This semester I teach a service learning creative writing class. I am excited and anxious (first time I’ve taught the class). “Service learning” palms a galaxy of definitions. Here is mine, as I’ve been thunking on it:
1. You must have a focus. I do. Empathy at its core, and I might write more expansively here later about this complex idea (and the word empathy itself), but my concept includes a literature list, books, excerpt readings, the power of writing, to show, to act as an actual social tool. Like a hammer. Seriously: Like a hammer.
2. You must engage with the community. Feet on ground, ass in seat. We will. The students will meet a minimum of 7 times—in one semester–with their community partners. We will create a print anthology and give a public reading, in a space OFF university grounds.
3. You must reflect. Why even do this? It’s not enough to say, “it’s a good thing”, “giving back” “whatever cliché.” Blar. I think the class, for the students, is pretty meaningless without serious reflection on the process, or why community work is even important, or why we might want to even talk/walk with someone not ourselves. So what? Always a great question. I want the students to answer me when I kindly and firmly ask, “So what?”
Anyone taken one of these classes? Taught one? Any advice? I’m not jesting—I haven’t done this. Any exhortation, forewarning, steer, 2.4 cents worth? What is service learning to you? Our model is, as writers with CW writerly skills (many prerequisites to take this class), to “tell” the stories of marginalized populations. The writers and partners meet to tell the community partner’s story (one or many), in a poem, story, or essay. Is that the best way? What do you think?