Sunday, January 30, 2011

Decision time

A few days ago I compiled the survey my freshman students have now all taken.  I call it a "class asset" survey.  It has two purposes: to get students to identify the skills they bring to the class, and to ask them what issues they care about locally, nationally, and globally.  When I present the results back to the students, it's the first step toward a class service project.  Between the needs they see around them, and the skills they have to offer, we can begin to imagine what impact we might make over the next few months.

Last year at this time, something quite extraordinary happened.  I described it here.  And when I looked at this year's survey results, I wasn't sure whether I wanted something similar to happen or not.  If I got an immediate brainstorm, or if something itched at me enough that I needed to track it down, then at least I'd have an idea of where we might go as a class.  There would be a direction (and I fear above all being completely directionless).

But what if the students didn't come along with me in that direction?  That was the fear last time.  I saw a possibility, but it's frightening to contemplate what would have happened if they hadn't gotten excited about it.

As it turns out, there's no epiphany in the results -- but there's an inkling.  I see something there about a concern gnawing at several members of the class.  They worry that the people around them don't care (about their education, about the environment), and that the visible evidence of their apathy enervates others who might be inclined to care but who are led to believe that they'd be a sucker to expend any energy when clearly the trend is in the other direction.  I can sense something about "broken windows" taking shape, perhaps, an attempt to take back the setting where those visible signs seem to hold sway in order to create a different environment where care and pride are possible.

Tomorrow we'll see where the students want to go.  I want them to own it, but I don't want them to flail. I want them to share my vision, but I don't want to bully them into anything.  It's a fine line to walk.  Can lightning strike twice?

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