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Pay attention not only to the cultivation of knowledge but to the cultivation of qualities of the heart, so that at the end of education, not only will you be knowledgeable, but also you will be a warm-hearted and compassionate person.

~ HH the 14th Dalai Lama


An assignment for me

My students are busily typing away at an assignment I've given them. Which surprises me. Ordinarily, when I bring my classes to a computer lab, I have to all but beat students away from IM, Facebook, YouTube, or any of the other distractions I, too, would ordinarily have open in side windows. But either they're getting better at hiding their in-class extracurricular activities, or they're genuinely interested in getting some writing done. Better in class than at home, which is why I'm offering them the opportunity in the first place.

But it creates a kind of onus, I think, that I should write alongside them, and so here I am.

Worse, I once joked that I should tackle their assignments in order to set an example, and though I'm reluctant to do so while they're still working on a piece (I wouldn't want anyone to feel even subconsciously beholden to imitate me), I do believe in modeling as an educational tool. The good news: They've already turned in a much shorter version of this same assignment, so I will tackle it.

The assignment: To write a short credo about my views related to community. (I'm basing these assignments on suggestions from curriculum offered by the This I Believe series on NPR, but I've tailored it to my particular classroom project.)

Yesterday, I was writing in my online classroom site about the origins of the word community, because a student had made some guesses about the etymology and the intentions of "the founder of the word community." I promised I'd look into it, because I'm a geek and enjoy such investigations, and I did so that very evening. I discovered (thank you, OED) that the word stems from an early Latin noun communis, an abstraction meaning "fellowship, community of relations or feelings."

But this word in turn developed from the Latin roots that form our contemporary word "common." There are differing theories about how these roots originally combined, but I prefer the combination of com ("together") and munis ("bound" or "under obligation"), because it reinforces my belief that a community holds certain communal or social obligations, whether the whole is somehow obligated to assist its individual members or each of the members is obligated to assist the whole (why not both?).

And this is what I believe about community: that it is a group of people who, for whatever reason (and these are myriad) come together for mutual support and compassion, who understand each other to the best of their capacity and seek to help each other for the common good.

Or, this is what it should be.

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