Monday, February 14, 2011

Readings and Service: Trust and Conflict

This week was my first week doing service learning at Guilford Elementary Middle School. Although I was nervous at first, my nerves were set at ease once I saw the students that were a part of the National Academic League. There was no orientation to what we had to do while we were there. Mr. Ted Smith, who is the coach of the team, gave us each a packet of trivia questions to quiz an individual student on for the following hour and a half. He told us to go to the cafeteria and wait for the rest of the group to join. I realized that both the school and Mr. Smith had a great amount of trust in us. He trusted us with his kids and trusted that we would prepare them appropriately for the competition. Also, I realized that many students there were distracted by their friends on the team or even their friends that were outside, banging on the windows to get their attention. They had a conflict of interest. While it was great for the students to be staying after school for an academic club, their other friends were outside playing and waiting to go home for the day. I could tell that some of the students were troubled over whether or not they really wanted to stay in school for an extra 3 hours, or be outside like the rest of their friends. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I wouldn’t have the same discipline these kids do to stay in school for an extra 3 hours. The themes of trust and conflict were also seen heavily in the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, and the poems “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and “Happiness” by Jane Hirshfield.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, a family is faced with a problem when they encounter an escaped fugitive, The Misfit. During their trip, they talk about what they consider to be a “good” man. Everyone recalls a time where they could leave doors unlocked and not have to worry about someone stealing belongings. This issue of trust is important at the end of the short story, when the family encounters the Misfit. At first, they trust the group because of their appearance and that they acted as if they were going to help the family after their car accident. However, the family soon realizes who the group of boys are after the grandma accuses the man of being the Misfit. This accusation is what leads to the rest of the family being murdered. If the grandma didn’t say anything, the family may have survived the encounter. Because the Misfit felt as if he couldn’t trust the family, he needed to kill them so they wouldn’t turn him in to the cops. In addition to the trust issues of the family and the Misfit, there were also conflicts of interest. A major conflict of interest in the story is what constitutes a “good” man. Where people at the restaurant and the family agree that a good man is someone that you can trust, the grandma still believes that the Misfit is a good man, despite being a fugitive and killing the rest of his family. Even the Misfit is unsure at first, realizing that he comes from a good family, and he himself is a good man, yet he doesn’t act that way. This allows the readers to make their own judgment of what a good man is, and whether or not where a person comes from dictates whether a person is good or not. I was able to make my own connections to the same conflict of what constitutes a good man. In high school, I had a friend who was on house arrest. He came from a broken home, which influenced the decisions he made that led him to be put on house arrest. However, he changed a lot after he was put on house arrest. Just because he made a mistake in the past, doesn’t deem him a bad person for the rest of his life. He is just someone who made a bad decision at one point in his life.

In “God’s Grandeur”, the poet displays his views of God and God’s importance in everyone’s lives. The poem epitomizes God’s presence in the world and how He blesses everyone that accepts this presence in their lives. However, while the speaker is aware of God’s presence in the world, the speaker is confused and perplexed about the people who fail to see God in everything in existence. This poem is an Italian sonnet; its form contributes to the thought process of the speaker. The shift in the poem proves that the speaker realizes God’s presence in the world, especially in nature. The speaker says that most people should be able to see this connection, although it is not uncommon for people to be ignorant of it. This is connected to a theme of conflict, where the speaker sees God’s greatness, but doesn’t see how this greatness doesn’t reach everyone. The speaker believes that if God’s greatness impacts everyone, that includes every person as well. This internal struggle and conflict is important for the speaker to be confident in his own relationship with God. Also, the speaker’s trust in God is portrayed because he is aware of his presence in the world, although it is not seen by everyone.

Similar to “God’s Grandeur”, where the speaker sees the glory of God in nature and the rest of the world, “Happiness” portrays the gifts from God and how these gifts provide a person with purpose and happiness. The speaker contrasts happiness with words with a negative connotation: Hopelessness, Anger, Desperateness, and Loneliness. The speaker draws connection to his happiness with the animals and the relationships of everything in nature. There is a conflict between his happiness and the realities of nature. The speaker realizes that although his happiness is dependent on other things, he also realizes the possibility of being come over by separation and unhappiness. It is a constant struggle to find what makes a person happy, and once you find that certain thing, whatever it may be, a person will trust in that thing to continue to make them happy. The poem is filled with enjambment, which contributes the idea that the speaker is trying to find what makes him happy in life and is going to trust in his emotions and instincts. The personification of the words with negative connotations represents conflict in the speaker’s mind, since it is hard to forget times of sadness.

During my service this week, I realized that children are truly gifted and talented. I realized that I was happy when interacting with kids. Back home, I was a nanny and babysitters for various families. I love being around children, helping them grow, and teaching them new things. Elijah, who was the boy that I worked with on Wednesday, was so full of life and ready to learn. When his classmates were busy socializing with the other members of the team, Elijah was content studying with me. He was very enthusiastic about learning and whenever he got something wrong, I could tell that he felt as if he was letting himself down. Elijah trusted me in teaching him the material. During the competition, any time that a question was asked that he and I reviewed for, he looked at me and smiled. That smile made all of the work worthwhile. A conflict that I saw among the students, besides the struggle to either participate in an academic activity or get out of school at a normal time, was the conflict between teammates. Sometimes, members that weren’t answering questions knew the correct answers and were frustrated when a teammate got it wrong. Mr. Smith faced conflict after the kids stopped trying to answer questions entirely. However, Mr. Smith and the kids worked together to overcome the conflict by studying more, answering questions, and eventually winning the competition. I saw how proud everyone was of each other after they won in the last second. I believe that a person’s background does not determine their success or failures in the future. For the dedicated students at Guilford Elementary Middle School, it is just the beginning of their journey to determine what makes them happy and how they perceive the world around them. I can’t wait to continue working with them for the rest of the semester and hopefully serve as a role model and help them make the right decisions.

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