Learning without limits

Erin Grogan

Students at Grand Valley State University are most likely used to sitting in classrooms multiple times a week to learn material from their professors, whether it be through lectures or group discussions. One group of students, however, takes learning to another level.

The Community Working Classics program allows GVSU students to engage themselves in the community by teaching subjects that interest them to locals who might not have the same educational opportunities.

Students enrolled in the program this semester are teaching courses at the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center, a facility that provides its students with vocational trade skills. In the past, participants have also taught classes at the Muskegon Correctional Facility.

“The mission is two-fold,” said Michael DeWilde, an associate professor of philosophy who has run the program for about 15 years. “First, it gives Grand Valley students the opportunity to test what they learn by attempting to teach it in a community. It also provides them with the opportunity to see the value of what they might bring to the community.”

The CWC program was awarded the 2013 Community Partner of the Year Award by the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps. In the past, the program has also received awards from the American Philosophical Association and the Michigan Campus Compact.

GVSU students emphasize a liberal arts education in the courses they teach, which average at a class size of around 12 community students. Though the age of the community students varies, they tend to be young adults, said Joe Hogan, a GVSU student in the program. Hogan, a film and English major, is teaching Introduction to Film Studies to a group of about 10 students.

“CWC is about service and engaging in issues, not just learning about issues,” he said. “It provides a nuanced, more internal understanding of social issues.”

While teaching these classes, students often come face-to-face with social issues they’ve learned about in the classroom. For example, they may work with community students who live in poverty or those who have to deal with inequalities present in the education system.

Along with teaching their own class once a week, GVSU students in the program meet with DeWilde, who leads them in discussion and reflection-based classes. During these classes, he talks with them about what they’ve learned and gives them guidance with issues they may have come across in their classrooms.

DeWilde said many students who go through the CWC program continue working with the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps or other places where they may be able to provide educational opportunities to those who don’t have them.

Abigail DeHart, a junior dual majoring in philosophy and classics, said she first participated in the CWC program as an independent study her freshman year at GVSU. During her time in the program, she taught an ethics classroom at the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center.

“The experience was both eye-opening and transformative as I found myself in a curious position of teacher, student and volunteer,” DeHart said.

Since then, she has continued to teach courses at the center and help promote the class to different GVSU departments in order to enable the class to run this semester. DeHart credits the CWC program as the factor that led her to become involved in the philosophy program, as well as part of the reason she is now studying and conducting an independent research project abroad in Varanasi, India.

“My main research question is about equality within the Indian educational system, and I know that this interest has largely come from participating in the CWC program,” she said. “I am using a similar method as well: participating in service-learning and allowing the research question to arise from experience.”

While the class is not officially available next semester, DeWilde said he hopes to continue teaching it in future semesters when there is interest in the program. He still continues with the program he helped create years ago because he believes that “service-learning has value, and it’s gaining momentum here at GVSU.”

For more information about the Community Working Classics Program at GVSU, email DeWilde at [email protected] or visit www.communityworkingclassics.org.

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