Community Involvement

April 7, 2005

Jim Ostrow, Behavioral Sciences Department
Maureen Goldman, English Department

Packet under course name sold in bookstore:
Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace (New York: Crown, 1995)
David Bollier, Aiming Higher (Washington, D.C.: American Management Association, 1996)
Additional readings TBA

In this course, students engage in public service within agencies or organizations in the Greater Boston area. In their written work and class discussions, they will reflect on both the purposes of that work as well as on its limits as a response to specific needs within the community and more general problems of social justice. Students will also explore issues of social responsibility and citizenship in the professions and business world in relation to the social problems that they become acquainted with through their community work.

Community Service Component:

Students spend approximately two hours a week (more if they like) at their community service sites. The sites are located in Waltham and the Greater Boston area, with lots of options including multicultural youth clubs and public schools, day care centers, emergency adolescent shelters, homeless shelters and food programs, centers for low-income elderly citizens, addiction treatment centers, community youth groups, programs for the mentally challenged, local food pantries, drop in centers for HIV positive individuals, and involvement in Bentley’s Immigrant Assistance Program

Fourth Credit Option:

You may elect to register for an extra one-credit course that attaches to S0300. The basic requirement for the 4th credit is an additional two hours a week (minimum) community service and additional field note and analytical writing. The specifics are worked out independently with each student.

Grading Procedures:

Full attendance, completion of assigned readings, and active class participation are basic requirements for this course. Course work consists of written reflections completed each week during the term, with the final weeks of the semester devoted to producing an essay that is based on examples from your experiences and observations “in the field” plus relevant points from readings. The written reflections will be graded and returned every other week. The final grade is based on your written work, with active class participation being an important consideration. Our class discussions and your participation in them will center largely on your weekly written reflections, so it is necessary for all work to be submitted on time.

Late Work:

You are responsible for keeping up with the assignments announced during the course. If for some very, very good reason you miss a class, call or Email one of us on that day if you are unable to get the next meeting’s work from another student. Again, because of the nature of this course, work must be submitted on time. If class is missed due to illness, work should be submitted as soon after as possible.


Rewrites of papers are welcome and may be handed in at anytime, excluding the final two weeks of the semester. You must speak with one of us prior to doing a rewrite, particularly because some of the work, direct field descriptions, for instance, does not lend itself to rewriting. We recommend that you meet with one of us during the rewriting process, if for no other reason than we do the grading. When handing in a rewrite, attach the corrected original. Rewrites of late papers are graded as such.

Staying in Contact:

Speaking of Email, a requirement in this course is that you check it every day for messages from us or your classmates. Please come to our office as often as you like in order to continue discussing topics of interest, clear up any confusion about course requirements, assignments, ideas, or anything else. We are free at various times during the week, but you need to make an appointment – even during office hours. Bentley College gets (real big) money from you and gives (a very, very small bit of) it to us: You’re owed our time; cash in.

Written Reflections:

The written reflections consist of assigned tasks in description and analysis. They are integral to each week’s class discussion. Your written reflections will always have something to do with (1) the course readings, revealing your thoughts about authors’ arguments, including relevant personal observations or experiences, and (2) your on-site work in the community. The reflections should be composed carefully and in complete sentences. All work should be typed on computer. Remember to save repeatedly as you are working, and always save work on both the hard drive and a floppy disc; never save work in only one place, because if something goes wrong you’ll have to rewrite everything. Be prepared to type 3 or more pages each week.

Grading Criteria for Written Reflections:

There are different “levels” of analytical sophistication that you can adopt for the written reflections, and we will assign grades accordingly. We have tried to spell out the different criteria below; whenever you feel something is unclear, you should speak up – you should always know where you stand and why.

“A” We will give this grade to well-composed, thorough treatments of assigned themes. These entries will include clearly developed, creative discussion of chosen points from the readings and chosen examples from your community service experiences and observations.

“A-” The same criteria as above apply to this grade. Here, there were only scattered ambiguities in the development of specific points.

“B+” In this case, the entry is sometimes awkwardly composed; but these are generally clear reflections with some creative criticism and examples.

“B” Here, the entry is sometimes difficult to follow, but it includes plenty of creative criticism and examples. On the other hand, if the entry is a well-argued, straightforward discussion of specific points in the readings, but is weak in either reflection on/criticism of these points or in developed examples from the community site, it is at this level.

“B-” The same criteria for a “B” apply here, with somewhat less development or clarity in the discussion.

