Teaching Citizenship through Service-Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract

Academic service-learning has been described as a way to respond to the continual concerns regarding the loss of a sense of community in this country. This paper will discuss this pedagogy and present the results of a qualitative research study that explored the citizenship-related perceptions, experiences, and reflections of students who participated in a service-learning project for a business management course in 2003 and 2004. The paper will also provide implications for faculty interested in facilitating learning through this teaching methodology.

Introduction

Academic service-learning is a relatively new pedagogy that is now being used in college and university courses across the country. It has been cited, in a 1995 speech by D. M. Shafer, as a "means of responding to concerns about the loss of a sense of community and concurrent citizenship behaviors in the country" (Easterling & Rudell, 1997, p. 59). Although some would purport that the trend toward decreased civic engagement among the teens and young adults of today is unique, Dewey (1938) had these similar concerns nearly seven decades ago. He explained:

   The society is a number of people held together because they are
   working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with reference
   to common aims. The common needs and aims demand a growing
   interchange of thought and growing unity of sympathetic feeling.
   The radical reason that the present school cannot organize itself
   as a Natural social unit is because just this element of common
   and productive activity is absent. Upon the playground, in game
   and sport, social organization takes place spontaneously and
   inevitably. There is something to do, some activity to be carried
   on, requiring natural divisions of labor, selection of leaders and
   followers, mutual cooperation and emulation. In the schoolroom the
   motive and the cement of social organization are alike wanting.
   Upon the ethical side, the tragic weakness of the present school
   is that it endeavors to prepare future members of the social order
   in a medium in which the conditions of the social spirit are
   eminently wanting. (p. 11-12)

In short, Dewey taught that students should be active participants, engaged in the learning process. He felt that students should learn through experience and that these well-designed engaging activities could link a student with opportunities for community involvement and civic engagement. Academic service-learning appears to be a teaching methodology that does just this.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the link between service-learning and citizenship by presenting the results of a qualitative research study that explored the civic engagement and citizenship-related perceptions, experiences, and reflections of students who participated in a service-learning project for a business management course in the spring semesters of 2003 and 2004. In addition, this paper will also provide implications for faculty interested in facilitating learning through this teaching methodology.

Academic Service-Learning

Academic service-learning is now being considered an educational pedagogy that can assist students in gaining a sense of community, increasing positive citizenship activity and behaviors, enriching sympathetic feelings, becoming engaged in their education, and preparing to become life-long learners, and active community members (Zlotkowski, 1996). Informal lessons of citizenship and justice (regardless of the course topic) can be taught and learned by students, faculty, and community partners through participation and engagement in academic service-learning (Rama, Ravenscroft, Walcott, & Zlotkowski, 2000).

Generally speaking, academic service-learning is a multi-dimensional pedagogy (a form of experiential learning) that is integrated within a credit-beating course in the form of an organized, thoughtful, and meaningful project (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995). …