Service Learning and Multicultural Education: Suspect or Transformative?
Kathleen Densmore San Jose State
One of John Dewey's more valuable insights is commonly overlooked. Many years ago, Dewey argued that in addition to facilitating the personal growth of individual students, education should also help to rectify inequalities of income and social position and to integrate young people into society, in part by transmitting the dominant culture and the norms of appropriate behavior. For Dewey, when society is democratic, these functions do not conflict; democracy is a precondition for a sound educational system. For Dewey, democracy is not simply government by majority rule. Rather, it is a set of social relations in which people treat one another as equals, in ways that promote the full development of each person's capacities.
Following Dewey, if we want students to be free of elitism, racism, and sexism, we need to construct a society that eliminates the basis for these injustices. It is, therefore, in the interests of educators to work toward creating a just and democratic society. Yet, as LaBelle and Ward ( 1994) remarked,
when discussing education and change in the United States, it is uncommon to hear of proposals for making more than minor adjustments to the ongoing educational and social system . . . it is uncommon to think of schooling and education as part of the larger society within which the control of knowledge is associated with economic and political power, exploitation, privilege, and cultural hegemony. (p. 152)
This observation typically holds true for both service learning and multicultural education, as I argue in this chapter. This perspective