Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

The Secrets of West Humboldt Park and Educational Reform

The Secrets of West Humboldt Park and Education Reform


Anthropologist and Humanist Ashley Montagu stated: “Love is profound involvement in the well-being of others.”  Last week I experienced this kind of love inside an impoverished gang and violence infested West Humboldt inner city Chicago neighborhood.  I accompanied seven undergraduate students and another advisor from Marian University on an alternative Spring Break trip to work with children and adolescents at Galopogas Charter School and an after school care program supported by the Holy Angels Catholic church.  We lived in a convent and worked closely with the Sisters and Father Bob.  Our mornings were spent helping the Sisters clean, sort and prepare for the hundreds of families that rely on the convent for food, clothing and other household items that many charities, foundations and corporations in the Chicago area provide. In the afternoons, the students were able to be a part of the neighborhood after school care program at the Kelly YMCA, serving the students in ways that benefitted the volunteers, children and educators.

These aforementioned descriptions are just the semantics…it is difficult to find the words that affect us all as we teach, mentor and provide the types of environments that generate hope, activate a personal passion, and provide options for these children and families all across the world and country who live in chronically stressed states of mind, surviving, and circling in a whirlpool of deep despair. But, this is just my perspective!

Do I misunderstand much of these cultures? Do I truly embrace the darkness that penetrates my own life in moments that is in direct alignment with the shadows of violence, anger and raw emotion I observed this past week? As I shared these experiences with my mentor and friend upon my return, he shared the words of Henry David Thoreau:   “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” As Thoreau states, “It is a form of a miracle of sorts, the moment when we really get that felt sense of another person’s world.”  It is also not pleasant when we feel the world that many of our most vulnerable children must navigate in their lives. We sometimes feel a need to flee, to partition, or to feel sorry for these conditions and experiences that feel so very different from our own. But something shifted inside of me last week as I not only observed the loving hearts and strong minds of these undergraduate students, but my own reactions and questions to these impoverished and troubling circumstances.  I was served! I came to serve, but I was shown the landscape of a world from which 20% of our nation’s students enter and exit. Enter and exit every day.

I felt the transformational magic of “making a connection.” I didn’t need to fully understand these children and families.  I didn’t need to fix anything. I didn’t need to have the right answer or solution to a complex problem that education reform movements and policy makers around the country are regurgitating solutions every second I turn on the news or open a newspaper or computer screen!   What I discovered, was that we all desire to “feel felt” to feel we matter, to feel connected to another in a way that begins with a willingness to step inside the world of another; another who shares more humanness with us than we care to discuss or acknowledge. As I stood before my graduate class, first and second year teachers in the inner city Indianapolis schools last night, I shared with them that the questions that churn in their minds and hearts, the relationships they cultivate, and their awakened presence each and every day is where the change in education reform begins. It is only through a felt joining that academics, a sense of purpose and responsibility move to the forefront of one’s thoughts and feelings, explored and discussed.

I left Indianapolis last Saturday in a 12 person van; revved up, IPAD packed, social neuroscience texts placed neatly in my briefcase with a box full of notecards and pens. I was ready to make a difference in the lives of these children and adolescents who were not as socioeconomically privileged or savvy in the emotional and social skills as me, but I knew if I found the missing link…all would improve.

In the late afternoon of my final day,  Tashona, a seventh grade young woman hugged me good bye from the YMCA teen lounge as we exchanged cell numbers, promised to message on Facebook and stay in touch. As I hugged her good-bye along with three other beautiful young women, tears stung my eyes as I walked back to the convent meeting the taxi- cab that was to drive me back into my own private world. But it was no longer my private world. There were no notebooks, texts, IPAD or boxes of pens. I didn’t come away with a list of strategies and “fixes” for the poverty afflicted area of West Humboldt Chicago. I did find a little magic that can transform classrooms, schools and communities but it is much bigger broader and beyond definition. It eludes policies, government, charter, public, and higher education institutions. It lodged in my throat as I waved good-bye to the Sisters, my undergraduates, and the neighborhood; finally moving to the center of my chest where I found the sting of our shared  commonalities and the dark and light aspects of my own life mirroring those  who I came to serve. But there was much irony in this adventure as those who I came to serve ended up serving me and with all of the teacher training, conferences, dissertations, field experiences, research and countless meetings to perfect student growth and learning outcomes, it boils down to a connection where the dialogue begins, dream seeds are planted, and intentions and hearts set on fire!  If we can feel the world of another, together we can take the steps that create change and endure all circumstances.    How do you feel the world of another? You step inside of it as you observe the pain from the words spoken, the diminishing light in one’s eyes, and you embrace it as your own… for after all, it truly is!


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