SERVICE-LEARNING: An Essential Component of Citizenship Education

Article excerpt

A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies Prepared by the NCSS Citizenship Select Subcommittee Approved by the NCSS Board of Directors, May 2000

Rationale

The mission of the social studies profession, since its inception, has been to develop informed and active citizens. To become responsible citizens, students must have access not only to content knowledge and core democratic values, but also to opportunities to learn citizenship skills and apply them to problems and needs in the community beyond the classroom. Service-learning provides essential opportunities for students not only to develop civic participation skills, values, and attitudes, but also to acquire first-hand knowledge of the topics they are studying in the curriculum. Service-learning provides an authentic means for using social studies content and skills to investigate soda], political, and economic issues and to take direct action in an effort to create a more just and equitable society. Quality service-learning experiences may positively influence the following aspects of student development:

* Academic, problem solving, and critical thinking skills

* Ethical development and moral reasoning ability

* Social and civic responsibility

* Self-esteem, assertiveness, and empathy

* Political efficacy

* Tolerance and acceptance of diversity

* Career exploration

Definition

Service-learning connects meaningful service in the school or community with academic learning and civic responsibility. Service-learning is distinguished from community service or Volunteerism in two ways. First, the service activity is integrated with academic skills and content. Second, students engage in structured reflection activities on their service experiences. Quality service-learning activities meet a number of important criteria. In particular, they should:

* Provide opportunities for student and community input in the design of the service-learning experience;

* Engage students in both meaningful service and essential social studies content;

* Provide opportunities for reflection on the service experience and the connections between this experience, democratic values, and citizenship;

* Focus on change rather than charity, enabling students to question prevailing norms and develop new ideas for creating a more just and equitable society.

Effective service-learning projects go beyond simply using the community as a learning laboratory for student development. Of equal importance is the attempt to solve community problems, meet human and environmental needs, and advocate for changes in policies and laws to promote the common good. Through addressing real-life problems in their communities, students are challenged to work together to exercise the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship. …