Service learning valuable

What exactly does an education package at Williams include? An introduction to psychology, a little music, a peoples and cultures credit, some art history, a swim test, biology, mathematics. Certainly inherent in any liberal arts education is the value attributed to a well-rounded individual.

But do the rounded edges of Williams graduates include civic responsibility? Our answer: not enough. The separation between the classroom and the community needs to change, and Williams should actively support the development of civic duty in its students. Why? Because, yes, we do teach morals here.

One way to encourage involvement in the community is through the integration of service into some of the courses offered. Currently, approximately five to ten classes each semester offer hands-on, service-related experiences, but most appear during Winter Study when academics are viewed in a more relaxed and sometimes non-existent light.

Last spring, the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) presented and passed two proposals that would encourage experiential learning amongst Williams students. One of these would be the creation of a New York program and the other the creation of an experiential learning program at Williams. The latter would include the hiring of an experiential learning coordinator, for which the College is still formulating a job description.

This seems to be a step in the right direction. But we have to ask, why hasn’t the term service-learning been used? Is Williams too deeply steeped in tradition that it can’t make the step Bates College, Duke University, Tufts College, Stanford University, Connecticut College, and other leading service-learning schools have taken?

For example, the seven year-old Center for Service-Learning at Bates is headed by the dean of the College. One-third of the professors have incorporated service-learning into their curricula and over half of the students have been involved in service-learning projects. The website refers to various personal reflections written about service-learning experiences, which as an important part of this pedagogy, encourage self-exploration and problem solving. Check it out – there’s a depth of thought that community service rarely reaches when not coupled with a classroom component.

Service-learning would send you into the local community, learning about organic farming at Caretaker Farm, teaching Spanish at North Adams High School, interviewing victims of rape at the Elizabeth Freeman Center, or interning at an internet start-up. One doesn’t need to travel to New York or England or Nicaragua to experience the interaction of education and life. Local opportunities abound, and there are endless possibilities that may be incorporated into your particular field of interest.

Every class is enriched by the experience of seeing its teachings demonstrated. Aside from helping the student gain insight, the reciprocal relationship that may be formed with the local organizations aids the community in its endeavors. And after experiencing a hands-on component and returning to the “Purple Bubble,” the classrooms and the books, knowledgeable responses are formulated about the issue at hand and personal reactions help to develop individual growth. The integration of knowledge and community teaches students that what they’re learning has a purpose and a use.

For some, service may not seem applicable to their goals or pursuits, but through integration into coursework, service can be adapted to individual areas of concern. By working in a chosen field, students realize the helpfulness of their own interests and they may begin to address larger issues of the world beyond Williams.

President Mark Hopkins stated in his induction speech of 1836, “We are to regard the mind…as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel – and to dare, to do, and to suffer.” In their courses students are challenged to think and to feel, but a measure of this feeling can only be accomplished outside the traditional walls of the classroom through actions. Allowing students to experience discomfort in the face of problems in their own community is a way to stretch their consciousness, and service through coursework gives them the opportunity to help now and the inspiration to continue helping in their life after Williams.

Civic responsibility cannot be explained, lectured or researched, but instead must be experienced and realized. The development of well-rounded Williams graduates depends on opportunity. To hear more about the presence of experiential learning on campus, come to the panel/discussion tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Goodrich Living Room with Professor Peggy Diggs and Chaplain Rick Spalding.

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