ERIC Identifier: ED390720
Publication Date: 1995-07-00
Author: Garman, Brian
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Civic Education through Service Learning. ERIC Digest.
Effective democracy requires a healthy balance between civic rights and
obligations. Most Americans appear to be well informed of and eager to protect
their civic rights, but too many lack commitment to their civic obligations for
the proper functioning of a constitutional democracy.
THE DECLINE OF RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP.
In recent decades,
there has been a disturbing decline in the willingness of America's youth to
participate in service to the community or nation. According to "People for the
American Way" (1989, 51-97), there are five major reasons why young Americans
are reluctant to serve.
The first is lack of time. Students complain that too many demands are placed
on them, such as competing for good grades, needs for after-school jobs,
athletic commitments, and family obligations, which leave little time for other
endeavors. A second reason often cited by students is the lack of parental
encouragement. When parents do not have time to devote to Boy Scouts, community
projects, or the American Heart Association, their children do not have role
models for civic service. We are often asking students to perform services that
are beyond their realm of experience and therefore completely foreign to them.
According to some experts, however, perhaps the greatest reason is that we
simply do not ask young people to get involved. We incorrectly assume that
youngsters will seek opportunities to serve and disregard their need to be
The final two reasons identified by this study involve the perceptions of
youth toward democracy. Many young Americans do not understand the obligations
of the citizen in a democratic society. They are well aware of their personal
rights and freedoms, but are sadly ignorant of their duties. Finally, most youth
have too little faith in our political institutions and leaders and in their
ability to bring about positive change.
Morris Janowitz (1983) takes a slightly different approach to the question of
why youngsters are reluctant to serve by suggesting that most have been
conditioned to act on their own narrow self-interests. They perceive national
and community service as contrary to their own personal economic goals and as a
restrictive environment that infringes upon their quest for personal pleasure.
Civic education must work to reaffirm the beliefs of young Americans that
self-interests are always deeply rooted in community and nation, and that
serving one's nation and community also serves oneself.
SERVICE LEARNING: A POSSIBLE REMEDY FOR THE DECLINE OF RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
There is an ancient Chinese proverb which states, "Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I
will understand" (Seigel and Rockwood 1993, 67). Service learning seeks to
implement this wisdom by involving young people in community service projects
that are coordinated between the school and community. These projects are
integrated into the academic curriculum and designed to support civic education.
This allows students to use experience in the community as a basis for critical
reflection in the classroom about the nature of democracy. Lessons in the
classroom become a basis for examination of the citizen's role in the community.
Proponents of service learning believe the factors that discourage youth
service would be eliminated if youngsters were given the opportunity to
experience service in a carefully controlled and meaningful environment. If
young persons had this opportunity, they would come to understand that
citizenship requires a balance between giving and receiving. They would learn to
appreciate democracy as a social compact in which the members of society
mutually care for each other, their community, and their nation. Youngsters
would become empowered contributors along with adults in improving their
community and nation. When young people are given such opportunities,
participatory citizenship becomes what Alexis de Tocqueville referred to as
"habits of the heart" (Democracy In America, 1835).
THE LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF SERVICE LEARNING
of students who are involved in service learning programs benefit the school,
community, and young people. Service learning helps to build community support
for education. When programs are developed collaboratively by the community and
the school, citizens begin to see that schools are responsive to the needs of
the community, and a sense of community ownership and pride are nurtured.
Service learning also facilitates a closer bond between school, community,
and home. Through community projects, parents are more easily drawn into the
educational process. Community service provides an easily accessible forum which
serves to encourage parental involvement in the education of their children.
Parents who often feel alienated from the normal academic routine of school find
a more comfortable common ground upon which they can become involved. As a
result, parents become part of the educational process and begin to share
accountability for their children's education along with the school, thus
strengthening the educational process.
Further, the community is benefited by service learning because students are
endowed with a sense of civic efficacy, the attitude that they should, can, and
will have an impact on civic affairs. Young people become more aware of the
balance between rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democratic
community, and as a result they are more likely to act upon this awareness in
ways that benefit the local community and nation.
