Between School and Community: Situating Service-Learning in University Art Galleries

By Jeffers, Carol S. | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Between School and Community: Situating Service-Learning in University Art Galleries


Jeffers, Carol S., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


In a postmodern society, various conceptual and programmatic boundaries between schools, universities, and communities can be considered unnecessary, even "unnatural" (Anzaldua, 1987); they serve only to create a metaphorical place known as the "borderland" (Anzaldua, 1987; Garber, 1995; Hayes & Cuban, 1997). In service-learning programs, students are expected to cross borders that needlessly separate educational experiences situated in schools from those situated in communities. Service-learners must enter the borderland and explore its unfamiliar terrain, which can exist not only 'out' in the community, but also, on their own campuses. This paper explores the possibility of developing and situating a new type of service-learning in university art galleries, where knowledge is constructed and contextualized at the edge of the campus in a borderland that lies between school and community. A hybrid, as it were, this campus-based model promotes significant collaboration between preservice teachers (members of elementary art methods classes) and students from area schools in the largely unfamiliar territory of a gallery borderland. In so doing, this model identifies a type of service-learning experience that makes a difference to prospective teachers and schoolchildren alike.

Framework for the Campus-Based Model

Based on Deweyan pragmatist and constructivist views of epistemology, cognition, and learning, this model was designed to combine experiential learning, critical reflection, constructivist practices, and service in the context of the "unique educational environments" of the two galleries located on the California State University at Los Angeles campus (Zeller, 1987). In this model, then, service-learning and pragmatism are clearly connected and contextualized, as are critical reflection, thought, and action. Moreover, the notion that knowledge is both contextual and constructed is integral in the philosophy and design of the model (Liu, 1995). That is, knowledge of art, self, and others is actively constructed by students and preservice teachers in small groups or learning communities and situated in a particular place beyond the classroom.

This approach, which constituted a major component in two class sections of an elementary art methods course, invokes a kind of "border pedagogy" (Giroux, 1992). Such a pedagogy empowers students to cross borders, to work closely in order to understand themselves in relation to others--that is, to understand "otherness," and to reflect critically on issues of race, ethnicity, class, and cultural heritage. It strives to create a metaphorical borderland in which diverse cultural resources allow for the development of new identities and relationships (Giroux, 1992). Fleshing out the theoretical and pedagogical framework of this model, then, the art methods students (who are themselves ethnically- and culturally-diverse, typically first- or second-generation Americans of working class backgrounds), began by questioning their own perceptions that art museums represent opulent cultural spheres reserved only for upper class patrons. In so doing, they began to collapse real or imagined class barriers and develop new identities and relationships within the gallery borderland.

Preparing to Enter the Borderland

As a part of their professional preparation program, these diverse preservice teachers are required to complete an elementary art methods course. Upon entering the studio art classroom, however, they almost universally lack any background in art and many suffer from a phenomenon known as "art anxiety" (Jeffers, 1991; Smith-Shank, 1992). Anxious that they can neither draw realistically, nor interpret abstract art, these preservice teachers have nearly succeeded in avoiding any direct and meaningful contact with art, both in school and in the community. Nonetheless, their general attitudes toward art and toward teaching and learning about art in classrooms and galleries or museums are quite positive, as measured on the first day of class by a Likert-type attitude survey (see Table 1). …

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