Social Enterprise for Learning: A Replicable Model of Service Learning and Civic Engagement

By McKoy, Deborah; Stern, David et al. | Social Studies Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Enterprise for Learning: A Replicable Model of Service Learning and Civic Engagement


McKoy, Deborah, Stern, David, Bierbaum, Ariel H., Social Studies Review


Many schools offer service learning - community service linked to classroom studies - to help students become more effective participants in a democratic society. Different forms of service learning combine various amounts of discussion and analysis of social issues with engagement in activities that have real impact outside the classroom. What we call "Social Enterprise for Learning," or SEfL, involves students in both thinking about a civic or public issue and doing something about it. In this paper we describe the process we have developed for organizing SEfLs in high schools and how they evolve together with local educational and community partners. We include brief accounts of several SEfLs in San Francisco, to demonstrate how this process can be successfully replicated.

Purposes of Service Learning and SEfL

Accumulating evidence shows that service learning can develop students' skills, knowledge, and commitment to participate in addressing collective problems in the community and society (Billig, Root, & Jesse 2005; Kahne & Sporte 2008; David 2009; Levinson 2009). Leaders in the field of civic education have endorsed service learning as one of several ways schools can help to develop competent and responsible citizens (Gibson & Levine 2003). Levinson (2009, p. 35) emphasizes the importance of the experiential component: "Civic education at its heart must be about active participation, not passive observation." At the same time, Kahne and Westheimer (2003, p. 36) caution that effective education for democracy must be "more than good deeds." It also must include knowledge of governmental institutions, and opportunities to analyze and debate collective issues. Kahne and Sporte's study of high school students in Chicago found that gains in students' civic commitment was strongly associated both with classroom discussion of civic issues and with participation in active service learning projects.

Social enterprise for learning (SEfL) is a form of service learning we began developing in the late 1990s. It involves a group of students analyzing a collective need in their community or in the larger society, then working together to provide a product or service that addresses the issue. Students act as social entrepreneurs, investing their time and other resources to transform an idea into a tangible product or service that benefits other people. For example, a SEfL project might organize a new recycling service on the school campus or in a neighborhood park.

One of the important things students are intended to learn in SEfL is the concept of a shared or collective good. According to conventional economic theory, private goods can be efficiently provided through market exchange, but ordinary markets are not efficient in providing shared goods such as clean air. Some kind of collective action, usually through government, is required to produce efficient allocation of shared or public goods. (We use the terms "shared," "public," and "collective" goods interchangeably.) The prevailing definition of collective goods in economics was first formulated by Paul Samuelson ( 1 954); for a more recent exposition , see Joseph Stiglitz (2000). Samuelson was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in economics, Stiglitz shared the Nobel in 200 1 , and the 2009 prize was awarded to Elinor Ostrom in large part for her research on efficient allocation of shared resources. Despite the prominence of this idea in standard economics, high school students seldom learn it, according to a study by Walstad and Rebeck (2001), who found that market failure and the role of government were the least well understood microeconomic concepts assessed by the Test of Economic Literacy.

What defines shared or collective goods is that benefits received by one person do not diminish benefits for other people, and excluding anyone from these benefits would not be feasible. Categories of collective goods include:

* Environment - protection or improvement of air, oceans, climate, natural landscapes, and other aspects of the environment. …

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Social Enterprise for Learning: A Replicable Model of Service Learning and Civic Engagement
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