Visions Worth Working Toward

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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I’m reflecting this morning on my recent trip to Tampa. I had the pleasure of keynoting the International Research Conference on Service Learning and Community Engagement thanks to a kind invitation from one of Florida’s champions of service learning, Dee Dee Rasmussen. During the event, key leaders from K-12, Community Colleges, and Universities from across the country and around the world were deep in dialogue about their strategies for connecting with a new generation of students. During the keynote, we talked a good deal about how to leverage technology in connecting with these students, and further about how to engage them in service-learning opportunities to help us all keep up with technology. Their service as student technology assistants for those on the wrong side of the digital divide—not to mention working with us to help us keep up—might be essential if we truly want a more sustainable learning system on the fast-changing road ahead. After the conference, David Grossman, Director of the Civic House at University of Pennsylvania, sent me a note making the connection between Thomas Friedman’s recent article on Generation Q and our dialogue at the conference. For those of you who can’t access the premium content of the NY Times, the essence of the article is the argument that this new generation of learners is indeed a caring, connected, and concerned cohort. It is a group that is socially aware, and interested. However, in Friedman’s mind, they are far too passive, too quiet (thus Generation Q). He continues:
. . . (this generation) may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good . . . Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.
This exchange reminded me of an article I wrote some years ago for Steven Gilbert of the TLT Group—one of my favorite thinkers in this space. He was looking for “visions worth working toward.” The premise was that we need compelling visions of the future to spark our use of technology, transformations of education, and directions in major policy work. Without something that strikes our imagination and calls us to action, we are too often stuck in the admiring “that’s interesting” repose, rather than striving, learning, and growing as needed. In response to his query, I took Ghandi’s famous seven deadly sins and turned them to a more positive positioning to frame just such a compelling vision. Here it is:

A Vision of what can save the world: Knowledge with character; Business with morality; Science with humanity; Politics with principle; Pleasure with conscience; Wealth from work; and Worship with sacrifice.

– paraphrased from Mahatma Ghandi
A good argument can be made that Generation Q is sitting tinder ready for a spark of motivation, direction, or passion. We may need to challenge ourselves to engage them early and often to see if we can ignite their interest and help them move from passionate point-and-click socialites to positive change-and-progress drivers. It just might be the best service we can provide for their learning—helping them develop a vision worth working toward.