I worry that since we’ve had a discussion on ethics, the issue was opened and then closed.
Unfortunately, the more I learn about this program the more I question our presence here. Many of our readings discussed the pitfall that service-learning is all about the learning, with service as a secondary concern, or rather an afterthought. No one in this group denies this when it is phrased as, “but learning is the most important thing,” which they say often, but several people looked uncomfortable when I stated that service is less important to this program.
We are literally service-learning about service-learning.
I didn’t realize that until today when a group was presenting about service-learning, and the many disciplines it is in. Sociology, human services, nursing, even math. But there’s something odd about the recursive nature of this program.
We haven’t taken any courses on Benin—its culture, history or language. We’ve had a few short readings, and one week of language classes. The language classes were on the large side, had only two levels, and complied with the typically dismal expectations of Americans as language learners.
The American ambassador to Benin responded to a question on Monday about how to handle aid ethically in Benin. He felt that the problem is not being able to give them enough, because the Beninois always want more aid and never complain about it having imperialist strings attached. I think, sir, that’s rather not the point. Everyone wants money, sure, but is it ethical to give it the way we do?
I don’t like that we’re ignorant when we talk to the Beninois students, and that until earlier this week it wasn’t clear what the adjective form of Benin is. I hear Beninese, Bee-inese and Beninois. Isn’t that a little disgusting? Shouldn’t we at least know what to CALL them before we go in and analyze them for a day or two? Isn’s a few days too short to make decisions about what to do with funding?
What do you think? Do we have an obligation to spend more time before we make an analysis, draw a conclusion? Should we know more than the local language? Should people know at least the language? Does it not matter because American tourists “never know anything”? Is that even acceptable? Should we be in a different category from tourists?
And now, I wonder that I won’t be labeled as negative and counter-productive if I continue to raise such concerns within the group, especially since that’s something for which I can be docked points. Not what matters in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it would be nice to talk these things through. I don’t want to just pull a nutty and yell at all the Human Services majors, but everyone seems so reluctant to venture into much more analytical thought on the matter.
So what do you think, my intelligent, well-intentioned readers?
UPDATE: Since writing this post about a week ago, the issue of ethics has gone from a whispered concern to a major topic of conversation, for almost everyone on the trip. It’s always nice to be proven wrong when it comes to ethics and analytical thinking. I’m pleased to say that we (the group, leaders, and organizations we interact with) will be adressing the issue continually for the next two weeks.