A Review and Analysis of Service-Learning Programs Involving Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders

By Muscott, Howard S. | Education & Treatment of Children, August 2000 | Go to article overview

A Review and Analysis of Service-Learning Programs Involving Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders


Muscott, Howard S., Education & Treatment of Children


Abstract

Service-learning programs involving students with emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD) are becoming increasingly popular. This paper provides a review and critical analysis of 11 service-learning programs with children and adolescents with E/BD. Results of the review indicate that direct and indirect service activities as well as broad-based and specific, individual program descriptions dominate the literature. Despite a few notable exceptions, anecdotal reporting is the primary methodology used for assessing program outcomes and information about the specific procedures for gathering data is often extremely limited or missing entirely. In spite of these limitations, there is sufficient evidence to support one conclusion -- both students and teachers are extremely satisfied with service-learning and students feel empowered by their experiences. Unfortunately, limitations in the research designs prevent anything more than guarded optimism regarding the effects of participation on students' academic and cognit ive, civic, social, and moral, and/or personality development. More rigorous research is needed to assess whether these programs can live up to their potential.

As the 20th century ended, a number of influential educators began to call for a course correction in the field of educating students with emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD) (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 1990; Knitzer, Steinberg, & Fleisch, 1990). The change involved a shift in emphasis from a "curriculum of control" focused on obedience and compliance (Knitzer et al., 1990) to that of a "reclaiming environment" aimed at promoting belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity (Brendtro et al., 1990). According to Brendtro et al. (1990), a reclaiming environment promotes attachment, achievement, autonomy, and altruism in children and youth whose life histories have been characterized by destructive relationships, climates of futility, learned irresponsibility, and the loss of purpose. The authors argue that restoring value and competence to alienated and discouraged children will require an educational environment that includes four essential elements. One element is the use of service-learning ac tivities designed to promote caring as an antidote to narcissism and irresponsibility. Service-learning is a method of instruction by which students participate in service projects that meet both community needs and the learning needs of the students themselves.

The call to incorporate service-learning activities into educational programs for students with E/BD who are often dismissed as withdrawn, apathetic, and alienated from the learning process has been echoed by a number of special educators and psychologists (Curwin, 1993, Fitzsimmons-Lovett, 1998; Ioele & Dolan, 1993; Rockwell, 1997, Selye, 1978; Saurman & Nash, 1980; Youniss & Yates, 1997). For example, Saurman and Nash (1980) prescribed service to others as an antidote to the narcissism that plagues many of our children and adolescents, while Selye (1978) remarked that the most effective curative process for young people besieged by stress was reciprocal altruism. As early as 1983, Nicolaou and Brendtro proposed service-learning as the primary foundation of a "curriculum of caring" for students with E/BD. More recently, Ioele and Dolan (1993) argued service-learning programs have the potential to develop a sense of power rather than helplessness, create worthiness rather than worthlessness, and provide oppo rtunities for giving instead of dependency. Other professionals have touted service-learning as a way to enhance self-respect and responsibility in students with E/BD (Fitzsimmons-Lovett, 1998; Rockwell, 1997), as a vehicle for reclaiming students who were marginalized by society (Curwin, 1993), and as a unique "developmental opportunity that draws upon youths preexisting strengths and their desire to be meaningfully involved in society" (Youniss & Yates, 1997, p. …

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