Should We Be Here?

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.

6 thoughts on “Should We Be Here?”

  1. Delia, as is the world: “It’s all about MONEY”- ALWAYS!! And, so isn’t education. It’s a business. If any countries can convince American schools to send thier students to them, It’s a good deal for them. They still like the US dollar, no matter what it’s value. Don’t take it personal. It’s just the way it is. And maybe this is what you’re supposed to learn from all of this. Who knows, you may be the voice of change. If so, then they’ve done thier job of educating, even if it was done inadvertantly. You sound so adult these days Delia. We’re all so proud of you. Uncle Joe O.

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  2. Delia, I also enjoy reading Uncle Joe’s comments very much.

    And I agree and disagree about education being a business. In the way he means it in his comment, I do agree— learning English abroad, especially, is big business.
    Check out this other article and podcast:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126785028

    but I disagree that education is a business in another way:
    schools should be run with more input from educators, people who know what it’s like to be teachers and live the life. There are an awful lot of businesspeople and politicians who seem to think that they know what is best for education just because they went to school once…
    Here’s a story in that vein:

    http://www.jamievollmer.com/blue_story.html

    Enjoy your time in Benin. You are learning a lot… maybe not just what’s in the curriculum, but that’s OK.

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  3. I do have to say that The Harrington family certainly got our money’s worth from the Reading Public School. We were blessed that both our children were the recipients of very educated and compassionate teachers that encouraged our children to reach, stretch and learn beyond Reading.
    A special thanks to Sra Alverez, Dr. Ryan and the foreign language dept to name a few.

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  4. I think the fact that you even analyze your program with this amount of conscience shows that you take in your surroundings beyond face value. As a former worker in tourism and an occasional traveler myself, I would say you are the kind of American Tourist the world should be seeing. You appreciate natural beauty and resources while contemplating how the locals are affected by your presence. Plus you have a command of the language, which residents always respect. I extremely proud of the fact that you had an hour long interview in french and are proving your aptitude for the language. I’m sure madame and Monsieur would be proud as well. Enjoy the rest of your time there!
    Sincerely,
    Cheb

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