Beyond Empathy: Developing Critical Consciousness Through Service Learning
Cynthia Rosenberger University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Service Learning is the closest thing in school that can become a life experience. You're out there working . . . you're going beyond the walls of the school and helping other people.
-- Tom (interview, 1998)
Tom, a university student who took a service learning course with me, made this comment during an interview. I was supportive of the sentiments he expressed, but his comment illustrated concerns I had about service learning. What are the presuppositions and dynamics implied in "helping other people"?
In Spring 1997 I taught the course Teaching Social Studies and Service Learning in the Early Elementary Grades (EDUC 592L) in response to a university-wide initiative to incorporate service learning into academic work. As one of the assignments, 17 early childhood and elementary education graduate students engaged in service learning. More than half of the students facilitated an after-school reading club for second and third graders at a nearby elementary school. Other students worked with the local Survival Center that provides clothing, household goods, surplus food, and a hot lunch 4 days a week to people in the community. One student helped third and fourth graders in a Homework Club, another provided companionship for an elderly woman, and yet another organized a community art project in her local community.