Kamren Kubesh

Organizer @ TEDxUMN, Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A.


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Can education utilize the "community issues" as learning experiences through problem solving, while simultaneously providing a service?

This question is pulled from a concept I have been struggling with in higher education. I have been trying to develop strategies to solve this divide between the education and local communities. There are many real-world experiences that could be taken advantage of by educators and students by providing a service to the community.

Do you have any examples, ideas, or thoughts?

More recently I found some text in a book called Pattern Language, where there is a small mention of how some are placing the public and education together. I by not means support the ideas/events mentioned, but use it as a conversation starter. Text stated below:

Network of Learning
"Carnegie Commission reports, the last year has brought forth a series of important documents which show that responsible people are becoming aware of the fact that schooling for certification cannot continue to be counted upon as the central educational device of a modern society. Julius Nyere of Tanzania has announced plans to integrate education with the life of the village. In Canada, the Wright Commission on post0-secondary education reported that no known system of formal education could provide equal opportunities for the citizens of Ontario. The president of Peru has accepted the recommendation of his commission on education, which proposes to abolish free schools in favor of free educational opportunities provided throughout life. In fact he is reported to have insisted that this program proceed slowly at first in order to keep teachers in school and out of the way of true educators."

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    Apr 7 2014: I think you're going to want to look at relevant service-learning experiences. There's a lot of growth in service-learning as a pedagogy (http://journals.sfu.ca/jslhe/jslhe). More and more faculty are trying to bring 'real world problems' to complement the material they are discussing. We (The University of Iowa) do that through some short-term service experience (alternative breaks, international service experiences, etc), as well as some long-term experiences (service fellows, i.e.), as well. You might also think of this as use of practicum or internship experiences by students as learning laboratories -- but those are not always about the local community.

    Part of the hurdle is helping folks understand nuance in several dichotomies:

    -- Service to/for vs. Service with a community
    -- Being in vs. Being part of a community
    -- Communities of place vs. Communities of interest
    -- Growth vs. Development
    -- Urban Renewal vs. Gentrification
    --Community Assets vs. Community Problems

    It's really not as simple as saying -- education needs to be happening with a community connection. For example, just assigning a service project in a freshman rhetoric class that asks to help with local children to address literacy might really miss the point -- service is meant to be done with education and reflection built in....otherwise it can come off really paternalistic/maternalistic, which is something we try to avoid!
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      Apr 7 2014: Martin,

      I think it is important to note the service learning experiences and how they are not being taken total advantage of in the educational setting (as a student, I think that it becomes under utilized due to time spent on course work). In addition, mentioning the dichotomies that you mentioned are important to be understood and considered. By no means do I think it is easy, hint at my struggle with trying to deal with a potential solution.

      As you mentioned those I started to think about the issues approval process of getting courses accepted into the collegiate system, when in reality cities and communities are continuously fluctuating over time, making their needs change, and requiring new courses to take place. This would require a more elastic system that can respond to current issues. Take a look at Rural Studio, which takes students a designs and builds home for the poorest county in the state, changing the building type as they find a place where they are best needed. http://www.ruralstudio.org/ I had heard that the state started to talking about something a long the lines of withholding money/funding unless they were specifically developing programs to improve/work with the surrounding community.

      I do question why there has not been a system (to my knowledge) that has made this a top priority, this could create precedents to how professionals and clients interact. Not only giving them direct experience, but we will start to see what systems are working and what are not. I think it is important to highlight the failure in order to help prevent it happening in more serious situations (example might be scaling solutions which end up causing a negative impacts as a result).
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    Apr 8 2014: There was another conversation recently that was discussing the pros/cons of a gap semester. I was thinking that it would be beneficial for students, while still in high school to have a "gap semester" where they are able to intern for a company, do some traveling, volunteer, basically get some real world experiences. Bringing those experiences back to the classroom to be discussed and used as an education tool for the rest of the students could help the transition from teen to adult.

    Studies have shown that people learn when they are hands on far more thoroughly than in an abstract capacity. Going out into the community and stock piling experiences, committing certain actions to muscle memory, utilizing problem solving thought and applying it to actual problems and seeing the results is a big part of life and learning from our mistakes.
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    Apr 8 2014: Hi Kamren,
    Yes indeed...formal education CAN utilize community issues as learning experiences through problem solving, while simultaneously providing a service, and they are doing so....at least in some places.

    There have been times in our local high school, when certain teachers require attendance and participation in town meetings as part of the class. Years ago, there was an archeological dig in the area (a native American site), and a teacher contacted the authorities for the opportunity to get his 5 and 6 grade classes involved. There are several high schools in the area that require a certain amount of community service, and there are "work study" programs in most colleges and universities.

    There are lots of creative ways to connect school and community. One teacher in the high school here, asked students to interview elderly people in the community and ask how it was to live 80-90 years ago...how was it to live through the flood of 1927...how did you survive? How was it to live through the depression? What are the differences between now and then?

    It was a great opportunity for teens to connect with older people in the community. The older people liked telling their stories, the kids taped the interviews and did a report for the class.

    You probably know, one can get college credit and degrees based on life experiences. I also had the pleasure of guest lecturing at the university through the sociology dept. for years, so it is apparent, that they are inviting people with life experience into the formal learning environment. I think it IS happening, and I think it is a great opportunity for all of us to teach and learn:>)

    As mentioned already in this conversation....these kinds of experiences and opportunities often take place outside the classroom, so it is important for teachers to be comfortable with the process in order to effectively integrate community interests with formal education. It might require a little "adjustment" for some educators:>)
  • Apr 10 2014: Well Kamren it would certainly solve one of the biggest problems with the current education system which is they graduate with no "real" experience and wonder why no one wants to hire them.

