Do's and Don'ts for Do Gooders

Inquiry versus Insult

dad73c48934b289eb4f0e0ce9e1f332cSmoke billows from an Oldsmobile as it idles at the stop light. Rust populates the fender, the muffler is held up by a wire hanger, and the protective plastic strip along the driver’s side door is popped out. Another car pulls up. Daylight dances on the chrome and the paint glistens. In the Olds, a little kid in the backseat presses his face against the small portal hole of a window to take a closer look. With an effortless touch of a button, the shiny car’s window smoothly opens. A woman appears and begins pointing her finger at the Olds. The driver of the Olds grips his window’s handle crank and muscles it down. “Excuse me” she says.  “Did you know that your car is smoking?” Before an answer is given, the little kid turns his attention towards me. His eyes are full of fire. “You have no right!” he hisses.

With those words, my eyes popped open. I was three days into the Two Dollar Challenge. I had been limiting my income to $2 a day, sleeping in a make-shift shelter with my students for the past two nights, and adhering to a number of other rules meant to assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of the economic lives of the poor.

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Do's and Don'ts for Do Gooders

The Handshake

As soon as I sat down, I felt the weight of the week slipped off my shoulders. You know that feeling you get when you hand in your thesis, finish grading the last exam at the end of a long school year, or complete that contract.  It is as if you can finally relax. You can finally breathe. I was enjoying what felt like my first full breath of air in Honduras. It was the kind of breath that not only takes in oxygen, but also takes in your surroundings and solidifies the moment in your mind.

It was our last day in Honduras. My students were busy saying their goodbyes in Villa. I was sitting on the bench in front of Selma’s house watching the sun set behind the Ceiba tree and reflecting on the week. We had executed twenty-one micro-loans, successfully taught our four-day savings curriculum, and pushed a school bus out the mud. We had been going full tilt all week. No one had gotten sick and everyone was accounted for. By this time tomorrow, I thought to myself, we will be on the tarmac in Atlanta. I took another deep long breath. Then I saw him out of the corner of my eye.

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Half-Time Speeches

Unbundle Your Socks

midnightstarI lost something. I lost it a long time ago. Well, “lost” may not be the correct term. It’s more like it was taken from me. Yet, even “taken” is not the most accurate way to describe what happened. In the end, I gave it away. What was it? It was my love for electro-funk. That’s right, electro-funk.

I was with my friend Ted Shaw. Ted and I were very different people. Ted had two older brothers who were always working on their muscles cars. I had two sisters who were always working on their ballet. Ted smoked. I did not. Ted was a metal head. I was not. Ted was tough. I was not. Ted had these massive forearms. Mine were still in the development phase. We were very different. But, in the sixth grade, we were friends.

Ted had invited me to come along with him to his church’s sleepover. We were traveling to the off-site location in a school bus packed with all the other kids from his church.  We sat by his friends. They were a bunch of older high school guys. They were big. They had facial hair. They were decked out in leather jackets, patches and Iron Maiden, ACDC, and Black Sabbath t-shirts. For most of the bus ride, there was an endless exchange of one guy starting a few lyrics of a song, another guy finishing the lyrics, while the other guys played air guitar and whipped their hair around in a frenzy.

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Rewilding Pedagogy

I Do Not Know

“Dr. Humphrey, I think your calculation is incorrect.” I looked at the formula. I looked at my notes.  I looked at the student who asked the question. I was only covering the price elasticity of demand, in a principles course mind you. Yet, my head was still thick with a cold and he appeared competent and confident in his statement. I took another stab at it. I turned back around for his feedback. Expecting a nod of approval, he shook his head.  I looked back down at my notes. I looked back at the whiteboard. I turned around and looked at the 60 faces staring at me. I was all alone. No one was coming to my rescue. I grasped the notes in my hand a little tighter. I could feel the panic start to rise. I looked at the clock. There were only two minutes left in class. “All right, we will pick this up next week. Have a good weekend” I said with a significant sigh of relief.

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Half-Time Speeches

Build Your Own Table

I just stared.

There they gathered – same time, same place – each and every day. They had their own special table. They had their own special laughter. They were the special people. Everybody knew it. I just stared.

Who were they?

They were the advanced reading group in my third grade class – the “Passports” kids. Where was I? I was with Amy and Eugene in “Windchimes”.  We were the slow reading group.

Take a moment to think about the potential brutality of labels and categories. “Passports” – you are going places.  “Windchimes” – you are content with just hanging around being buffeted by the forces of nature. Indeed, you are so content with your station in life that you make pretty sounds when forces outside of your control push you around.

I wanted a seat at the “Passports” table. I would get a seat at the “Passports” table. How? I cheated.

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Half-Time Speeches

Positive Thinking (Necessary but not Sufficient)

“AGAIN!” he yelled with spittle flying everywhere. The next four moved forward and lined up. The runner positioned himself and with the blow of the whistle he sprinted down the sideline and the four took chase.  We were doing the angle drill. It was early September in Cincinnati. Humidity was at a 100% and it was 90 – plus degrees.  It was the end of practice. We were exhausted. “AGAIN!” Bad angles were being chosen and too many were giving up their pursuit. “AGAIN!” My coach was red in the face incensed with anger. “AGAIN! AGAIN! AGAIN!”

My turn was coming.

However, before we get to that, let me give you a little background. I was a sophomore. I was immersed in a community and culture that revered football. I had been playing since I was in fourth grade. My only goal in life (yes, my only goal) was to make the Varsity squad. Varsity meant dressing Friday night under the lights. My only chance was to make the special teams. Yet, the depth chart and starting positions, which were revealed a week before, did not include my name. After two weeks of two-a-days, I was devastated.

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Half-Time Speeches

Failure and the Fireman’s Carry

When I was a sophomore in high school, my football coach suggested that I take up wrestling. Wrestling, he argued, would help me stay in shape through the winter. I had never wrestled. I had no clue about the sport. It was the most challenging sport I ever played. It combines strength, endurance, agility and intelligence.  I had the first three but not the last one (at least not in the realm of wrestling).

My inaugural season started off rather well. I had a simple technique. I would chase down, tackle and pin my opponent to the mat by holding his arms down. No intelligence needed. Every kid has utilized some variation of this technique at some time or another in his or her backyard. I would repeat this technique until I exhausted my opponent. I won my first few matches through brute strength and endurance. Things would begin to change, however, as we got deeper into the season. I started losing and losing and losing.

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Rewilding Pedagogy

Where We Become La Ceiba

I could not sleep last night. All night long Honduras has been calling me back. How could a place I do not call home have such a hold on me?  What does this place mean to me and my students?  How do I explain the importance of Honduras to others?  How do I let them know that experiencing Honduras together is pivotal?

To borrow a turn of phrase from one of my students, Honduras is where we become La Ceiba.

Honduras is where we my students become the experts and I become an observer. Whether they are teaching a class, interviewing a client, executing a loan or orchestrating a meeting, they have no choice other than to take the lead and rise to the occasion.

Honduras is where we feel the true weight, pressure and responsibility of our work.

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