Magazine article National Forum

Serving to Learn and Learning to Serve

Magazine article National Forum

Serving to Learn and Learning to Serve

Article excerpt

I think when I read of the poet's desire,

That a house by the side of the road would be good;

But Service is found in its tenderest form

When we walk with the crowd in the road.

Walter J. Gresham, Where Cross The crowded Ways

Service learning is a practice that can form character, build capacity, and supplement course work with actual involvement in the marketplace for the student. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language ( 1992), service is an act of assistance or benefit to another. Service, as defined in the Carnegie Report of the President, 1994, does not indicate superiority over others but is based in a sense of being full members of the community and sharing a common fate as human beings. Marian Wright Edelman (1993), in an article printed in Annual Editions Education: 96/97, defines service as a movement concerned with sacrificing and sharing to rebuild community and focusing on our children, no matter what their ages or educational levels.

Eric Hoffer (1982) addressed the issue of preparation for the future when he stated that ". . learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." If we seek to create a better future, that future must be created for all Americans. It will be realized not only through the educational process in schools and universities but also through the community that we build in city, state, and nation. A major and necessary component of community building is service.


To provide students with the best education, educators must redefine what we do, predicated on existing proof that what we have done in the immediate past is not working for current students and will not work in the future. New skills, expectations, and understandings must exist in our schools and within the marketplace of money, commodities, and ideas. Among those new understandings should be that of the value of service. Service implies not only sharing with others, but also continuing to learn and to apply that learning to the benefit of others.

To engage in productive discussion, we must envision our preferred future within education and within American society in general. Does that future involve technological knowledge for all, the elimination of violence from our society, a new respect for life, property, and truth? Does it involve a world order in which the environment is important and plans are made for future generations? Does that future encompass a literate electorate which possesses problem-solving skills? Is the future based on the sound character and integrity of each citizen?

We may teach about these issues and suggest answers to societal problems in our institutions of learning, but it is first-hand knowledge and visible commitment that carry the most profound messages to our students. The commitment to service is encompassed in the scholarship of application as discussed by Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Revisited: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990), but it is not limited to higher educators. The concept should be broadened to all educators and learners. In another text, The Basic School: A Community for Learning (1995), Boyer notes that character may be developed through service that should be woven into every aspect of the school program. With the demise of the traditional family, teachers are rapidly becoming the primary models of values. Among these values is service.


All educators should redefine their priorities to include service activities. Yes, time is limited. However, teachers of a generation ago also had families and responsibilities external to the school. Yet they found the time to teach, volunteer, assist students, and engage in community-based activities. …

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