Community (and the lack thereof.)

-The five of us recently completed a collaborative, interdisciplinary unit. We called it “Social Responsibility & Civic Engagement” – intended to show our students how to be engaged, responsible, active members of whatever society (or microcosm therein) they find themselves to be a part of now and in the future. Each course had a different take, from personal finances and government budgets, to healthy relationships & sex ed, to military roles, and caring for the environment.

In English, we did what I love to do – we talked about words.

What do these four words mean separately, and what do they mean when we combine them like this? How do you define them, and how can we create a feasible definition for them in this classroom? How have you seen others exemplify this? Why would someone choose not to?

I had a lesson I thought would take an hour. It took 3 days. This wasn’t the frustrated, anxious, “you’re throwing my whole plan off-track” kind of three days though. It was a powerful, engaging, conversation-filled 3 days that produced some of the most moving visuals I’ve seen in my time here. It all started with this question:

What is your community?

I figured that in order to discuss responsibilities, we needed to define the boundaries of who they were responsible to and for – to discuss engagement, we needed to define the boundaries of their membership. So we started with community. How big is it? Who is in it? Who isn’t in it? How are you a part of it? Then, how will you represent it?

“Miss, what if you don’t have community?”

“Miss, what if your community is just full of bad stuff, like drugs and gangs and sh*t?”

“Miss, can this facility count as my community?”

I guess at this point I shouldn’t have been surprised by their questions. I encouraged them to be authentic and reflective. I assured them I wasn’t looking for rainbows and unicorns. I talked things through with them, and helped them come to terms with exactly what “community” means for them, whether it’s the past or present, in here or out there.

And rather than continue to ramble, I’ll just show you:

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