The Construction of Meaning: Learning From Service Learning
Marilynne Boyyle-Baise with Patricia Efiom Indiana University
Constructions of meaning: what do preservice teachers learn from community-based service learning? Does it "make a difference" in their perceptions of diversity, equality, and equity? Or, does it reinforce stereotypes and attitudes of supremacy? Presently, research that explores the effects of service learning as part of multicultural education is limited. However, research suggests that service learning can assist the aims of multicultural education. Particularly, service learning can foster increased awareness and acceptance of cultural diversity (e.g., Boyyle-Baise, 1998; DeJong & Groomes, 1996; Dunlap, 1998; Hones, 1997; Sleeter, 1995; Tellez, Hlebowitsh, Cohen, & Norwood, 1995), heighten commitment to teach diverse youth (e.g., Fuller, 1998), and motivate prospective teachers to examine their prejudicial, stereotypical beliefs (e.g., Fuller, 1998; O'Grady, 1997; Seigel as cited in Wade, 1998). Alternatively, it can be difficult to spur social critique and activism through service learning experiences (e.g., Boyyle-Baise, 1998; Vadenboncoeur, Rahm, Aguilera, & LeCompte, 1996). Regardless of this latter challenge, research suggests promise for the linkage of service learning and multicultural education.
Yet, theoretical views of this connection are cautious, even pessimistic. Potentially, service learning may do more harm than good. It may suffer from benefaction: People with more give to people with less, service starts in privilege and ends in patronage ( Radest, 1993; Rhoads, 1997; Varlotta, 1997). Consequently, service learning might reinforce, rather than confute, deficit orientations to culturally or socially differ-