Education is about shaking your foundations. Cornel West.
One of the most haunting images of someone making a difference is from Tiananmen Square – a single act of defiance was captured with a man standing against an armored tank. If each of us would take our civic engagement seriously, then I think many social ills would diminish or disappear.
I’m not speaking expressly about the political arena, but about injustices that we see every day in our sphere of influence. A grass roots movement begins with a single person. Regarding change, we either look to someone else, or we wait for someone else. It takes one person to support a colleague, one person to curtail bad behavior, one person to take a stand. One.
Proceeding forth silently is an act of cowardice –we instead need to be proactive, and not look the other way when it doesn’t impact us personally.
A morbid fascination with others’ problems does little to help the victims – and it showcases you as one who prefers to sit on the sidelines. Character is what surfaces when you think there are no consequences. Given an elevated or a senior position, do you abuse the power, or do you clear roadblocks for those around you?
Few want to stand in front, to demand respect, to confront a bully, to start a movement, or to oppose existing powers. Simply being a sheep or joining in is so much easier, and it saves us from exercising our moral muscle. Activism on a personal level is about transformation though (1) educational awareness and (2) a sense of presence.
I recently commented on The Huffington Post:
“Educational institutions have a mandate to mold persons driven by a sterling, immutable character, and not by the context of their individual circumstance. A strong foundation and a framework for moral reasoning would help young people continue “the journey of self-determination [in which they] sacrifice to become the best version of themselves.”*
Cowardice occurs when our moral fiber remains unexercised. What we need then is to train a generation with moxy – crusaders who have the courage to speak their convictions. A like-minded cohort would catch bullies in the making, and prevent future occurrences. Ethical managers would define fair play, and they would chastise injurious behavior.”
Here are some ways to build this character in our next generation:
- Through Community projects, or “service learning,” are ways to foster psychological stoicism. Through service students learn valuable life lessons. From inner city children, they learn survivorship and endurance; from the elderly, they learn compassion, patience, and the value of a long term perspective; in working with the developmentally challenged, they learn an appreciation for the everyday blessings which they often take for granted.
- by participating in Breakaway (the national clearinghouse for Alternative Spring Break materials) which coordinates activity between college campuses and the surrounding community. From these types of experiences, Breakaway wishes to encourage a lifetime of civic engagement in which students actively seek to give back to their communities, and a worldview which is expanded through service to those who do not possess similar advantage.
- Education in Notre Dame’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship, where students devise economic development plans for the disadvantaged populations of South Africa, Jamaica, Chicago, and Atlanta. From in-depth case studies they learn that extreme disparities between poverty and prosperity are destructive on many different levels, and that humanitarian concern makes both good moral and economic sense.
Sherron Watkins asks “What if each of us actually did something for another person, another group, another country?” Perhaps arm chair altruism would become a thing of the past. Students’ hunger to learn is ignited by a view into the realm of possibilities – the potential of a world at peace, the possibility of a world that is united, and the vision of a people who can act as a global unit.
*Willimon, W. H., & Naylor, T. H. (1995)
**Callahan, D. (2004)