This week’s article “In the Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning,” by Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer, discusses the various ideologies behind the implementation of service learning projects in schools throughout the country. The authors point out that while it is beneficial in many ways for students to have a service learning component in the curriculum, “little attention has been given to sorting out the goals and motivations that underlie the spectrum of service learning projects emerging in schools throughout the country” (p. 12).
As a senior in high school out in California, I (and many of us, as I’ve noticed in blogs so far) had to complete a required number of community service hours. Mine was not a requirement specifically to graduate, but rather was a part of a Civics class. For my hours, I volunteered at a local fire department – but not in the way you might think. I ended up working in the administrative side of the building, assembling training manuals and other such projects. My grade depended on me achieving a set number of hours, having a log of those hours signed by my supervisor, and then doing a short write-up (I wouldn’t even call it a reflection) explaining what I did. The authors indicate that “there is reason for concern that service experiences frequently fail to achieve additive or transformative goals” (p. 11). Looking back, this quote and the paragraph following it shed light on my experience. My service learning followed neither the charity nor the change models discussed in the text. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it (I loved it), or that I didn’t learn anything (I did, but it was about admin work), but what did I really gain from my experience? More than that – what was I expected to gain? What was my teacher’s real goal for this assignment?
The authors state that “educators and legislators alike maintain that service learning can improve the community and invigorate the classroom, providing rich educational experiences for students at all levels of schooling,” and I agree with that (p. 2). Students should have these opportunities to make a difference, whether it is helping others through charity, or studying the underlying causes of problems and issues to take action. Personally though, I feel that the change model (or really, a combination of the two) would provide a richer educational experience for students, and it seems to me that the authors of this article would agree. In presenting the charity models of Mr. Johnson’s class and the music class, they do share the good that came from them, but they also point out where they missed opportunities to have the students gain deeper, more meaningful connections.
“It is the combination of service and critical analysis, not either by itself, that seems most likely to promote interest and insight into these complex social issues” (p. 11). This quote made me think of It made me think of Christensen's article from last week, where she says "I want to develop their critical consciousness, but I also hope to move them to action" (p. 134). The analysis part of it gives students a better understanding, and that consciousness has a better chance of inspiring them to make a difference. My service learning project for this class has been a far greater experience than my high school one for this reason. In addition to volunteering my time to help students in a school where it is needed, I am also going in there with the knowledge and perspectives gained through our readings and discussions. Understanding and analyzing the factors of privilege, SCWAAMP, not-learning, etc. and how they affect students and how they learn, AND seeing it in action in the classroom that I volunteer in, is a great learning experience and inspires me to be aware and make the changes needed to teach my future students well.
Questions for class: What kind of service learning project was a part of your K-12 experience, if any? Looking back, do you think it was well implemented? Or would you make changes, knowing what you know now?