“C+” Here, the entry may be well-developed as far as it goes, but it is an abbreviated version of what was assigned. On the other hand, things may be thorough, if often hard to follow for the reader. In this case, it is clear that the readings were completed, but the discussion of them and one’s community service read more as a summary than developed reflection; also, often hard to follow.

Schedule of Readings:

As we go down in grade from here, it appears to us that the entry is produced get it in.” As you can see; if it is relatively cogent, it will pass.

1/26 Introduction

2/2 Differences, Connections, and Perspective
Agee, “Near a Church”; Geertz, “The Raid”; Selzer, “Imelda”

2/9 Differences, Connections, and Perspective
Chambliss, “The Saints and the Roughnecks”; Mansfield, “The Garden Party”

2/16 NO CLASS (Presidents’ Day)

very quickly just to
2/23 What is “Community?”
Kozol, Amazing Grace

3/2 What is “Community?”
Kozol, Amazing Grace

3/9 NO CLASS (Spring Break)

3/16 What is “Community?”
Kozol, Amazing Grace

3/23 Building “Community”; the Reach and Limits of “Service”
McNight, “Redefining Community”; Walker, “Everyday Use”

3/30 Discovery and Idealism
Carver, “Cathedral,” “A Small Good Thing”

4/6 Social Responsibility and the Professions
Bollier, Aiming High


Social Responsibility and the Professions
Bollier, Aiming High

4/20 NO CLASS (Patriots’Day)

4/27 Service,” Self, and Career
Selzer, “Imelda” (reread); “Toenails”; “Chatterbox”
Discussion of final essays

Sample Reflection Assignments

Written Assignments

Written Reflection #1
Perspectives and Relations With Others

In this course, we focus on the phenomenon of “perspective,” and we will pay special attention to how our relations with others are framed by our perspectives. The stories by Agee, Selzer, and Geertz are actual accounts of the authors’ experiences in unfamiliar cultures, where inhabitants’ perspectives differ from their own. The authors are involved in various struggles in their relations with others as they deal with these differences. For this reflection, record your reactions to each of the three stories, referring to them in specific terms. Include one or more examples of related incidents from your own experience or observations in your discussion. Feel free to concentrate more on the stories that grab you. Any examples from your first efforts to enter/experiences in your community placements are welcome.

Written Reflection #3
(Double entry)

You have three separate tasks for this assignment, which covers two weeks and counts as a double entry. Each part should yield 1-3 pages; the total entry should be at least five pages in length – We’re sure some of you will want to produce more; up to you. You have the option of completing only I of the first 2 tasks; you must do the third, since it is essential to the next class meeting. In any case, the completed entry should be at least a solid five pages in length.

(1) Produce a set of reflections on your experiences in and observations of the “To Tell the Truth” exercise and discussion. One way of defining the phenomenon of “belief’ is the perception of what is true or false; The term “value” can be defined as the perception of “worth” – including such distinctions as “right vs. wrong” or “good vs. bad.” Using these definitions, how would you characterize your (and others’?) beliefs and values as revealed during this event (protect others’ identify by not naming them in your reflections)? What did you learn from the event? What is your view of “the homeless,” and how was it influenced, if at all, by this event?

(2) Choose an event(s) from your first or second visit (or, if continuing, a current visit) to your community placements and describe it (them) in detail. Construct a moment-by-moment narrative that catches both the details of the social environment as well as your actual experiences – what you were doing, thinking, and feeling at the time of the instance(s) being described. Include in your descriptions what others appeared to be experiencing as you observed them at the time. Others names should be changed in order to protect confidentiality. Try to choose event(s) that seem to really capture how you and others are viewing one another.

(3) For this final task, first identify a “community” that you have experienced. It is entirely your choice what counts as “a community” for you in this discussion, but you have to identify why you believe what you have chosen counts as a “community.” On the back of this page, there is a fairly extensive list of key issues regarding the meaning of “community” as viewed from a sociological perspective. Each of these could be the topic of an extensive study. Look through the list; some of these issues will resonate with your understanding of the community that you have identified; others will not. Take one or more of these issues and reflect for a couple of pages on your experience of this “community.”

