The author draws on the work of John Dewey, George
Herbert Mead, and contemporary critical theorists to
explore service learning’s contribution to democratic
citizenship. Central to the discussion is the author’s
concept of the “caring self.”
Democratic Citizenship and Service
Learning: Advancing the Caring Self
Robert A. Rhoads
The intent of this chapter is to advance research and theory on service learning and identity development. Specifically, I explore the concept of the “caring self,” which I argue is vital to contemporary conceptions of teaching and learning. Defined in simplest terms, the caring self is a sense of self firmly rooted in a concern for the well-being of others. As I will argue, caring selves are crucial to a multicultural, democratic society.
Conceptions of democracy lie at the very heart of how we think about education and the teaching and learning processes we employ in working with college students. Consequently, throughout this chapter, I adopt an Aristotelian view of governance in which every member of a given society is believed to have the potential to influence public life and to become a caring and concerned citizen. In addition, a pragmatic assumption lies at the heart of my analysis: Colleges and universities exist in part to advance the social good. Although there are a variety of ways in which institutions of higher learning might contribute to the social good (advancing knowledge, economic development, community outreach, and so forth), one key contribution involves preparing students as concerned citizens through educational activities such as service learning.
In what follows, I discuss John Dewey’s contribution to education and citizenship. I then link Dewey’s vision of democratic citizenship with George Herbert Mead’s work on the “social self,” arguing that a democratic society thrives only when its citizens have a deep concern for others. I build upon the work of Dewey, Mead, and more contemporary critical and feminist theorists as I elaborate the caring self and introduce empirical research drawn from student participation in community service. I conclude by offering