    "The only source of knowledge is experience"- Einstein

    Having kids from High School, Tech School or College doing part-time work in the community seems like a no-brainer to me.
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    Apr 8 2014: A 13 year old makes the case for real world education, hacking school.
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    Apr 15 2014: The problem arises when "Community Issues" compete with "Global Issues".
    Assuming a Niger Deltan (Nigeria) decides to put what he learns about environmental degradation to use in terms 'problem solving', he/she/they would have to face the might of multinationals and the government supporting them.
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    Apr 15 2014: The problem arises when "Community Issues" compete with "Global Issues".
    Assuming a Niger Deltan (Nigeria) decides to put what he learns about environmental degradation to use in terms 'problem solving', he/she/they would have to face the might of multinationals and the government supporting them.
  • Apr 13 2014: A terrific idea,Kamren.

    We all know education is crucial to our lives,unfortunately the failure of education has been noticed long long ago. The thorny problem is we don't know how to solve this problem,i.e. provide better education to younger generations.

    We talk glibly about reform of education, ironically we hardly found a reasonable and enforceable way. I am positive is because we keep hearing wonderful ideas from people like you,that one day we might come up with an system that can better serve our children.

    What we truly need is stop dodging from this issue,and face up the its difficulties as a whole society.
  • Apr 12 2014: Can? It has! Over the years I've heard of many such things. A service project is a great teaching instrument.
  • Apr 11 2014: Look carefully at what some of the Scouting programs offer, perhaps taken up a notch to the adult levels. Volunteering in one of these organizations is an adult way to give back to the community.

    Similarly, after school mentoring programs or tutoring programs help both teacher and student. The teacher stays in practice and gets to try new ideas.

    One example of a need is to provide high quality technical education in trades. Adult education programs at community colleges and at night in high schools is a neat way of helping people help themselves.

    Another example is the little seminars and training session some of the larger hardware chains offer for free to help the general public solve problems at home.

    On-line collaborative blogs are neat (like TED) provided they stay with positive spin.

    People that engage in the political process or activism to raise awareness of issues or problems are trying to solve some of the bigger community problems.

    Civic volunteers like fraternal orders, service organizations, or clubs where the focus id to provide the community a service such as cleaning a river or roadway, helping a charity, or responding to a disaster situation are solving problems.

    The community out reach programs for daycare, abuse couselling and 12 step programs, and family counseling done by religious organizations is an example of solving gaps in the city social welfare net that can reach people with in the community.

    Extreme outreach programs such as the ones you mention are also examples, but there are many local efforts as well.

    I think the need here is that everyone should try and do something to map their talent to a need and the community. It would be nice if such a thing were rewarded with a substantial tax write-off that was reflective of the long-term savings to the community.However until this occurs, being a volunteer an helping someone else will have to be its own reward.
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    Apr 10 2014: there is so much talk about reforming education.

    most of the ideas come from people who have little experience in schools and who's professional development is having seen Ken Robinson talk about schools.

    until people address the reality and not imagined ideals, there will be little change.

    what you are talking about here is much wider than education - it involves deep societal change.

    the president of peru is merely spouting political rhetoric - every day, every one of us is presented with educational opportunities provided by life. but they remain unrecognised because they do not exist in a formal structure of assessment that is recognised by anyone.

    believe me, i'm all for massive education reform but your biggest hump to get over will be assessment and the attitude of the generations that have already been churned through the school system.

    note: my experience is at primary school level. i think tertiary education needs abolishing. different sectors and professions should educate their own - on the job, real experience and providing for communities as you suggest
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    Apr 9 2014: I have often thought that physics and how those principles apply to driving safely and sensibly would be an excellent fit for most teenagers.

    There may be nothing that can bind a person to their community more firmly than volunteering and participating in the agencies and projects that enhance that community.

    the Canadian Katimavik program http://www.katimavik.org/ has been in operation for decades and sends teenagers across the country to help with vulnerable community projects.

    But, for me, there is no more valuable nor relevant educational component than the idea of first ascertaining just what the interests, strengths and weaknesses are of each and every individual student are and then ensuring that throughout their life they are provided with the opportunities and resources required to address those issues. Issues that will change as the person changes in their personal growth and development over the years and, hopefully, those resources and opportunities will keep pace with those changes.

    In other words, until the student takes priority over the system, "education" will always be a hit and miss concept.
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    Apr 8 2014: I'm not sure who Martin is, but I'll give it a go...haha.

    I'm not sure what the 'approval process' looks like from place to place, but it was a 24 hour turn around for our request for a 3-hour service learning course. Literally submitted a proposal, and it was accepted within the next 24 hours, and we offered the course the following Spring. Some may be more or less cumbersome, but at a Big 10, Research 1 institution, It was actually pretty easy.

    Part of the problem is that it isn't always something that needs to occur 'in the classroom.' But, in terms of what can be controlled, there are many faculty in fields that COULD be taking a service-learning approach, but simply aren't. Faculty aren't rewarded through promotion & tenure by pedagogy, practice, or student learning -- it's research at this level that has weight. And, a lot of research has a lot of public value. That said, students struggle to find these things on their own, largely because the demands on their time take them many different places. Some of the most motivated students to make a difference in community often times have the most aggressive curricular and co-curricular schedules. It takes resources for faculty and staff to develop programs that work with these schedules, and then these programs then have to demonstrate that their are high impact and students are learning.

    I also think that there are a lot of faculty who simply aren't comfortable with that pedagogy -- and monitoring service work and interfacing with community members is more time consuming than 'traditional classes.' If it's not rewarded in the process, it's hard for a Department Head to justify. That said, there are some GREAT examples of folks who are doing experiential learning on a broad scale (http://vimeo.com/68388753, for instance) that could be examples of how to replicate the learning and provide community capital as well.