Forms and Dimensions of Civic Involvement

By Wang, Yan; Jackson, Golden | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Forms and Dimensions of Civic Involvement


Wang, Yan, Jackson, Golden, Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


This research assesses (a) students' perceptions of civic involvement from either a charity or social justice perspective, and (b) the relationship among six dimensions of civic involvement (Knowledge, Skill, Efficacy, Value, Responsibility, and Commitment) for developing a charity or social justice perspective. Pre- and post-course analysis showed that (a) the charitable view of civic involvement was dominant; and (b) the six dimensions were distinct constructs in describing civic involvement.

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An often-stated goal of service-learning is to prepare students for civic involvement, defined in this study as "involvement in civil society" (Gottlieb & Robinson, 2002, p. 2), or to participate in the democratic process. Other authors may use terms such as civic participation, civic engagement, or citizenship to describe involvement or activity related to participation in the democratic process. Rhoads (1997) noted that different visions of democratic society will produce different meanings of citizen and citizenship. Westheimer & Kahne (2004) also maintained that "it is not enough to argue that democratic values are as important as traditional academic priorities" and "we must ask what kind of values," because different "political and ideological interests are embedded in or are easily attached to varied conceptions of citizenship" (p. 257).

Forms of Civic Involvement

Models or paradigms have been developed to theorize or explain the different forms, visions, orientations, or approaches to civic involvement, and the discussions mainly focus on the concept of charity and social justice and their relationship to each other. Some theorists see charity and social justice as two ends of a continuum with social justice as the preferred outcome (Barber, 1994; Delve, Mintz, & Stewart, 1990; Kahne & Westheimer, 1999; Maybach, 1996; O'Grady, 2000; Reardon, 1994; Rhoads, 1997; Wade, 2000); others see these two forms of citizenship as distinct paradigms and do not think one is superior to the other (Deans, 1999; Foos, 1998; Leeds, 1999; Morton, 1995).

Delve, Mintz, and Stewart (1990) were among the first to emphasize the movement from charity to social justice as a goal of service-learning. They developed a model of service-learning to describe different phases of social responsibility and specified a goal of transition from one phase to another, i.e., to move students "from charity to justice" (p. 26). Barber (1994) believed that citizen education through community service should be about political responsibility. Thus, to develop students' political responsibility, a service-learning course must be developed so as to intentionally foster student awareness of social justice and "the place of ethnicity, religion, race, class, gender and sexual orientation in a community" (p. 91).

Kahne and Westheimer (1999) summarized the goals for service-learning into three domains: moral, political, and intellectual, with two approaches for each domain: charity and change. For the political domain, the two approaches are responsible citizen (charity) and critical democrat (social change). The charity approach emphasizes the importance of altruism and joy that comes from giving. The change approach emphasizes participation in political action and providing solutions to structural problems. Kahne and Westheimer claimed that "citizenship in a democratic community requires more than kindness and decency; it requires engagement in complex social and institutional endeavors," and it "requires that individuals work to create, evaluate, criticize, and change public institutions and programs" (p. 34). The view of civic involvement preferred by Kahne and Westheimer included active engagement in social issues and efforts to examine, critique, and change social policy--in addition to concern for one's fellow humans.

Advocacy for service-learning with a social justice approach is based on a belief that a successful democratic form of government requires active citizens who question current practice and work to develop new forms. …

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