There is a cock-eyed, optimistic belief we hold that, within each student, is the desire and ability to take a step of faith, do something dangerous and make a change in their world. That belief drives so many of us to keep on keeping on–searching for new ways to channel that energetic goodness. It keeps us off the ledge, the therapists couch, or over-dosing on fair-trade chocolate. This knowledge gives us purpose and direction and keeps us sane until summer break. Well, kinda sane.
But the reality is that our students put themselves in a maze of activities, most unproductive, in an attempt to wow colleges and universities and to make a statement that they did something in high school. They served. Those activities will fill a day-planner and a résumé, but are they life-changing activities that create future leaders or divergent thinkers? If we are honest, we can agree that they are probably not. But they are safe activities and someone has to do them at the school. Or do they? Does this look familiar:
- Third Vice-President of Environmental Club in charge of honoring teachers who turn out their lights in their classroom.
- Sergeant of Arms for Honor Society monitoring the rowdy members who do not raise their hands before they speak in the meeting.
- Treasurer for Computer Club (aren’t they using Bitcoins?)
- Lunar Calendar Wizard for Astrology Club, where in the Northwest, it is cloudy 256 days a year
It is a silly list, but students are anxiously filling their calendars with this emptiness and calling it service. They don’t possess the necessary wisdom to understand that busyness does not equal productivity and growth. And frankly, they are not often given opportunities for authentic service that creates leadership skills or character. The authentic projects that will attract colleges and universities take time to research and commit to, but they are also the ones that will transform our students into true college material.
Kristin van Ogtrop, in the Time magazine article, lists learning activities that will create more humane students by enlarging their capacity to help others. From writing a real letter on real paper to doing something nice for a neighbor without expecting credit for it, she reminds students and teachers that unselfish good deeds will strengthen their humanity. Number ten was important because it is probably students rarely here in their attempt to get ahead: “Don’t race to the top. Never race to the top. If you want to aim for the top, good for you. But try to get there slowly, deliberately, without knocking everyone else out of the way. Or missing the beautiful view.”
Ouch! How often do we entice students to be involved by reminding them that it will look good on their college applications? So they rush into shallow projects and miss commitment to a project that will give them a mind-blowing adventure and deep satisfaction when they sit back on their heels and view their accomplishment.
Pattie sent a group of students with their new coach, Bryan Haws, to work with Eden Reforestation in Haiti this summer, and her buttons are popping off her shirt as she considers all they were able to do for the environment of Haiti and for themselves.
Haiti. How to describe the poverty of mind and spirit that is the very essence of this country? Again, a country ruined by the slave-trade and colonialism, its environment has been violated by others making money from their vulnerability. When the quake came four years ago, because of the deforestation that occurred earlier, the land was most fragile without a network of trees and their root systems, and so the devastation was greater. Home to so many NGO’s and much foreign aid, the people of the country have learned to wait for other nations to do the work for them, resulting in the people having no personal investment in their own country, leading to even greater problems. But we cannot walk away from Haiti: remember, it is in our hemisphere; it is our neighbor.
In our last post Pattie shared her adventure in Madagascar and how it changed her and her worldview. While she was in Madagascar, her students were working in Haiti at a university, clearing the property and increasing the nursery size. They were helping the Haitian teachers prepare their reforestation lessons for their Haitian students. This may sound simplistic, but it is a radical change from global aid they receive that simply gives the government money and then walks away, with no accountability. This is a grassroots effort that gives the Haitians an opportunity to learn, teach and carry out reforestation. And best of all, they have complete ownership.
When Pattie’s students returned, they were ecstatic because they made a difference. Interviewing her students, she learned that service taught them:
- Service doesn’t have to be big or results happen now. They learned that service is about the future. There are few immediate changes, but long-term changes are the changes that count.
- Service is done, not to impress others, but to change yourself.
- Service taught them to change their worldview and look from the Haitian viewpoint rather than the views taught in school. They learned empathy and respect.
- Service taught them that they could do something that scared them, and because of that, they were stronger and more competent human beings.
- Service allowed them receive kindness from the very people they served.
- Although schooled in environment and social and global issues, facing the challenges of reforestation made lessons relevant and enduring.
Students can be transformed by the opportunities of service we offer them. Rather than throwing stones at the devil, we should allow them to go into the field to confront, make changes and leave their mark. They can do it. We just have to direct and impart. Really, when you think about it, that is what we were hired to do.