Journal: My Community Service Mission, Goals, History

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¶ … organization/agency, where you performed your community service including its mission, goals, size, people it serves, the organizational culture, history, etc.

When I began my work at the agency, the assumption that was that I was appalled by the ability of teachers and students to explore profound moral truths separate from simple decencies of conduct. We all needed to confront actual moral situations and to make moral judgments and moral decisions in contexts that were not comfortable and familiar. Ethics poses its intellectual difficulties to be sure. But it is not enough to talk a good ethics game; my students, like my philosophic peers, were good at interesting talk (Hall & John, 2006). Concern for introducing a certain ethical realism to students was by no means new. It was shared by the many fellow wanderers that I met in seminars and conferences on moral education. It was a deeply felt problem for my colleagues in the Ethical Culture-Fieldston Schools. As one of them noted,

To be sure, our alumni did tell us that Fieldston's ethics classes, which they had resisted as students, remained among the significant influences on their lives after leaving school. As reported in answering the question, "What have been your community service activities and interests as an adult?"

The replies . . . consisted, almost exclusively, of listings of organization by name. Their summaries, therefore, comprise similar; though not identical listings. . . . The nature of the replies here was such as to preclude conclusions beyond the fact that the alumni of these Ethical Culture Schools, as represented by this sample, are active in numerous and varied community services and activities in localities across the country. While the study has, unfortunately, not been repeated, annual questionnaires revealed the continuing activist and participant character of many alumni. Anecdotal records corroborated the finding. No doubt, a similar picture would emerge from other schools guided by moral idealism and a tradition of social reform.

How did you get the community service placement?

Effective moral education, however, is not merely the concern of the school. For example, I recall many a conversation with Lawrence Kohlberg who granted me the placement, his colleagues as they developed their ideas of the "just community" (Hall & John, 2006). They too were caught in the puzzles involved in connecting moral conduct with moral cognition. All of us were struggling with a perennial problem of ethics. In fact, more than 2,000 years ago, it was addressed by Aristotle,

Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching . . . while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit. [E].g. men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

Who trained or oriented you?

I was moved by what seemed obvious, the Aristotelian idea; introduced to me by Prof. E. Vedder who trained me: ethics is as ethics does. But it wasn't quite that easy as I well knew and as, I suspect, Aristotle knew too. So, at the same time, I lived with a troubled conscience. The failure of students; and their teachers; to act morally challenged the truthfulness of the claim to be doing moral education and yet that was a claim that I and others were making. In looking for a remedy, I turned to community service. Because it was accessible and institutionally manageable, it seemed an obvious place in which to locate moral action and in which to test moral education. It offered the chance to make a visible difference in moral situations. Above all, it seemed a ready way to deal with the troubled conscience of the moral educator.

What activities/responsibilities did you perform?

Even at this early stage, however, community service raised a number of questions of perspective. As a teacher, I wanted to explore community service because it looked very promising for an effective moral pedagogy. I had toyed with the alternative images of community service as an ethics "laboratory" (American Hospital Association, 1988). Unfortunately, this presumed a methodological rigor that was not available in ethics although I was quite tempted by the public relations possibilities of community service as an ethics laboratory. but, it had to be more than a rhetorical device or else I would be adding to the burden of an uneasy conscience. Of course, ethics lends itself to inquiry and has its empirical content. But in ethics, inquiry lacks the structural strictness required by a laboratory model. I realized that the fascinations of investigation were not really at the center of the moral enterprise. Certainly, I wanted to know better and to know more, but always in the service of practice, an insight which led Kant to distinguish "pure reason" from "pure practical reason" (Hansmann, 2007). Moreover, I was skeptical about distancing myself enough to achieve what a laboratory at its best achieves. Indeed, it was just the problem of distancing that had led me, in the first place, to explore community service. All too often, the "distance" of the classroom turned into abstraction and moral irrelevance. So, reluctantly, I surrendered the laboratory metaphor (Hall & John, 2006).

How did you your responsibilities relate to your major (Marketing)?

Marketing seemed a more promising way of understanding the place of community service in moral education. Students would be in position to explore the moral situation, to experience its pains and rewards, and to enrich their moral experience. Community service was a way of making tangible differences in the lives of people. So learning would be informed by the experience of achievement and of failure. And this in turn was yet another kind of learning. In short, community service was a praxis, neither entirely theoria nor entirely techne (Stukas, et al. 1999; Spaide, 1999). With community service, marketing could complete itself much as an art completes itself.

I saw community service as means of improving marketing that otherwise ran the danger of intellectual and moral arrogance (Hoy & Bradford, 2006). but, I was not yet paying enough attention to what this would look like from a student's perspective. I was modifying curriculum. but, the student wanted to act and not just to know (Hoy & Bradford, 2006) I was still taking the position of the other. Yes, I was looking for the formation of habits of action and not simply of habits of inquiry. Students, by contrast, were more directly caught up in a moral reality. I realized that my motivation placed me in a limbo between classroom and world. It lacked the very engagement I wanted for students. And yet, engagement is in the character of ethics and the peculiar talent of the young. Not entirely caught in the patterns, routines, and demands of the social life of adults, they are accessible to experience in ways that an adult must struggle; often unsuccessfully-to achieve. Finally, then, community service needed to catch my own moral passions and not just my passions as a teacher if it was not to become just classroom "enrichment" (Hansmann, 2007).

Describe 3-5 defining moments in your community service placement.

I was comforted by the fact that community service had already played a role in my own moral education and in the moral education of students. I knew that community service was not a new idea. Indeed, it had, from the outset, been part of the life of the schools I worked most closely with. Thus, one of my predecessors as head of the Ethics Department, commented,

Community service; helping in a settlement house or camp, caring for children in a day nursery, first-hand experience in an election campaign-makes students more aware of the needs and character of our society than any textbook could do. This awareness is reinforced when a school makes its own resources and facilities available to the community; as we do through the Fieldston School Art Center and the Fieldston Day Camp. A student's ability to function in the wider community takes on increased importance with Fieldston's work-service requirement for graduation. By looking at my own experience and at students' experiences, I might find ways of grasping the interaction of effective pedagogy and of personal commitment which were caught up in my subject. That, at least, was where my search for community service began to take me.

I reflected on my own career. It was a reminder and a caution. I had been the leader of an Ethical Culture Society, and had come to know the pains and rewards of the "helping" relationship. I had been a volunteer, had done my share of envelope-stuffing and board memberships and all the many tasks in between. I had served on the committees and boards of a county and state health and welfare council, a coordinating body for voluntary and tax-supported community serving agencies. For several years, I had served on the county hospital… [END OF PREVIEW]

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