Sociology Instructor Denise Strenger brings 26 Acts to DCTC
In the aftermath of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Ann Curry, a correspondent at NBC News, took to Twitter with this message: “Imagine if we all committed to 20 acts of kindness for each child lost in Newtown? I’m in. RT #20Acts if YOU R in.” Twitter followers by the thousands swiftly tweeted the number upward to #26Acts in honor of the 20 children and six adult staff members killed in the tragedy. The concept has since gone viral, inspiring people of all ages around the world to accept the 26 Acts of Kindness challenge.
The 26 Acts Facebook page has more than 101,000 likes. National Geographic Kids is visiting 26 schools across country to meet with children and donate Nat Geo nonfiction bestsellers for children to school libraries. In Tuscaloosa County, Ala., a dog trainer is giving away 26 service dogs, 25 personal and one police, to express her solidarity with the cause. San Antonio third graders accomplished 115 acts of kindness in less than a week, recording their acts on RACK sheets. RACK stands for “Random Acts of Classroom Kindness.”Denise Strenger, a sociology instructor at Dakota County Technical College, decided to explore the phenomenon in her Marriage and the Family class by offering her students the extra-credit opportunity to perform and document 26 Acts of Kindness over the course of spring semester 2013. Several students took her up on the offer.
“The premise of 26 Acts is based on Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world,'” Strenger said. “In Marriage and the Family, we examine the vested interest we have in keeping families intact and relationships healthy. I believe treating one another with kindness benefits all our relationships.”
Strenger’s Marriage and the Family course focuses on human relationships. Her students delve into subjects such as love, conflict, sexuality, parenting, relationship violence and gender roles. Strenger exposes her students to the cultural diversity found in family units of all kinds. Her goal is to enhance the way students understand marriage and family issues by giving them a sound sociological perspective, a perspective built on theoretical and historical findings.
Strenger points to an article in the Harvard Gazette with a quote from former Harvard President Derek Bok. “On the whole, the things that happy people do and the things that make you happy tend to be things that are good for society and good for other people,” said Bok, who characterized such happy things as “senseless acts of kindness.”
The Journal of Happiness Studies published an article in April 2012 about a study conducted by Harvard Business School and University of British Columbia researchers. The study discovered a “positive feedback loop” between kindness and happiness. Apparently, acts of kindness encourage spells of happiness.
A 2010 University of Kent experiment attempted to measure the effects of acts of kindness and acts of novelty on life satisfaction. Here’s what happened: “Participants aged 18–60 took part on a voluntary basis. They were randomly assigned to perform either acts of kindness, acts of novelty, or no acts on a daily basis for 10 days. Their life satisfaction was measured before and after the 10-day experiment. As expected, performing acts of kindness or acts of novelty resulted in an increase in life satisfaction.”
Strenger is also looking at how kindness affects the benefactor of the act. She wants her students to contemplate the following questions: “What if you are kind to a person wronged by another? Could your kindness decrease that person’s aggression? Could your kindness make that person a better family member? Or happier at work or in life?” Students will keep a journal to keep track of their acts of kindness, including how each foray into kindness made them feel.
Meet four of Denise Strenger’s students who accepted the 26 Acts of Kindness challengeBorn in Waterloo, Iowa, and a 2009 graduate of Northfield High School, Donald Findlay, 22, is pursuing Electronic Publishing and Graphic Design Technology A.A.S. degrees at DCTC with the goal to land a career in a mellow work setting. Findlay enjoys role-playing games such as Rogue Trader and Dungeons & Dragons, the latter his favorite. Untrammeled by high-functioning Asperger syndrome, he accepted the 26 Acts of Kindness challenge because the project already matched up with how he lives his life.
“I do all this nice stuff anyway,” Findlay said. “It’s just good to help other people out.”
Acts of Kindness so far…
Act 1: I saw a little girl, maybe 5 years old, at a fast-food restaurant. She was upset because she wanted a caramel for her apple, but she didn’t have any money. She was hanging on the counter, but getting nowhere, so I paid for her caramel. She was exceedingly happy. Someone did something similar for me when I was little.
