Wednesday, February 4, 2009

community and the classroom

This all (more or less) happened at Bishop's University.

A few days ago I let my two favourite undergraduate professors know about
The Gumboot. Their responses were different and hilarious. One said there was "too much piratology" and struggled to comprehend why West Coasters are so inspired by "water logged wood." The other, I was pretty sure, called me a troglodyte. Of course, I had to go and look up "troglodyte" to confirm what it meant (editor`s note: I was sorta close). Then I realized that he wasn't implying I was a troglodyte, but was actually using the colourful term to describe people who lurch through the grey streets of Winnipeg. And, you know, fair enough.* My former professor - and current friend - told me that it was, and is, impossible to build community. He said that positive change is a hopeless and naive pursuit. Well, gauntlet accepted, sir.

Moving on...

The professorial feedback about Vancouver's coolest new blog was correctly incorrect. But, most importantly, the aforementioned educators have been given a glimpse at what their classroom community-building has created. These profellas, after all, provided two of the most exceptional classroom communities North America had to offer. Whether or not Bishop's is a "good" or "real" university is a debate for the ages - for people who value balanced, well-rounded, liberally artistic, intimate, personalized education, this place is for you. If you want a giant library, state of the art technology and to be taught by a TA, go to UBC, McGill or U of T. The classrooms of the Bishop's History Department from 1999-2003, which may or may not have included boxed wine from time to time, sewed seeds for community engagement in real life. And, if done well, this experience can happen in a classroom anywhere.

Here's how.

In the spirit of Stewart Burgess's brilliance, I have constructed a matrix that displays the way that a classroom experience (mine is the example) can give learners the skills to positively engage their communities:




Arguing with Dr. Wegert about the tenets of socialism vs. unrelenting German rationalism

Negotiating • Standing up to authority • Confidence • Public speaking • Forming and delivering arguments

Building relationships with a diverse range of people and not being intimidated by the “powerful” ones

Learning about History

Historical perspective on horrible degree choice • Critical thinking • Research/Writing/Presenting

Learning and teaching about the past in an effort to plan for the future • Writing emails.

Drinking wine during seminars

Ability to responsibly consume alcohol in “high-stakes” social situations

Not looking like the office jackass when the delicious celebratory wine is opened

Taking time away from the Dr. Childs’s teachings of life during the First World War to discuss a fellow student’s quarter-life-crisis

Life in the present is more important than stories from the past • Active listening skills • Planned Happenstance

Think outside the box • Take risks • embrace and run with good ideas

Kurt’s perspective and the collaborative, interdisciplinary teamwork we used to destroy him (well, his neo-con , devil’s advocate arguments)

Understanding the power of diversity: my ideas are very rarely the best ones; really, it’s a team thing.

Kurt Heinrich is simultaneously an inspiring and annoying teammate. And being opened minded to new ideas and new communities makes us better equipped to engage others and change the world.

Tough marking, tougher feedback

Failure is fine • Learn from mistakes • Do better

Projects and the ideas behind them will fail, and we – as a community – need to keep going!

©Copyright 2009 Stewart Burgess and The Weekly Gumboot

To all the learners out there: your next step should be to figure out what community service learning means to you and then brainstorm some ways to take your experience in the classroom outside into your community. History at Bishop's University was a good place to start. But community within - and beyond - the classroom can do so much more for the world around us. So, next time you find yourself in a classroom don't just think about ideas; do them!

And, most importantly, have fun with it!


*No offense to the noble people of Winnipeg (or people who dislike footnotes). By living in that city, you`re automatically braver than most people in the world. Well done, folks.


Theodora Lamb said...

**sigh** ... water logged wood ...

Kurt Heinrich said...

I'm happy I made it into the matrix - but were my points really "neo-con"? I always looked at them more as "pragmatic"...

Great post John. Keep em coming!