Themes for exploring the meaning of “community”

In what respects is community a part of a person’s life?
How do people express feelings of attachment to or detachment from their communities? What do these expressed feelings reveal about the characteristics of a community? Can the way one describes one’s community be viewed as an expression of
?What is the relationship between the physical meaning of community – its boundaries, central markers, etc. – and the subjective meanings of community – how it’s perceived and felt about?
?How are the factors of population, density, or heterogeneity relevant to the experience of aspects of community life?
?How is one’s social role or status a factor in one’s perspective of one’s community?
?What do differences between persons’ characterizations of the same community indicate about the places being discussed or about their social positions within these places?
?Is the location of the people one associates with on various levels – friendship, familial relations, fellow workers, etc. – a significant factor in one’s perception of one’s community?
?What are the circumstances under which various members of a community associate with one another, and how is this indicative of the type of community one lives in?
?What are the social circumstances under which one feels that one does or doesn’t “belong” to a community?
?What are different forms of community “involvement,” and how is this a way of understanding the phenomenon of “community” and its significance in a person’s everyday life?
?How do members of communities define and discuss “community issues,” and how is this significant for our understanding of types of community?
?How does community change influence one’s life and relations with others?

Written Reflection #4
Reactions to Amazing Grace

In this entry, please produce a set of reflections on the first four chapters of Kozol’s Amazing Grace. Focus your attention on what “grabs” you in the book, and how what you read may relate to what we have read about or discussed in the course thus far. For each of the four chapters, organize at least part of your reflections around (1) what “shocked” you the most, (2) what acts or persons did you particularly admire, and (3) how would you tackle the problems that are revealed in the chapter if you had the resources [what resources would you need]?

Also in this entry, either as a separate section or integrated (if you desire), you should include a set of descriptive reflections on you experience in the community service setting thus far – focusing on initial impressions, perceptions, concerns, and relationship-beginnings – all of the sort of things that Kozol is focusing on also vis-a-vis his own experience in his setting.

Try to produce a solid three pages for the entire entry – more if you like!

Written Reflection #8

In the readings by Raymond Carver, “A Small Good Thing” and “Cathedral,” individuals have experiences that stir certain kinds of “discovery,” “awakening,” and sometimes transformations in personal perspective. “Big” moments are described in these texts, but it is worth noting that sometimes, the “smaller,” seemingly trivial events can stir feelings of discovery and new awareness in our experience.

Please produce some reflections on the two readings by Carver that focus on the theme of discovery and change through experience. Include examples from your community service experiences in your discussion. We are not saying that you have been profoundly effected or transformed by these experiences (of course, we’re not saying that you haven’t). But these are new settings and experiences, so you’ve learned things; also, your own perspective has evolved vis-a-vis the setting and its inhabitants as you’ve become more familiar with things each week. Recount these changes and growth, think about how your views of particular things have developed, and try to draw direct or indirect connections to what you say about the readings.

Assignment #10
Final Essay

We want your final essay to be based upon an investigation of a topic or issue that is related to the general subjects of community and community involvement. We are open to any suggestions in class: we recommend the two alternatives of either conducting one or more interview, or conducting library research. When you go to write the essay, use examples from your “data,” community service experience, experiences in class, and, of course, course or outside readings to develop your points. The essay should be 4 1/2 or more pages in length.

Some possibilities:

Explore the topic of social responsibility in a profession or type of business by (1) interviewing one or more persons on the issue [perhaps a professional in a selected field; or an administrator at your site] or (2) investigating the topic through library research.

Explore the topic of individuals’ sense of belonging to a “community” through (1) interviews – perhaps using the interview schedule that was introduced in class (would be interesting to do this with folks at your community site) or (2) library research on the topic of community.

Explore the topic of “community service” through (1) interviews – perhaps interviewing different persons’ sense of you at your site (another idea would be to design a questionnaire on the topic and selecting a group to administer it to – you could run a “focus group” as well), or (2) library research on the topic of community service. This general topic could break down in several ways – e.g., the debate over Clinton’s national service legislation, the views of members of a specific “community” on the topic of service, different views on the concept of “service,” etc.

Final Essay: Suggested Guidelines

I. Introduction (approximately 1/2 – 1 page)

A) You should begin with a clear introduction to the theoretical focus of your paper. What specific issue will this paper address?
B) After you establish your theoretical problem for the reader, go on to describe the primary subject matter of our analyses – which means the kinds of examples that you will be discussing.

IL Main Analysis (approximately 3 pages)

In this section you are presenting and interpreting examples from your investigations. In your analysis you are expected to make creative use of ideas and examples from course or outside readings – and, of course, feel free to include examples from your community service experience.

III. Conclusion (approximately I page)

What have your analyses contributed to our understanding of the topic? Discuss ways to further explore some of your ideas. Can you think of ways to research the points made in the paper? Your paper should end on a fresh note: opening up further lines of inquiry.

School: Bentley College
Professor: Jim Ostrow, Maureen Goldman
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