A Matter of Course: Service and Meaningful Work

By Magazine Staff

TAUGHT BY:

Drew Leder, Ph.D., professor of philosophy

FOCUS:

In this six-week, graduate liberal studies summer course, which Leder has also taught as a service-learning course for undergraduates, students try to define and understand service and why it is important to the human spirit and community. In both undergraduate and graduate classes, the students discuss the problems and pitfalls people encounter as they try to serve others, how to integrate service with a person’s need for financial stability and fulfillment, and how work can be a meaningful vocation rather than simply a job.

CLASS SIZE:

Six Master of Arts of Liberal Studies students

HOW TEACHING GRADUATE STUDENTS CHANGES THE CLASS:

“It’s sort of the cliché, but it’s really true, that you’re a learning community that’s listening to and learning from one another and supplementing each other’s experiences and perspectives,” Leder said. “It’s actually nice to have a more expansive time, a really rich discussion, and a feeling of community. Even though there’s a double intensity about the speed at which you’re moving, just the fact that it’s a summer course makes it feel a little more relaxed.”

THE CONCEPT FOR THE COURSE:

“Loyola’s Jesuit mission is one of the reasons to have a course that really focuses on what it means to ‘serve’ and to do it well,” said Leder, who also asks the students to discuss the problems and the obstacles when we consider ourselves the “helper,” the “server.” “The students can reflect on meaningful work and ‘right livelihood,’ and the notion of being ‘leaders in service,’ while at the same time being realistic about how they are trying to balance that with goals such as material success and raising a family.”

FOR SERVICE-LEARNING WITH UNDERGRADS:

Leder takes students to teach in medium-security prisons. “It’s been a wonderful win-win experience where the prisoners really enjoy the infusion of warmth and energy, and the Loyola students love it,” he said. “They’re so impressed with the prisoners’ intellectual capabilities and their passion for learning, which surpasses what you would expect. The prisoners want to learn. This is their freedom.”

ON THE BENEFITS OF SERVICE-LEARNING:

“Whether we’re talking about Hinduism or Buddhism or environmental ethics, instead of just dealing with it in a theoretical way, we get to have these concepts bump up against real-life experience in the community outside the Loyola bubble,” Leder said. “It really brings home Jesuit teachings about social justice, service, and advocacy, and makes the course concepts come alive with a kind of existential meaning and passion they wouldn’t have otherwise. And it broadens the students’ worldview and experience. Sometimes they even continue working with the agency after their commitment has ended. It not only awakens their heart, but it awakens their mind because they’re understanding concepts at a deeper level and becoming lifelong learners.”

A STUDENT SAYS:

“We talk about some deep personal stuff in class and everyone is really open,” said Candice Walker, ’12, a member of the women’s basketball team who is pursuing her master’s in liberal studies. “It has changed my perspective on how things we do every day are a form of service. Yesterday one of my classmates asked if you had to choose to give 40 hours in some type of service in any job or any area—besides sports—what would you do? Being an athlete, it was a really hard question for me to answer. I chose mentoring kids.”

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