e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


what kind of civic engagement makes us happy?

Yesterday I had the first sesion of my upper-level 'Writing for Civic Literacy' class. Great group of students, all coming to the class with a good deal of experience doing various kinds of civic work. Four have spent time doing hurricane relief on the gulf coast. Several spoke of growing up "in the church," where community service was mandatory. Most involve themselves in Volunteer Dearborn activities via student life on campus. Glad that they all have frames of reference to draw on in our discussions as well as our planning for our own course projects with the foster home.

My research assistant, who's sitting in on the class and conducting the interviews for our project looking into student notions of civics and community, is an intern with a think-tank in the college of ed. and doing research on child abuse and the foster care system. So she'll provide invaluable context for our work and be another resource for student projects.

For the research, I've been looking at a lot of literature on service learning (look here for critical summaries of that literature) that tries to take the pulse of student perceptions of civic engagement. The party line seems to be that students have much affinity for volunteerism but much skepticism toward activism. Much of the literature bemoans this as a sign of apathy and disengagement from the political process. One thread I'm starting to explore is the idea that students have an affective connection to "volunteer work," which feels good and lacks the agonism and discomfort of "activist work" (something I felt while handing out peace literature at the Dream Cruise two weeks ago!). Okay, that's worth exploring. But having digested the Wingspread Statement (a manifest written by students a few years back), I'm seeing that there may be a kind of converse to this, too. Many faculty have the opposite affective desire: one that involves a bodily attraction and passion for activism. The literature reflects this, especially that which bemoans apolitical students and uses as its evidence resistance to electoral politics and attraction to 'service sans politics.'

(cross-listed on Civic Engagement blog)

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