Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Engaged Learning in Flint

Jan Worth-Nelson, director of UM-Flint's Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching, talks about engaged learning, the future of higher education, and the college experience in Flint in the latest issue of Pillars.
I’m a long time Flint resident, not a native, but a person who’s spent virtually half of my life here now, which is a shock. And if you know my writing, you know that I’m quite obsessed with the whole subject and I’ve written about it a lot personally. I feel really strongly that Flint – because even today, you know, we’re in the national news again because of Claressa Shields – year after year after year, Flint has an uncanny ability to have significance at a national level. Many times, as we all know and mourn, for negative reasons. But this is a really important town in American history and in the national picture. We have been down way before everybody else got down. They followed us. Now we’re trying to hard-scrabble our way up. One would like to think that we’ve learned some lessons ahead of everybody else who’s trying to come back up. How does a town remake itself after tremendous collapse? You know, 570 arsons, having an emergency financial manager, having Michael Moore trash us time after time – although I have some affection for his work. How is it that a town like this could find our way into some better kind of condition? 
What does this have to do with UM-Flint and active, engaged learning? Everything. Because a university is supposed to be a place that helps people learn how to change their lives, right? So, we are right here in the hotbed of where change can occur, where transformation can occur. We have a responsibility, it seems to me, to help our students figure out how to make some sense out of everything that has happened in this town. It should absolutely be a thrilling and effective laboratory for transformation – personal and community transformation. There are some good signs. There are many discouraging signs. And you know, it’s hard to keep the faith, but if there’s any place where this should be explored and understood, and hopefully remedied, it should be right here at UM-Flint. So we need to get better at it and we need to be happily and joyfully involved in anything that involves that type of effort. This is the place for engaged learning to take place. This is the place. This is the place.

1 comment:

  1. It's been my observation over time, here in Flint and the other places I've lived, that the only historically-proven-effective way for an institution of higher learning to create fundamentally positive economic change in a locale *via its students* (as opposed, for instance, to via its political/social connections) is to educate technology PhDs in fields with low entry-cost barriers and potential for disruptive technology, and aggressively support faculty/student IP development and startup companies.

    For most other student types, by far the path of least economic resistance if the institution's locale is economically depressed and they want to "transform themselves" and "change their lives" is to move somewhere else upon graduation.

    Or so it's appeared to me. But perhaps I'm naive, so I'd really like to better understand how this can be made to work otherwise.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.