Service-Learning: History, Theory, and Issues

Service-Learning: History, Theory, and Issues

Service-Learning: History, Theory, and Issues

Service-Learning: History, Theory, and Issues

Synopsis

Although service-learning programs can have diverse theoretical roots, faculty who engage their students in service-learning may not be be cognizant of alternatives to the one they adopt. This book presents not only a historical perspective, but it also debates the theories and issues surrounding the conflicts inherent in those theories. One theory, based on a philanthropic model, engages students in a commitment to serve others from a sense of gratitude for their own good fortunes or from a desire to "give back" to communities from which they have benefited. Typically, service-learning programs based on the philanthropic or communitarian models deal with the overt needs of community members. In contrast, the civic model requires deeper analysis of the various political and social issues that may be the cause of social conditions that require the help of the more fortunate. Opponents of the civic theory fear that proponents see the classroom as a forum for advancing particular political agendas, conceivably indoctrinating students to a particular view of social injustices. This book presents the theories and critiques their merits and liabilities, providing insight into the widely divergent curricular applications. It also examines the reasons professors should consider service-learning components in their classes and provides resources for further investigation of both theory and practice.

Excerpt

As Barber and Battistoni (1993) noted ten years ago, service-learning “is [in] some ways a rather new pedagogy” (p. ix). (Barber and Battistoni hedge by using [in] some ways, and as Rocheleau points out in Chapter One of this volume, the theoretical underpinnings of service-learning can be traced to antiquity.) In fact, the bulk of the literature that has been produced on what has become known as service-learning has been published in the last decade. For example, the earliest source Ikeda (2001) cites in her list of significant resources for service-learning was published in 1996, and as Ikeda notes, the venerable Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning was first published in 1994. Indeed, the literature on service-learning literally began exploding in the mid-1990s and has not abated. If the scholarly writing dedicated to a particular topic is any indication of the topic’s interest to scholars, then service-learning has captured the imaginations of many in the academy. Why?

The brief answer to that question is stolen from Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart. A dominant theme in the literature on service-learning is that American culture has lost a sense of community; socially things have fallen apart, and Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone is often cited as evidence of the loss of what might be called social capital. Barn raisings are wistfully recollected from bygone days. Alienation is a word found often in postmodern criticism, and deconstructionists take delight in showing that a reader can’t trust authorial intentions as appear on the surface of a text. A text has to be deconstructed so that the import of authorial inten-

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