Act 2: I was outside a local library when I saw an elderly man slip on a patch of ice and fall down. I rushed over and helped him up. I checked to make sure he was okay and found out he was trying to enter the library. I escorted him inside and then spoke to library personnel about the slippery sidewalk.Thirty-seven years in the U.S. Air Force only strengthened Brad Binion’s desire to learn. A former flight engineer on Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, Binion, 58, retired from the Air Force as an E8, or senior master sergeant. He’s working on an A.A.S. degree in Photography at DCTC. He already has Architectural Technology and Automotive Technician diplomas from the college. A true lifelong learner with the goal make extra money as an independent photographer, he took on 26 Acts simply because he believes being a kind person is a great idea.
“I help people all the time,” Binion said. “It’s in my nature.”
Acts of Kindness so far…
Act 1: My father is seriously handicapped and my mom spends much of her time looking after him. I make sure my mom receives the care and help she needs by watching over their finances and household needs.
Act 2: I was in a grocery store when I noticed an elderly lady struggling to reach a six-pack of eggs. She could not have been more than 4-foot-8. I grabbed the eggs for her and she was very grateful for my help.Born in Hopkins, Minn., and a 2008 graduate of New Prague High School, Sharie P., 23, chose DCTC because of the friendly environment on campus and the college’s proximity to her home in New Market, Minn. She is pursuing a Dental AssistantA.A.S. degree with the long-range goal to become a dentist, a career path recommended by her own dentist. She is participating in 26 Acts for reasons similar to those of her classmates. She likes the idea of extra credit, of course, but the real reason is that kindness is in her blood.
“I love Denise and want to make her happy,” Sharie said with a smile, “but the truth is I naturally do nice things for people on my own.”
Acts of Kindness so far…
Act 1: I was at the Burnsville Center Mall when I saw a little boy about 3 or 4 years old in a gift store. He walked by a shelf filled with stuffed animals and knocked them all on the floor on purpose. There were a dozen or so big animals and a whole bunch of little ones. I picked up all the animals and placed them back on the shelf. The store clerk was smiling and very grateful because she was busy at the time.
Act 2: I was driving on 35W when I noticed a woman driving a car with a flat tire and broken rear blinker. I followed her off the freeway even though it wasn’t my exit and stopped when she parked in front of a shoe store. I got her attention and pointed out the flat and broken blinker. She seemed very surprised. I don’t know how she could drive without noticing her tire was flat.An Individualized Studies major and shortstop on the DCTC Blue Knights baseball team, Kyle Kalina, 25, graduated from New Prague High School in 2005. Kalina played junior hockey at St. Cloud State for two years while taking gen ed classes before enrolling at DCTC. He began working as a physical education teacher assistant at Jeffers Pond Elementary School in Prior Lake, Minn., in 2009. That experience has inspired him to pursue the career path of a PE teacher/hockey or baseball coach by attending a four-year institution after DCTC. Although not taking Strenger’s Marriage and the Family class, he is in her Social Issues Changing World class.
“26 Acts was an idea that hit home,” Kalina said. “What it really comes down to is that I already look for ways to be kind to people every day.”
Kindness begins at home
When Denise Strenger told her own two children, a daughter, 13, and son, 10, about how her students were taking part in 26 Acts of Kindness, they immediately wanted to know why their family was not participating. Strenger felt that was a very good question, one with only one answer.
“We are committed to 26 Acts now,” she said, noting that she and her children will be keeping journals just like her students. She can easily visualize how her 26 Acts of Kindness project could go viral throughout the college with many other if not all academic programs offering similar extra-credit projects.
“If we want better families and less violence, we can create the environment we need to succeed,” Strenger added. “We know there is a pattern to crime. Is there a pattern then for kindness? I think perhaps there is—and we will have a much safer, happier world when we find and apply patterns of kindness in our daily lives.”
For more information about 26 Acts of Kindness and Sociology courses at DCTC, contact:
- Denise Strenger