Within all of us exists a need to contribute something to humanity that extends beyond the uninspired path of mediocrity.
You might know that you’d like to do something great, but on a university campus, you often find yourself shielded from real life. Perhaps you hear yourself say “maybe next year” and “someday,” but next year comes, and you have to spend even more time managing a busy schedule and focusing on your GPA.
If your classes keep you too busy for regular community service jobs and you can’t bring yourself to wake up early for a park cleanup on your one day off, there is another option. Civic engagement courses are now offered at UM, and as the university’s website states, such courses “allow students to put theory into practice and understand the complexities of practical problem solving in real-world situations.”
Working within the community enables a student to take on the role of active participant rather than passive onlooker. These courses apply hands-on learning and have an impact on not only those affected by the success of specific projects but also the individual’s psyche and the shaping of future goals.
One example of a civic engagement course offered in Fall 2014 is ENG 306, The Literature of Incarceration. Through a series of written exchanges with locally incarcerated writers, students in this class will learn to question their assumptions and “rethink the fundamental models that have shaped our concepts of justice, criminality and imprisonment.” The class aims to make its students lucid, eloquent writers, but beyond this, Professor Joshua Schriftman is opening a door for students to gain new understandings of themselves, each other and the strangers with whom we share society.
We can truly think outside the box when our learning is extended beyond the classroom, and we develop critical thinking skills when class becomes a conversation rather than a lecture. By engaging in a dialogue, we learn to challenge our own preconceived notions and develop empathy, which is the gateway to social change.
There is a great Mark Twain quote about not letting his schooling interfere with his education. Let’s apply this to our own lives. Classes that measure capability only on the basis of test scores have always felt like drudgery to me, because they affect no one but myself. When I get out into the community, however, I begin to glow. I see my skills put to use, and believe even more so than before that one should not have to wait until after graduation to do something worthwhile.
Community involvement shouldn’t just be a memory from high school, nor should it be a short-lived phase that enables students to log required hours into a spreadsheet. Civic engagement courses help us develop a long-term strategy: using one’s capabilities and passions to better the world.
Hunter Wright is a sophomore majoring in creative writing.