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ERIC Number: EJ1097408
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 8
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0007-8034
Mission and Monastery: Empathy, Ethics, and the Challenges of Two Community-Based Courses
Meier, Joyce
CEA Forum, v36 n1 Win-Spr 2007
By their very nature, courses that contain a community-based component invite opportunities for the practice of empathy, whereby students come to identify with their community partners (such as the low-income children they tutor, the elders they interview). In fact, the building of empathy through the cross-dialogue often catalyzed by such classes has been touted as crucial in the practice of civic literacy. Having taught at least two kinds of community-based courses, Joyce Meier can testify to the empathy such courses encourage. However, she has also found that the quality of the empathetic experience and the consequent student writing, as well as corresponding ethical challenges, can differ significantly depending on whether the student is more involved in the "mission" (that is, in the field) or "monastery" side (at the computer or office) side of community work. To put it another way, whether the student-missionary is engaged in tutoring homeless children or is writing a grant proposal in the organization's office affects the degree of empathetic identification the student feels; and even, the quality of the writing she produces. Meier argues that the community-based course requires a balance of field and office, of mission and monastery. Teachers such as herself must strategize and intervene, to ensure that the "missionaries" get a sense of the overall systemic practices, policies, and interventions that can and will affect their community partners, while the "monks" need a hefty share of the work in the field: through learning they get from their peers, field trips, readings, and guest speakers, as well as in the community itself. Herein she compares the role of empathy in two of her community-based classes. In the first class, students do life-story work with Detroit elders and children in which their empathy for their partners seems to evolve almost naturally. In the second class, students work, and to some extent write, for non-profit organizations, they may end up researching and revising handouts on prisoner health care--without ever setting foot in a prison. In this course empathy is often the very thing most needed.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Michigan
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A