An Act of Monumental Importance: Engaging Our Students, Ourselves, and Our Society

Chief Family and Community Engagement Officer
Paulo Freire Charter School, Newark, New Jersey


Sean Lloyd with his students on a recent working visit to Haiti.

There is a widening gap in society between the haves and have nots.  This chasm of inequality has manifested itself in ridiculously disproportionate distribution of wealth, environmental issues that have, or are, approaching a point of no return—a prison industrial complex that actively targets men and women of color in the worst way, and a general feeling of apathy from the rest of uninformed society.  

Fortunately, a few dedicated individuals can make change in their field of choice.  And with a focus towards the next generation, as educators we can affect positive change that will last long past the time when our own efforts have become outdated or overshadowed by new and emerging problems.

We must never forget one truth.  Major structural shifts in society are generally initiated and managed by very small groups of people relative to the rest of the population.
Service-learning as a teaching pedagogy offers us the opportunity to instill within our youth the values, principles, and problem solving skills necessary to create real, lasting and meaningful change.  It’s not about putting a bandage on random chosen situations. It IS an attempt to address the symptoms  and core problems that are revealed or identified by our students through thoughtful community inquiry. Well thought out service-learning projects create the circumstance and opportunity.  Service-learning must be a part of the new curriculum we create across the country.  We are facing a degradation and loss of culture that has to be addressed.  The deterioration of decency, promotion of decadence, waste, murderous apathy, along with the poisoning of food, water, clothing, and shelter are all made possible by human actors.  These things don’t happen in a vacuum or through some random occurrence; implying a universe of lack, destruction and reward for wickedness.  To the contrary, the universe is good, abundant in resource and opportunity.  It rewards action.  It can balance itself and it is the duty of those so inclined to act as a means of bringing that balance to fruition.

The necessity of organizing this sort of energy towards action into a critical mass is being taken on by good people and organizations.  Community Works Institute (CWI) is one of those groups that has refused to watch the world pass them by.  After participating in their annual week long Summer WEST Institute in Los Angeles, the people, places, and innovative work that I was introduced to provided a much welcomed spark for someone that works in education.  Attempting to bring balance to the machinery of exploitation of everything can be isolating.  Educators are often isolated in our work. One of the greatest achievements of CWI was that it linked me to people that are passionate about the same work I am.  This is no small feat.  It is actually of monumental importance, since one of the greatest joys a person can have is that of comradery.  At CWI’s Institute the introduction of local and neighborhood actions by educators and the institutions that sprang from them showed us just how much how our efforts can actually pay off.

We must compel students to research, act and reflect on their actions with respect to their own communities and our society at large.  Putting the headphones down sometimes and turning to address issues that affect the entire planet breaks our dynamic of isolation. This really must be part of the core foundation of education. Our young people have to see themselves as part of the larger whole and part of the solution.  If we do not help them project themselves into a future that respects and promotes their right to discover who they are and what they care about, the blame will in part rest on our shoulders.  The ebb and flow of creating community must take place, with all of us needing to decide where we will stand and contribute in the process of change.

About cwiblog

Community Works Institute (CWI) provides resources, professional development, and collaboration opportunities for educators. Our focus is on place based education, service learning, and sustainability.
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6 Responses to An Act of Monumental Importance: Engaging Our Students, Ourselves, and Our Society

  1. szemelman says:

    In light of your passionate advocacy, I’d like to just share that I’ve been learning about and working on student civic action in the Chicago area, and as a result wrote a book, “From Inquiry to Action,” that I think you’d appreciate. You can read the introductory chapter at . For teachers to help students get engaged in the way that you describe is no easy task, so I’ve tried to provide some helpful strategies, as well as stories of inspiring teachers who facilitate this work in their classrooms. And it does transform kids. As one 5th grader stated, when asked about the project he was working on, “This ain’t school. This is important!”

  2. cwiblog says:

    Thanks so much for your comment and for the fine work you are doing Steve.

  3. tutormentor1 says:

    I share your passion, your concern, and your belief that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, as well as the belief that a small group of dedicated people can have a huge impact on the world. I’ve been writing a blog since 2005 (Joe Brooks shared one of my articles on this blog today). One section focuses on planning, and uses concept maps to show the steps that lead from identifying a problem, to doing the research, then acting, then learning from what you did and repeating the cycle over.

    The challenge educators will have is to create service-learning strategies that continue for multiple years as students move from grade to grade, and to different teachers and classes. That’s the only way they can go through the learning cycle multiple times and begin to build a deep understanding and commitment to the problems they choose to address.

    I look forward to connecting with you and others on this and other forums as we continue this journey.

  4. szemelman says:

    It’s especially encouraging to see that more people are working on building up student voice, student leadership, and student civic action, in this otherwise discouraging time in our democracy.

  5. cwiblog says:

    Thanks Daniel. Your work is invaluable.

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