Thursday, October 3, 2013

Art of Water, R. Shreefter

In graduate school I joined a writing group to help me get through my dissertation.  (We still meet now, 13 years later!).  The first year we met, some of us got university credit for an "independent study" with our faculty advisor.  Unlike my peers, I chose to not get credit.  This puzzled my advisor:  why not get credit for something I was already doing?  Even though I respected my faculty advisor and learned a lot from being a part of the group, I didn't want to get a grade on what I saw as my own learning and transformation as a new researcher and writer.  It was important to me that the writing group space was somehow different from an academic space where transcripts and grade expectations symbolically placed me in a school institution at the bottom of a hierarchy of instructors, faculty, and administrators.  I took many classes from my advisor for credit and I learned a lot from those classes.  Somehow the writing group for me was different.  I wanted to keep the power of assessing myself and my own progress and transformation within me and within the learning community that we created.  I didn't want the institution stamping its seal of approval on the kind of learning that was happening for me in the writing group.  As a group we worked on an idea called, "thinking with" where we would read each other's writing and ask questions of the author -- not telling them what to do really, but to repeat back what we heard and to make associations with the text that moved all of our understanding and learning forward together.  It was and is a powerful experience.

Our guest instructors from Youth in Action seem to embody a way of working together that is more democratic and emotionally supportive than what I think of when I imagine traditional school settings.  When I read about some of the things that YIA has accomplished and the kind of community learning environment that it maintains, I think of my experiences within my writing group.  

Even though these two organizations -- YIA and my writing group -- are very different models of working together and comprise very different kinds of people, there is a spark of voice and balancing learning/working/growing together in and as a community.  I'm looking forward to learning more about YIA and how they see (and are) themselves working collaboratively together and with others like RIC.  

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