Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Acknowledgment/Service Learning
|“||I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.||”|
Very simply put, service-learning is a way to tie together community service and academics, giving students a way to learn by “doing” something. It is the integration of meaningful community service, instruction, and personal reflection (National Service). According to Rudy Crew, a former New York City Public Schools chancellor, the goal of service learning is to provide relevance of the curriculum, a level of rigor in academics, and to build relationships (Learning). Service-learning is taking place at all levels of education: K-12 institutions, colleges and universities, and communities in order to produce world-class learners and world-class citizens.
Defining Service-Learning and Setting Goals
|“||Service-learning is a particularly fertile way of involving young people in community service, because it ties helping others to what they are learning in the classroom. In the process, it provides a compelling answer to the perennial question: 'Why do I need to learn this stuff?'||”|
—General Colin Powell, founding chairman of America’s Promise
Service learning is a strategy used by educators to help students reach certain academic and social goals. One set of goals of service-learning is to enhance students’ motivation to learn, increase attendance in schools, and reduce student dropout rates. As educators we strive to engage our students in activities which will give them a sense of responsibility for their own learning. This ownership of education will contribute to their academic and social success (Learning). Another goal of service-learning is to enable students to see the relevance of academic subjects to the real world. As educators we often run into the question “Why do I need to know this stuff?” Service-learning gives us the opportunity to open the door of communication to show them through action how studying a wide range of subjects will help them. Through service-learning, students will be proud of their work; this gives students confidence and builds self-esteem. Another goal that is often overlooked is the attempt to develop an environment of collegial participation among students, faculty, and the community.
Service-learning has several specific requirements: a service-learning project must have clearly articulated and authentic learning goals that address the curriculum, give the students an opportunity to make decisions, respond to a genuine community need, and include a personal analytic reflection produced by the students. In other words, not only are the students encouraged to improve their academic skills by applying what they learn in school to the real world, but they are also reflecting on their experiences to reinforce the connection between their service and the their learning (Learning in Deed). This will also help to foster the development of empathy, values, beliefs, awareness, self-confidence, and helps to foster a sense of caring for others (Cooper). These are valuable personal traits that are rarely directly addressed in classroom curriculum.
Characteristics of Service-Learning
Now that we know the basic definition, goals, and benefits of service-learning, let us attach some characteristics to service-learning in order to understand what it “looks like.”
|What is Service-Learning?||What is Service-Learning Not?!|
|A method of teaching that combines community service with curriculum-based learning||An episodic volunteer or community service program with no ties to academics|
|A link to academic content and standards||An “add-on” to the existing curriculum|
|Helping students to determine and meet real, defined community needs||One-sided; benefiting either the student or the community|
|Benefiting both the community and the student||An assignment in the community given as a punishment|
|Can be used for all ages and educational levels||Only for use in social studies classes, civics, or American government or only for high school and college students (Learning [and] National Service)|
One of the large elements of service-learning is student reflection. According to Aldous Huxley, "experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happened to him.” This is the point at which students can make their experience personal and draw connections to their own world. One way in order to enable students to make this connection is by asking them to comment on three levels of reflection: the Mirror Level, the Microscope Level, and the Binoculars Level.
The first level of reflection is the Mirror Level. This gives students an opportunity to make a clear reflection of who they are, what their values are, and what they have learned about themselves through the experience. Students should be encouraged to discover how they had to challenge themselves and their own perceptions of life in order to complete the project.
The second level of reflection is the Microscope Level. This is when the students’ seemingly small experience becomes very large. They should describe their experience and explain the impact their actions had on the overall project. Who did they affect and what did they learn about them? What else can be done to help the situation? They should also address how their project complimented or contrasted with the material being taught in class (Cooper). At this point the students are seeing the “bigger picture” of their experience and who or what they affected.
The third level students should address in their reflection is the Binocular Level. This is the level that makes what appears distant, seem closer. In other words, from their experience the students should analyze their future behaviors and attitudes. Will they be altered or changed from their initial perceptions? They should also be addressing the overarching issues that influence the original problem they were attempting to solve in the community. What is the larger political/social problem (Cooper)?
A survey was given to 580 college and university campuses during the 2005-2006 school year in order to find information on service-learning trends. According to that survey, 91% of the surveyed campuses offer service-learning courses and 32% of the students attending them engage in these courses. The 6,566,780 students who participate in service-learning courses performed a total of 317 million hours of service in the academic year of 2005-2006 (Brown).
Service-Learning Federal Policy
Federal policy has grown over the past 20 years in order to support service-learning programs and implement them across the nation. The original policies are the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The National and Community Service Act of 1990 was put into action by President Bush Sr. The goal of the act was to support and encourage the implementation of service-learning in America through school programs, youth corps, and higher education service programs. The Community Service Trust Act of 1993 was enlisted during the Clinton administration. Its main goal was to enhance national service-learning opportunities and to provide service educational awards to people participating in service-learning projects. The most current legislation is the Generations Invigorating Volunteering and Education (GIVE) Bill, which was accepted in the summer of 2007. When this bill becomes an act, it will be responsible for recharging, updating, and rejuvenating the 1993 Community Service Trust Act (Corporation).
U.S. schools are ready now to embrace service-learning as a means of overcoming widespread academic and civic disengagement among American students. This is our opportunity to raise a generation of youth who will become tomorrow’s leaders and proactive citizens.
Multiple Choice Questions
Click to reveal the answer.
Click to reveal a sample response.
- Brown University. 2006 Service Statistics. Providence, RI Online: http://www.compact.org/about/statistics/2006/service_statistics.pdf. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
- Cooper, Mark. The Big Dummy’s Guide to Service-Learning. Online: http://www.fiu.edu/~time4chg/Library/bigdummy.html. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
- Corporation for National and Community Service. Online: http://www.nationalservice.gov/about/role_impact/history.asp. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
- Learning in Deed: The power of service-learning for American schools, Executive Summary. A report for the National Commission on Service-Learning (NCSL). Online: http://www.learningindeed.org/slcommission/executive_summary.pdf. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
- National Service Learning Clearinghouse (NSLC): What is Service-Learning? http://www.servicelearning.org/. Retrieved November 1, 2007.