Jane Addams and the Origins of Service-Learning Practice in the United States

By Daynes, Gary; Longo, Nicholas V. | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Jane Addams and the Origins of Service-Learning Practice in the United States


Daynes, Gary, Longo, Nicholas V., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


"The settlement is a protest against a restricted view of education."

--Jane Addams

In a 1904 essay titled "The Humanizing Tendency of Industrial Education," Jane Addams asked her readers to imagine what public schools would look like if they followed the educational practices of Hull House, the social settlement that Addams had formed with Ellen Gates Starr 15 years before. "We could imagine the business man teaching the immigrant his much needed English and arithmetic," she wrote, "and receiving in return lessons in the handling of tools and materials so that they should assume in his mind a totally different significance from that [which] the factory gives them." In the same place, Addams argued, one should see Italian women learning English in the kitchen while they teach their instructors "how to cook the delicious macaroni, such a different thing from the semi-elastic product which Americans honor with that name" (Addams, 1904/1994, p. 120).

Had Addams written "The Humanizing Tendency" in 1994 one would see in her remarks a creative but typical description of service-learning. But the date of her writing, 1904, and the location of the service-learning, Hull House, suggests that Addams' work was much more than a standard application of service-learning practice. It was, instead, pioneering work, the understanding of which should reframe thinking about the history and significance of service-learning. Though the service-learning movement has paid more attention to its history than most movements for educational reform, the history it has crafted has taken an unusual form. It has focused overwhelmingly on John Dewey as the intellectual forefather of the movement (Giles, 1991; Giles & Eyler, 1994; Saltmarsh, 1996). In this, the history of a movement about community-campus partnerships for action has been written largely as a history of ideas emerging from a university. Of course, John Dewey's work is enormously rich and his role in creating a system of education responsive to community interests should not be minimized. Nonetheless, if the movement is to learn from its origins, it needs to take a fuller look at them.

There have been attempts to expand the early history of service-learning, including efforts to include Jane Addams among the early pioneers of community service in American culture (along with Dewey and Dorothy Day) from Keith Morton and John Saltmarsh (1997). Ira Harkavy and John Puckett (1994) use Hull House as a model for contemporary urban universities, especially the partnerships at University of Pennsylvania. Jane Addams School for Democracy uses the legacy of Hull House to inspire a long-term community-university partnership between the University of Minnesota and the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota (Longo & Wallace, 2000; Wallace, 2000). In addition, Charles Stevens (2003) has done pioneering work on the African-American origins of service-learning (Stevens, 2003). This article builds upon this work and proposes that Jane Addams' work and writing are essential to such a re-examination of service-learning's history. Addams allows us a glimpse into the origins of service-learning as a practice, as opposed to a theory.

A history of service-learning that takes account of Addams also locates the origins of service-learning not in the university, but in the community, with institutions (including institutions of higher education) playing an important supporting role. And it places the origins of service-learning squarely in the movement for the expansion of the role of women in public life. These three expansions of service-learning's history alone should make Addams of interest to contemporary practitioners. But in addition to adding gender, practice, and partnership to service-learning's history, Jane Addams' work is a valuable reminder that service-learning may be understood not only as an educational technique, but also as an agile approach to learning whose greatest value is the unpredictable creativity that it brings to public life.

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