Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Experiencing the Social Issues That Impact America's Classrooms: A Study of Academic Service-Learning in Education Courses

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Experiencing the Social Issues That Impact America's Classrooms: A Study of Academic Service-Learning in Education Courses

Article excerpt


In the 1980s, Myra Sadker, David Sadker, and Susan S. Klein (1986), discussing gender bias in education, observed that many Americans believe that "sex equity has been achieved and there is no problem anymore" (p. 219). In my undergraduate social foundations of education courses, I too find that preservice teachers often think gender issues are a thing of the past, an inequality that has been conquered and no longer needs to be discussed. Nevertheless, after analyzing these seemingly obsolete topics in the university classroom, undergraduates, when completing academic service-learning hours, discover that these issues are certainly relevant in today's K-12 classrooms. For example, one student, after volunteering at a low-income school just outside of Detroit, MI, noted that many of the activities in the classroom "clearly display the level of sexism that still runs rampant in our society, despite all the talk of equality." As this student's comment suggests, academic service-learning can be a powerful means of making connections between the theoretical course content and the reality of classroom practice. This chapter discusses an informal, small-scale study of including a community-service requirement in social foundations courses and examines the benefits and shortcomings of such a requirement.

Academic Service Learning

Academic service-learning is a growing movement in higher education (and K-12 education) that has the potential of highlighting connections between theory and practice in classrooms (Butin, 2006; Learn and Serve Clearinghouse, n.d). (1) Service-learning has been utilized in a number of disciplines, including political science, women's studies, economics, prevention science, education, business, computer engineering, and environmental science, to name only a few (Aronson, 2006; Butin, 2006; Learn and Serve Clearinghouse, n.d.; Mendel-Reyes, 1998). In the service learning community a multitude of justifications and aims sometimes compete. Some scholars, for example, highlight the impact service has on students, while others suggest that the goal of community service is to work toward social justice (Boyle-Baise, Brown, & Hsu, 2006; Butin, 2003, 2007; Maybach, 1996). Despite the debates surrounding the goals of academic service-learning, most discussions agree that all parties involved should reap the benefits of the service. Students receive valuable experiences while completing their service hours. By actually working in the community, students gain a concrete and deeper understanding of the themes of the course (Butin, 2003; Mendel-Reyes, 1998). At the same time, academic service-learning provides a much-needed service for the community. Ideally, therefore, service fosters a reciprocal relationship between students and community (Sandy & Holland, 2006; Weigert, 1998).

Social Foundations of Education

Social foundations of education courses for pre-service teachers emphasize the ways in which larger forces--economic, political, cultural, social, historical, and so on,--impact teaching and learning, thus challenging the assumption that the outside world stops at the schoolhouse door (Liston & Zeichner, 1991). The social foundations faculty members are often a conglomeration of scholars trained in a variety of disciplines, such as history, economics, sociology, and anthropology. Drawing on the research from numerous fields, undergraduate social foundations courses, in general, are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary because they address not only empirical issues in education (through a variety of scholarly lenses), but also normative ones as well (Liston & Zeichner, 1991).

While many students enjoy social foundations courses, they are not always convinced that such courses will help them confront the everyday challenges of being classroom teachers (Sevier, 2005). (The fact that the required undergraduate foundations course, unlike many curriculum courses, does not have a required "field experience" course attached to it could help explain why some students find it less "practical" than other courses. …

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