Magazine article Art Education

Arts-Based Service-Learning: A State of the Field

Magazine article Art Education

Arts-Based Service-Learning: A State of the Field

Article excerpt

Over the past two decades, there has been significant academic and public discourse in the United States regarding matters of civic engagement, with particular interest in the behavioral trends demonstrated by young people. Research shows that in the US, young people demonstrated the lowest voting rates of any age group. The Shorenstein Center at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government documented the steepest decline in voter turnout in the past 25 years among eligible voters ages 18-24. In The Vanishing Voter (2002), Thomas Patterson found that voter turnout of 18- to 30-year-olds dropped from 50% in 1972 to approximately 30% in 2000. In addition, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), in documenting the erosion of political participation by young people, showed that voting rates among Americans between 18 and 30 are barely half that of their parents (Jarvis, Montoya, & Mulvoy, 2005). Indeed, since 1971, when the 26th Amendment first granted 18- to 20-year-olds the right to vote, the turnout rate steadily declined.1 Putnam's comprehensive analysis of trends in social capital and civic engagement in the 20th century verified declines in political, civic, religious, work, and social involvement throughout America. The data revealed that,

For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, a powerful tide bore Americans into ever deeper engagement in the life of their communities, but a few decades ago-silently, without warning-that tide reversed and we were overtaken by a treacherous rip current. (Putnam, 2000, p. 27)

Concurrently, "arts participation is falling among younger adults and with it most forms of civic and social engagement" (National Endowment for the Arts, 2006, p. 1).

With concerns about declines in civic and social activities, public discourse gave attention to methods to re-engage our waning citizenry. At the Federal level, efforts throughout the 1990s such as the National and Community Service Act (1990), the National Service Trust Act (1993), and the Points of Light campaign (1999) laid a political foundation for facilitating engagement and furthering democratic ideals. National efforts followed state and local initiatives in education like the establishment of Campus Compact by college and university presidents (1985), requirements for community service for graduation in the 1980s, and a "100 year history of American educational reform attempts to bring the school and community back together, to build or rebuild a citizenship ethic in our young people, and to bring more active forms of learning at our schools" (Kraft, 1996, p. 135).

Some, however, believe that higher education needs to play a stronger part than it has in preparing future citizens "to advance American democracy and society in general" (Thomas, 2004, p. 43). Yet:

[b]ecause the academy is intertwined with other institutions that comprise American culture, it is both a symptom and a cause of the problem of community fractured by materialism, individualism, and competitiveness... This crisis in community presents a dilemma for higher education because higher education itself is one of the culprits that helped precipitate the crisis. Therefore, it must itself be revitalized morally and intellectually so that it can provide the education befitting citizens of a democracy. (Speck, 2001, p. 6)

Ernest Boyer (1996) believed that such an education would have universities and colleges moving beyond isolated departments to being part of "a larger purpose, a larger sense of mission, a larger clarity of direction in the nation's life" (p. 20). He warned that, "If the nation's colleges and universities cannot help students see beyond themselves and better understand the interdependent nature of our world, each new generation's capacity to live responsibly will be dangerously diminished" (Boyer, 1994, PP. 77-78). Service-learning is one response to these calls to foster social responsibility, cultivate engaged citizens, and further democracy. …

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