Powerful Possibilities

Open Doors Intern Jacob Sabourin is a Political Science major at Aquinas College with a keen interest in the politics of power. At Open Doors he leads a class called “Powerful Possibilities,” which has quickly become popular among our teen members. In this post, Jacob explains his experiences leading this class.

by Jacob Sabourin

Only one girl showed up for the first Powerful Possibilities class. I told her we could explore anything related to power. I told her to ask me anything she wanted, question everything I said, assume I was always wrong, and then prove it.

But first I asked her a question. What is power to you?

She immediately thought of her two cats. One’s just a baby, but a “chunker,” she said. The other is old, wily, and good at hunting. The old one gathers food for the chunker, and the chunker lazes around the house.

But who has the power? I asked.

First, she thought the old one. She has the ability to hunt, after all. The chunker would never be so chunky if it weren’t for the old cat’s hunting prowess.

But then this young woman second-guessed herself. The chunker manipulates the old hunting cat, and ends up gorging herself into obesity.

So who has the power?

That day a student took her first step into understanding that relationships between all life forms are defined in terms of power. Our conversation that day extended the concept of power to family, the workplace, and ecosystems. That day, I got an idea of what she thought about poaching, minimum wage laws, and household rules. I told her over and over again how she was wrong, and forced her to prove herself right. At first she was frustrated with my questioning her logic. But she began to develop better arguments for her ideas.

Since then, most of the teenagers at Open Doors have attended Powerful Possibilities. About half now attend regularly.

So what have we covered since then?

Every day in class I walk in and ask these teenagers what’s on their minds. They’ve told me about terrorist attacks they heard about in the news, and we’ve talked about how Dr. Who demonstrates Western ideas about the foreignness of people from other countries. We talked about drone strikes, looked at a map of what countries the U.S. has used them on, and talked about philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault, and their ideas on how to manage people best, especially when it comes to the criminally insane.

They’ve argued with each other about school uniforms, slut shaming, teachers who molested students, child marriage, and age-of-consent laws.

They’ve told me how unfair it is that old people get to boss them around, and wonder who put their bosses and leaders in charge. I grabbed a cardboard scythe in the corner and told them I was the boss because I have the power to harm them. They started to draw cartoons lampooning me, including a depiction of me in a top hat and jock strap. We used this point to illustrate how important political satire is, and it led to a discussion of coup d’états, of which we’ve repeatedly discussed the history. The scythe has repeatedly been stolen. They’ve gotten the idea about coups. They now speak softly and carry big sticks, as they know Teddy Roosevelt once said was good foreign policy.

They’ve explained to each other why gun control laws are necessary, and also why they inhibit our freedoms.

They asked me why the countries of the world don’t get along, why war continues, and we discussed the advanced international relations theories of the End of History (i.e. liberal capitalist democracy is the final form of government we will ever have, and all countries are starting to come to this conclusion), and alternatively, the Clash of Civilizations (i.e. the world is divided by religion and culture, regionally, and eventually one culture must come to dominate the world).

They asked me why North Korea’s dictator was such a jerk, and we talked over the history of concentration camps around the world, in the U.S., in Germany, and we discussed the history of imperialism that led to North Korea’s Communist dictatorship.

They told me about how they felt about police and racism, and we talked about Eric Garner, the Ferguson protests, the history of riots, and police militarization.

One day they walked in and had nothing to say, so we talked about how the first step in the rise to power is to indicate your desires, because other people want to lead you to achieve them. So they told me they wanted to talk about job applications, and we talked about how we thought it was best to prepare for an interview.

We talked about how cortisol release is triggered when people are stressed, and people occupying the lower rungs of social hierarchies have cortisol release triggered more often, at levels our biological development never intended when we were hunter-gatherers on the savannah, picking berries and stabbing wildebeests with spears. We discussed meditation as a technique for controlling our own cortisol releases, so we can move up the social ladder to achieve our destinies.

Teenagers around the world are thinking about powerful, important topics. They have inklings of what is going on around them, but often don’t have the language to fully discuss them. I have seen a radical transformation in every teenager I’ve worked with over the course of my five-month tenure at Open Doors. They articulate themselves better every day. They know what is on their minds and are beginning to communicate it. They are becoming more powerful. A world of possibilities is opening to them.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 — Classes And Open House!

(Save the date:  Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.  More below.)

We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.

Love these amazing teens.
Yes, even this guy.

During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not.  Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester.  Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)

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Film Studies with Bruce Winegar.

We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends.  It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.

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Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
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Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
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Rebecca Kirk, Director, crafting and talking with teens on a chilly September day.

Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself!  We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner.  You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

A Day inside Open Doors

One blustery morning last week, some teen members gathered at Open Doors, as they do regularly, to chat and learn together. Here’s a peek into the goings-on.

In a continuing class about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, we saw footage of the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, complete with high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs. It was sobering stuff.

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The personal finance class covered balancing one’s checkbook.  The teens had done some research at local banks to see how they could open checking accounts, so this was useful information to have as they take steps forward.

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In the Wild Edibles class we reviewed a few winter edibles.  We found out we can brew White Pine needles into a tea if we need a source of Vitamin C, though the taste might not measure up to a cuppa at your favorite coffee house.

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We also learned how to harvest the cambium of a fallen tree for a source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  The cambium is the sap-moving layer inside the bark, which can be gathered and dried to make a flour for simple cakes.

We wrapped up the day with Film Studies and a viewing of Brick, an early Rian Johnson film.  (You may know the name Rian Johnson from films like The Brothers Bloom and Loopers.)  Bruce, seated in the middle, is a local director and our passionate leader in the area of all things film.

Bruce and kids on Brick

Brick is film noir set in a modern L.A. high school.  Released in 2005, it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his first serious roles after his 3rd Rock from The Sun fame.  As our members said afterwards, “Wow, a movie about high school that isn’t crap.  That’s amazing!” and “Emotions!  I’m having so many emotions after watching that!”  It was a compelling film, and the discussion of it this week promised to be just as world-expanding.

Swirling around the informal classes were conversations about video games, bullying, vacations, jobs, writing, and more.  It is such a joy to see our members engaged in their learning and their lives.  Come see for yourself.

Open houses are at noon on the second Monday of every month.

Evening fun events are at 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday.

You can also call 616.965.6968, or come visit us when it’s convenient in Eastown at 1324 Lake Drive.

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