in creating opportunities in the classroom and in our communities that pushes us to struggle together about what it means to be citizens of this country and this globalized world.
As a professor, I do not believe in indoctrination. I do not hold that the younger generation is any more self-absorbed than is the general population, boomers included. I do believe that we have failed to open worlds of action, worlds of social enterprise to them. In many instances, our generation has allowed our own cynicism to overwhelm our responsibility to breed hope in the current generation of twenty-year olds. I believe in the untapped energy of these people. If we could listen, we could open ourselves to what it is they are so eager to learn, so hungry connect to. This is, I believe, the beauty of education.
In the courses I teach, the students are placed in the community as mentors and tutors and as workers at the Food Bank. We read about global ethics and consider how different the world seems when we think of those AIDS-infected children as the kids next door. We make connections between the stories they have heard from ten-year old children at the Perry Middle School who can’t read with No Child Left Behind and the failed promises of educational reform. We reach far and wide trying to surface those dynamics of our economy and society that are hidden and allow us to be, as one student remarked, “so blissfully oblivious”.
I believe that a model of teaching where we pour distilled knowledge into the heads of eager students is exactly the wrong one, if our aim is to grow hearts and minds. I believe that the classroom is a two-way street and that I need to know more about the world the students inhabit. Four decades separate me from my students. In my courses, students bring to class music, clips from You Tube and other materials that resonate with course themes. Last semester, we viewed Eminem’s Mosh, a video with an angry political statement where he urges young people to be informed and to vote. We listen to City High’s Anthem, a stinging critique of urban schools balanced by a call to young people for hope. We connect these works with sociological thinking to learn about how courageous people and ordinary citizens make a positive change in the world.
At semester’s end, we exchange observations about what we have learned from each other. I think about one student who wondered this semester why the adults in her life allowed her to be so self-absorbed, why no one challenged her to volunteer, to spend time in a low income school, or to even drive through a low income neighborhood to understand a bit about the struggles and triumphs of life on the other side of the tracks.
I believe we are at an auspicious moment. There is “buzz” about doing good, about taking responsibility for making a better world as individuals, as communities and as corporations. To me, this feels like a breath of fresh air. I am encouraging my students to find their own paths to doing good, to challenge themselves to creatively address the emerging problems in our globalized world. In fact, I am counting on it.