ERIC Identifier: ED309135
Publication Date: 1989-10-00
Author: Kirby, Kathleen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.

Community Service and Civic Education. ERIC Digest.

Community service is a voluntary contribution to the commonweal that teaches valuable lessons about the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society. Long ago Alexis de Tocqueville reported the American penchant to solve problems through voluntary associations. Today, vital services are provided through thousands of organizations created to meet needs not otherwise provided for by government at the local, state, and national levels. These activities help create a sense of concern for the public good and a commitment to voluntarism so essential to the future of our nation. This ERIC Digest discusses (1) connections of community service programs to civic education in schools, (2) positive outcomes of community service programs, (3) characteristics of exemplary programs, and (4) model school-based programs.

HOW IS COMMUNITY SERVICE CONNECTED TO THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM IN SCHOOLS? At every level of school, students can be directly involved in community service projects. In the primary grades, one of the goals is for students to learn basic civic values that include fair play, respect for the opinions of others, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in our society. Through participation in community service programs, very young children can learn how to solve problems, participate in groups as leaders and followers, and accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. In addition, children develop knowledge of their community--its leaders, institutions, social groups, and standards of civic behavior.

As students in the middle grades continue to develop their civic values, they also are developmentally ready to study the history of voluntarism. These students can learn how people participate to resolve local issues. This can include examination of why people volunteer and utilization of adult community volunteers as resource persons to work with the young people. Students in the middle grades can volunteer to work as tutors for younger children or as helpers in senior citizen centers and child care facilities.

Many high school courses involve civic participation. At this maturity level, students can identify the needs of their schools and communities and design and implement projects to meet these needs. Types of community service projects include tutoring slow learners, helping the elderly, supervising "latchkey children" after school, and cleaning and beautifying neighborhoods and schools. Coursework can support and enrich these activities. There are many examples in our country's history of voluntarism that students can study, such as the community spirit and cooperation of pioneers during the westward movement.

Community service programs can teach many social studies skills. These include higher-order cognitive processes and skills, such as data gathering, critical thinking, and decision making. Community service programs also teach civic participation processes and skills, including group interaction, leadership, cooperation, and political influence.

WHAT ARE LIKELY POSITIVE OUTCOMES OF COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMS IN SCHOOLS? Service activities build positive bonds between youth and the institutions of our society by

-- preparing youth for broad-based involvement in

community service as adults,

-- building links between schools and the community,

-- promoting civic knowledge,

-- teaching basic skills needed by employers,

-- strengthening attachments to family and community,

-- providing alternatives to delinquent behavior.

Service strengthens student academic performance and self-esteem


-- promoting personal and intellectual development,

-- providing a close view of social processes and


-- stimulating interest and reducing negative


-- helping young people to see the connection between

what they learn in school and the real problems faced in

their communities,

-- influencing personal and social responsibility,

civic involvement, commitment to basic democratic values,

and development of self-esteem,

-- imparting a sense of personal worth and capability

for leadership and problem solving.

Service brings together students from diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. It enables students to give something back to their schools and communities. It creates positive partnerships between students and adults by encouraging youth to make the transition to adulthood as contributing and caring members of society. Finally, it encourages a lifelong commitment to the service ethic.

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF EXEMPLARY COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMS? Research conducted by Conrad and Hedin (1982) reveals six elements that enhance the value of service programs:

-- Community service must meet genuine needs and

involve tasks that both the students and community deem


-- Community service must have real consequences so that

others are dependent on the students' actions.

-- Community service must present significant challenges,

placing students in new roles, in new environments, and

calling on new skills in situations that stretch their

cognitive and ethical capacities.

-- Community service must require significant personal

responsibility and decision making, in which the

students are "in charge."

-- Community service must involve collaborative effort with

adults and peers.

-- Community service must provide systematic reflection on

experiences, including extensive and ongoing discussion

and written analysis.

The National Society for Internships and Experiential Education (1989), in addition to the preceding elements, recommends these guidelines for exemplary community service programs:

-- Articulate clear service and learning goals for everyone


-- Allow for those with needs to define their needs.

-- Clarify the responsibilities of each person and

organization involved.

-- Match service providers and service needs through a

process that recognizes changing circumstances.

-- Expect genuine, active, and sustained organizational


-- Include training, supervision, monitoring, support,

recognition and evaluation to meet service and learning


-- Ensure that the time commitment for service and learning

is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of

all involved.

-- Work toward program participation by and with diverse


The degree to which the preceding characteristics are present determines the degree of success in the community service experience. When these elements exist, the outcome is likely to be effective education for responsible citizenship. What Examples of Ongoing Community Service Programs Can Be Recommended to Teachers and Curriculum Specialists? The following are examples of nationally recognized programs.

Charleston, North Carolina--Youth Service Charleston: The Wood for Warmth program provides free firewood for low-income families.

Tucson, Arizona--Student Service Learning, Tucson Unified School District: An elementary school invites senior citizens to a weekly lunch program called "The Pleasure of Your Company."

Los Angeles, California--Youth Community Service, Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Los Angeles Unified School District: Students assist in literacy programs, volunteer with the Red Cross, tutor in after-school "latchkey" programs, and paint over graffiti.

Springfield, Massachusetts--Community Service Learning, Springfield Public Schools: Each school in the district develops a plan to help students connect what they learn with how they live.

Minnetonka, Minnesota--Community Involvement Class, Hopkins High School: Students receive credit for community service internships, participate in a community service class, and develop all-school community service projects.


The following list of resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available in microfiche and paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone numbers are 703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is available in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using the bibliographic information provided below.

Conrad, Daniel, and Diane Hedin. EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION EVALUATION PROJECT. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, 1982.

Conrad, Daniel, and Diane Hedin. YOUTH SERVICE: A GUIDEBOOK FOR DEVELOPING AND OPERATING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS. Washington, DC: Independent Sector, 1987. ED 287 028.

Cunningham, Claire E. SCHOOL-SANCTIONED COMMUNITY SERVICE: THE STATE PERSPECTIVE. Washington, DC: State Education Research Center of the Council of Chief State School Officers/National Association of State Boards of Education, 1986. ED 293 977.

Harrison, Charles H. STUDENT SERVICE, THE NEW CARNEGIE UNIT. Lawrenceville, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987. ED 279 647.

Kaye, Cathryn Berger, ed. SCHOOL YOUTH SERVICE NETWORK. Los Angeles: Constitutional Rights Foundation, 1989.


Levison, Lee. COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMS IN INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS. Boston, MA: National Association of Independent Schools, 1986. ED 285 262.


National Society for Internships and Experiential Education in Cooperation with Campus Compact: Project for Public and Community Service, 1989. National Crime Prevention Council. REACHING OUT: SCHOOL-BASED COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMS. Washington, DC:

National Crime Prevention Council, 1988. National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. PRINCIPLES OF GOOD PRACTICE COMBINING SERVICE AND LEARNING. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.

Newmann, Fred, and Robert Rutter. THE EFFECTS OF HIGH SCHOOL COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMS ON STUDENTS' SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. Madison: Wisconsin Center for Education Research, 1983. ED 240 043.

Newmann, Fred, and Robert Rutter. "A Profile of High School Community Service Programs," EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 43 (December 1985/January 1986): 65-71. EJ 329 636.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945.

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