Many students discover a renewed sense of meaning in education when they are
able to examine first hand the community's social problems, or participate in
the operations of local government. Finally, the infusion of community service
into the curriculum leads to "an increase in student achievement and a
significant decrease in rates of truancy and vandalism" (Massachusetts
Department of Education 1986, 5). Service learning helps students to see the
value of education through direct experiences in the community, and the process
develops more positive attitudes toward school and education in general.
HOW TO STRUCTURE AN EFFECTIVE SERVICE LEARNING
There are several key elements in an effective service learning
program. The initial task is to develop clearly articulated goals that can be
achieved through a reasonable degree of effort. It is of vital importance that
students involved in community projects achieve success.
Secondly, the project must be of real consequence to the community and be
perceived by students as fulfilling a real need. It is important that students
feel that they are trusted with important tasks and are not simply being
patronized. It is strongly urged that the school and community work together
closely during the early stages of development. A task force may be assembled or
community meetings held to determine the real needs of the community and form
consensus about what projects may or may not be appropriate. It is very
important to get community members involved and keep them informed at a very
early stage, for their later support will be of vital importance to the success
or failure of the program.
Other important keys to success involve the student-centered aspects of a
service learning project. Perhaps the most important component, with respect to
the student, is that the project be developmentally appropriate. Organizers must
try to ensure that projects which require a higher level of maturity or
intellectual ability are avoided for younger children. In contrast, projects
that are puerile or not intellectually stimulating are to be avoided for older
students. It is also important that students are involved at the initial stage
of any project and that a visible or tangible result or product can be
recognized. It is important that students be able to experience the positive
self-esteem and self-worth that results from successful completion of a project.
The final key ingredients involve the connection between community service
projects and the school. One of the unique components of service learning is the
interconnection of community experience and classroom work. Once community
projects have been identified, community members, administrators, teachers, and
students must develop a curriculum to address the specific needs of the
projects. Service learning depends heavily on the continuous connection between
classroom learning and real world experience. As Benjamin Barber emphasizes,
"Community service can only be an instrument of education when it is connected
to an academic learning experience in a classroom setting" (1992, 254).
When developing the supporting classroom curriculum, teachers must lead the
way. Therefore, teachers and all supporting school personnel must be provided
with extensive pre-service and staff development opportunities. Service learning
is a fairly new movement in civic education, but ample literature and qualified
educators are available, which ensures that the staff can be prepared to develop
a solid curriculum.
Finally, constant re-evaluation of the program's success is essential. The
entire content of the program should be extensively reviewed annually to
determine whether the original intent and goals of the program are being
Aristotle once wrote, "We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing
temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts" (MacNichol 1993, 9). Likewise, we
become good citizens by practicing the art of good citizenship. Service learning
provides the practice that will renew civic commitment to our community and
nation, thereby strengthening American democracy.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Services (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from the UMI reprint
Barber, Benjamin R. AN ARISTOCRACY OF EVERYONE: THE POLITICS OF EDUCATION AND
THE FUTURE OF AMERICA. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship. PATHWAYS TO SUCCESS FOR
AMERICA'S YOUTH AND YOUNG FAMILIES: CITIZENSHIP THROUGH SERVICE. Washington, DC:
William T. Grant Foundation, 1988. ED 325 569.
Janowitz, Morris. THE RECONSTRUCTION OF PATRIOTISM: EDUCATION FOR CIVIC
CONSCIOUSNESS. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983.
MacNichol, Roland. "Service Learning: A Challenge to Do the Right Thing."
EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION 26 (September 1993): 9-11. EJ 476 923.
Massachusetts Department of Education. PROMISING PRACTICES IN COMMUNITY
EDUCATION: SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES WORKING TOGETHER TO ENRICH K-12 EDUCATION.
Quincy, MA: Office of Community Education, 1986. ED 308 378.
People for the American Way. DEMOCRACY'S NEXT GENERATION: A STUDY OF YOUTH
AND TEACHERS. Washington, DC: People for the American Way, 1989. ED 324 253.
Seigel, Susan, and Virginia Rockwood. "Democratic Education, Student
Empowerment, and Community Service: Theory and Practice." EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE
IN EDUCATION 26 (September 1993): 65-70. EJ 476 935.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, Volume I. New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1945 (originally published in 1835).