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Doing Hard Work Of The Mind: Immigrants See Life Is More Than Labor


by Oscar Avila - 2008

After mopping floors and scrubbing toilets, janitor Julio Pina takes a break and escapes into the world of Sartre and Plato. The Mexican immigrant joins friends at a cafe and, for the first time, uses his newfound knowledge to ponder history’s great thinkers. For several months, a small core of Mexican immigrants, many still clad in work clothes stained with dirt and paint, have convened at the Gads Hill Center, 1919 W. Cullerton St., for a grueling curriculum of college-level humanities classes, including history, literature and writing.


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This article originally appeared as NSSE Yearbook Vol 107, No. 2.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 14, 2008, p. 244-246
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22901, Date Accessed: 8/7/2020 8:54:35 PM

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About the Author
  • Oscar Avila
    Univeristy of Chicago
    E-mail Author
    Doing Hard Work of the Mind: Immigrants See Life Is More than Labor oscar avila After mopping floors and scrubbing toilets, janitor Julio Pina takes a break and escapes into the world of Sartre and Plato. The Mexican immigrant joins friends at a cafe and, for the first time, uses his newfound knowledge to ponder history’s great thinkers. For several months, a small core of Mexican immigrants, many still clad in work clothes stained with dirt and paint, have convened at the Gads Hill Center, 1919 W. Cullerton St., for a grueling curriculum of college-level humanities classes, including history, literature and writing. Many of the students never finished high school. For a long time, they have viewed their role in Chicago as that of hard workers with strong backs. No one cared about their minds. On Sunday, however, that changed when a diehard group of 10 students graduated from the Odyssey Project at a ceremony at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. “I like to say I’m a professional at cleaning bathrooms. But that is it,” said Pina, 36, of Chicago. “I have never had the time or the chance to think. Until now.” Odyssey initially targeted African-American students and Englishspeaking Latinos, but this graduating class is the first eligible for college credit after taking courses entirely in Spanish. As Chicago sees an increased population of Mexican immigrants with low education levels, the Odyssey Project reflects a growing feeling by educators that they must expand learning opportunities, even in Spanish. Earl Shorris, a writer and University of Chicago graduate, founded the Clemente Course in the humanities in 1995 at Bard College in New Oscar Avila is a staff reporter for the Chicago Tribune and is currently covering Latin America. Before arriving at the Tribune, Avila was a roving Missouri correspondent and Metro reporter for the Kansas City Star. From Chicago Tribune, June 19, 2006. © 2006 Chicago Tribune [http://www.chicagotribune.com]. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of the material without express written permission is prohibited.
 
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