Fall Break Service Trip Reflection: Kelsey in West Virginia

Up until my service trip to West Virginia, I had only ever read or heard about the kind of poverty I encountered on my trip. As Sister Pat put it, generational poverty has a unique culture of acceptance with a mindset of hopelessness. We passed miles and miles of small homes that were falling apart, grown over, windows broken, and roofs partially caved in. We saw a mountain top literally removed from the surface of the earth, leaving exposed rock where thousands of years of wildlife once existed. We talked to individuals who fell innocently into devastating and violent addictions to prescription drugs due to work-related injuries and improper pain management. We learned the hold mining industries have on the community, offering high paying salaries in an economy where jobs are scarce and the dangers of mining is worth the risks and health sacrifices.

With destruction existing in every facet of their lives, I never thought West Virginia could also hold such beauty and heroism. Thinking about the nature, history, music and traditions of Appalachia still gives me goose bumps. We drove throughout southern and central West Virginia, needing no more than the beautiful Appalachian mountains in autumn to keeps us entertained. West Virginians have an incredible appreciation for Appalachia and a history of unyielding devotion to their families and community. If there is one story of WV’s history I will always remember, it is one that Tom Breiding shared about the term “redneck.” Men unionizing against oppressive coal companies wore red handkerchiefs around their neck to symbolize their unity. Although the red handkerchiefs were once a symbol of solidarity and justice, it has been popularized to refer to uneducated, poor, and conservative “hicks” by the very people the unionizers were standing against. We also had the privilege of visiting heroic women in West Virginia. We met a 21 year old single mom of a two year old (child genius) and 3 month old. Despite coming from an abusive relationship and a poor family, she works hard each day, working towards an accounting degree so she can own her own home one day—a feat most women in the area do not expect themselves to do. Her persevering strength is an inspirational spark of hope for others in the community.

While we were exposed to some of the tragedies in West Viriginia, we had the privilege of meeting its beautiful people, dancing to its music, and learning from its experiences.

Cortina Interview Project ||On Self-Reflection & Other-Centeredness

Roc O’Connor speaks on Self-Reflection & Other-Centeredness in Jesuit Higher Education.

Monday Meditation: On Good Education as Problem-Posing

“Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying men their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Problem posting education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of men as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and transformation.” -Paulo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed

How do you regard your education? Do you sit in the class room and participate in the banking model? Are you annoyed when problems are posed and solutions are not given? How does what you learn affect how you live? How is your education, and your submission to it, liberating you to become more fully human by inquiry and transformation? Is it?

Monday Meditation: On Meeting

The framing concept for Sunday’s meeting was somewhat of a meta-word: “Meeting.”

Our Community Times are essentially a learning space. Today seems like a good day to think about what we hope to do in not only this learning space, but all learning spaces. So, whether you are an aspiring teacher, or just someone who interacts with other people on a regular basis (all of us), a good understanding of what kind of learning is happening in relationships is helpful as a learner and as a teacher. Below are some thoughts and practical tips from Parker Palmer:

“The goal of a knowledge arising from love is the reunification and reconstruction of broken selves and worlds. A knowledge born of compassion aims not at exploiting and manipulating creation but at reconciling the world to itself. The mind motivated by compassion reaches out to know as the heart reaches out to love. Here, the act of knowing is an act of love, the act of entertaining an embracing the reality of the other, of allowing the other to enter and embrace our own. In such knowing we know and are known as members of one community, and our knowing becomes a way of reweaving that community’s bonds.”
(Taken from To Know as We Are Known)

In this passage, Palmer equates the words “to know” and “to love.” Generally, knowing is seen as an individual act and loving is seen as a relational act. Not to Palmer. For Palmer, all knowing is relational. We must know in relationship because our minds don’t exist in isolation, they necessarily exist in community-they exist within a context.  Thus, there is an emphasis on community and the specific context in which learning occurs. Below are the paradoxes that Palmer believes must inhere in a learning space:

The space should be bounded and open. Without limits it is difficult to see how learning can occur. Explorations need a focus. However, spaces need to be open as well – open to the many paths down which discovery may take us. ‘If boundaries remind us that our journey has a destination, openness reminds us that there are many ways to reach that end’. More than that, openness allows us to find other destinations.

The space should be hospitable and “charged”: We may find the experience of space strange and fear that we may get lost. Learning spaces need to be hospitable – ‘inviting as well as open, safe and trustworthy as well as free’. When exploring we need places to rest and find nourishment. But if we feel too safe, then we may stay on the surface of things. Space needs to be charged so that we may know the risks involved in looking at the deeper things of life.

The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group: Learning spaces should invite people to speak truly and honestly. People need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings. This involves building environments both so that individuals can speak and where groups can gather and give voice to their concerns and passions.

The space should honour the “little” stories of those involved and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition: Learning spaces should honour people’s experiences, give room to stories about everyday life. At the same time, we need to connect these stories with the larger picture. We need to be able to explore how our personal experiences fit in with those of others; and how they may relate to more general ‘stories’ and understandings about life.

The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community: Learning demands both solitude and community. People need time alone to reflect and absorb. Their experiences and struggles need to be respected. At the same time, they need to be able to call upon and be with others. We need conversations in which our ideas are tested and biases challenged.

The space should welcome both silence and speech: Silence gives us the chance to reflect on things. It can be a sort of speech ‘emerging from the deepest part of ourselves, of others, of the world’. At the same time we need to be able to put things into words so that we gain a greater understanding and to make concrete what we may share in silence.
(taken from The Courage to Teach)
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Do you create learning spaces? Where do you have the opportunity to learn? To teach? When has a space like this been provided for you? What have learning spaces like this allowed in your life? What needs to change in order for you step into spaces like this? How can you meet others in your learning and contextualize yourself and your knowledge?