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Public work apprenticeship

April 28, 2010

This post was written by Dennis Donovan, national organizer for Public Achievement with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Each fall and spring, Dennis teaches Organizing for Effective Public Policy at the University of Minnesota.

College students want to be change makers. Helping them learn skills and knowledge is not enough–they also need to develop public confidence. One way this happens is by doing and then learning from their mistakes and successes.

In my Organizing for Effective Public Policy course, students are using organizing to take on issues important to them. Examples include improving relationships between student athletes and University of Minnesota campus police, addressing trauma in refugee communities, and helping children develop a healthy lifestyle.

In the first part of the course, students learned the basics of community organizing: doing one to one meetings, power mapping, and issue development, and understanding self-interest, power, and differences between relationships in the public arena versus friendships. The idea of developing a public self is critical for doing politics and negotiating the world as it is.

With this foundation, the students formed nine different issue teams, developed organizing plans, and have been working to implement those plans.

  • The team working on improving relationships between student athletes and campus police has been meeting with University of Minnesota staff, students, administrators, and campus police to create a fall getting- to-know-you lunch for student athletes and the police force.
  • The group addressing trauma in refugee communities partnered with refugees at an April health fair at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to share information and connect with students who are refugees. The team is also pursuing the creation of two community gardens with the local Karen refugee community as a form of healing through gardening.
  • Another team is developing a video on healthy eating and living to be shown to elementary students. The video will be used with first hand testimony and games to engage children on this very important topic. Their first presentation will be at St. Louis Park Junior High School in suburban Minneapolis.

Public work is what we do with others to create change and solve public problems. It has been exciting to use the classroom as a free space for real world learning and doing public work.

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