Saturday November 2nd, 2013, Rhode Island College held its annual Promising Practices Conference. Let's just say, the conference turned into an interesting event. I had such high hopes for this conference, after all I did dish out a whopping $15.00; excuse me $16.42 ($1.42 service fee, like really eventbrite, was that really necessary?). So, I was set to get my $16.42 worth from this conference; it really became the theme of the day! I pulled into the RIC parking lot, thirty minutes prior to the conference and that in itself was something special because to get me out of bed that early on a Saturday typically never happens. As I walked into Donovan, I went to the table with the names tags, grabbed the one with my name on it and strolled frantically through the dining center to find a seat. After about a good twenty second stroll, I spotted my FNED class and grabbed a chair amongst my fellow peers. Those familiar faces made my anxiety subside, considerably.
There were definitely pros and cons to this Promising Practices Conference but I will try my hardest to focus equally on the good and the bad. The best part of this entire experience, was how close we as class became. The bond amongst us in class was already starting to form in class each week through discussions, reading each other's blogs, and getting to know each other. By all going to this event, this bond was tightened and I feel like that this beginning of our "family dynamic". Being at Promising Practices with these people, made it much more enjoyable.
The introductory speech was quite brutal, in the sense that it became a more politicized discussion rather than an educating one. This speech featured a dais of speakers from the area that discussed the topic of Service Learning. It was rather long and often seemed a little contrived, as if they were reading from a script. The intention of the group discussion was to be improvised but at times it didn't seem that way. This is where the politicized aspect started to become apparent. Especially, with none other than Providence's own Mayor Angel Taveras, who pushed a few buttons to say the least. His answered seemed to be so lackluster and didn't provide any answers. I'm sure by now everyone has been talking about the controversial moment from the conference incessantly and I don't want to beat a dead horse but it's something that needs to be talked about. Mayor Taveras made a statement about students who come from lower income household and how they can't use this as an excuse to not go to college. What the mayor needs to realize is that it's easier said than done. He then began to recount his own experience which he describes himself as being in that position but then he was able to turn it around. I'm going to reference the Tim Wise video we watched for one our talking points to build my argument against the mayor's statement. I'm extremely happy that he was able to overcome those obstacles and make a name for himself but he shouldn't automatically assume that it will be just as easy for others. Taveras was offered an opportunity when he was child to attend some summer education program that many don't have access to today. My point in bringing up the Tim Wise video is that Mayor Taveras is making a model out of himself which is something that Tim Wise disagrees with. Wise uses Barack as the primary example by stating that all black people think that in order for them to be great they need to be a carbon copy of Barack Obama, instead of embracing their individual strengths. Mayor Taveras happens to be a spanish man, so he's creating a model of himself for all spanish people who come from low income households. He's saying that if you follow his path, you will achieve success and that is just not right.
Also, I didn't like how the moderator and Mayor Taveras treated a student that was asking a question. I thought it was completely rude and unprofessional. The student was an African American boy who had a great question but the way the moderator and the mayor treated him made it seem as if he was asking something sordid. Not only did both the moderator and the mayor look at one another and roll their eyes they kept saying, "What's your question?" and "What's your point?" Like if that isn't rude in it's purest form, I don't know what is! I forget exactly what the question was, but you could definitely tell that the mayor was tip-toeing around it like a typical politician. I may be over reaching but this moment definitely makes me think of Delpit and The Silenced Dialogue. It almost mirrors one of the examples, Delpit gives in that article where a black teacher wouldn't speak to a white teacher because she was always shut down because her white counterparts always thought their way of doing things to be superior. Even though, Mayor Taveras isn't white but he has definitely had to sacrifice some of his own Spanish identity to become a politician and be apart of that dais, after all white privilege is definitely apparent in politics. In the moment, where the mayor and the moderator teamed up to dismiss the student's question, quickly pushed the student out of the culture of power. In this instance, the mayor and the moderator were in the culture of power because they were able to manipulate the entire conversation so by dismissing the student's question, insinuates that they know more about the topic than he does. By the way the moderator wasn't being explicit enough either by saying, "What's your question?" repeatedly which frazzled the boy even more. If the mayor and moderator didn't think there was a question, they should've been direct and said, "there's no question there." Why would they be direct when they knew, he had a great argument. They were just trying to bullshit their way through the entire speech. Remember what Delpit says, "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those of have power." Meaning that those who have power get to make the rules and that's exactly what the mayor did. A politician's main goal is to manipulate people into believing them.
I really enjoyed the actual conferences that we got to go to. However, they were only fifty minutes long. More time should be allotted to the those conferences while they should decrease the time of the introduction and keynote address. We actually got to see how Service Learning is being initiated in communities. All of my sessions focused on primarily the same thing and that is service learning and its benefits on the community so I will just try and highlight the areas I think were the most influential. The first session focused on the Youth Commission in North Providence, Rhode Island and how every year this youth commission works for a new cause. The speakers were really great and informative and they were really passionate about this program. They talked about it being an experiential learning experience that helps put tools in a student's tool box which is something we often discuss in our FNED class. The program is 100% student lead with adult supervisors. The students pick what they want to focus on for the year and they send it for approval to the mayor(not Taveras), which always almost never gets rejected. One year, the students decided to do a business expo because they realized that not a lot of people who lived in North Providence, had exposure to such information. This is where the Kahne and Westheimer article ties in. So when Kahne and Westheimer talk about the service learning, they state that you strive for change and not charity and one way that is achieved is by understanding the situations that get these people in bad situations. For example, if you really wan to help the homeless than recognize and understand the issues that get them there and change it so that the homeless population decreases. This is exactly what these North Providence students did; they realized why business rates have been down in their city and instead of just helping out the people affected by these hard times, they created a business expo to help; they were able to identify that the lack of education on the topic is what put these people in certain predicaments, so they were able to tackle them head by supplying a form of education on the topic! I also really liked how they invited all of us to attend a meeting to see what it was all about!
The next session that really stood out to me was another service learning related one. This one was really personal to me because it focused on the city of Pawtucket which is where I live and have lived my entire life. The presenter said that Shea High School in Pawtucket has the only government based administration academy in the entire country which provides workplace experience and career exploration. I loved that because it's something that takes place in the same city where I'm from. However, the speaker said that Pawtucket has become the donut capital of the world because we have the most donut shops in any city in America. He said the reason for this is because that everyone passes through Pawtucket to get to other places and they don't stay and they made me angry because I know how amazing Pawtucket is, and it shouldn't be a place where people just pass through. This brought me back to Kozol's article where he met a boy named Cliffe who lived in an area that wasn't desirable to live in. Now, Pawtucket isn't as bad as that city in New York but I felt that the way that this presenter was talking about Pawtucket was implying that it was an undesirable neighborhood, which is not the case at all.
The next presenter was talking about a program called Project Citizen which to help students develop their commitment to active citizenship. This program goes hand in hand with service learning and developing skills to understand the society you live and to offer solutions to problems. We can again apply the Kahne and Westheimer which stresses to understand the issues surrounded the predicaments of individuals.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. Event though, let me mention that lunch was very lackluster! I spent $16.42 on soup and salad( Olive Garden $5.99...just saying lol) One thing I did not care for was the keynote address being in the middle of lunch; Nobody was paying attention at all! The only thing I got from that whole thing was Chicago. Don't ask me what about Chicago he was talking about but it was something that tied into Service Learning...but we live in Rhode Island so I wasn't paying attention, and besides I was in the middle of my gourmet meal. I just want to conclude by saying that I enjoyed spending time with my class mates and I'm glad that we have gotten this close!