Service learning is an educational opportunity that allows students to actively participate in the democratic process of their community while also learning the curriculum of the course. This is a unique activity where community service helps the student understand the course material in deeper and more complete ways. As Furco (1994) states, the goals are to “equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring” (p. 396).
In several ways, service learning embodies the theme and philosophy of Shepherd University ‘s Teacher As Reflective Problem Solver model. We embrace a constructivist perspective of learning which posits that learners must be actively involved in developing their understanding of new experiences, concepts, ideas, and information. This activity can be physical and/or mental, but the mental activity is essential. Service learning provides opportunities for the learners to move between the theory and concepts in the curriculum of the course and the reality of how these ideas actualize in particular institutions (schools) through participation with a particular community. These communities might be classrooms, schools, after school programs, Job Corps, and Boys & Girls Club.
Our philosophy specifically states that we want students to develop knowledge, dispositions, and skills which will help them “to make informed choices, to actively participate in the shaping of one’s own life and the shaping of the social, cultural, political, and economic structures of a democratic society.” Service learning provides a model for participation in these structures and through reflection, helps students to determine how their participation might have helped themselves as well as others.
In EDUC 200/581, Foundations of American Education, students participate in Service Learning that is facilitated by the course instructor(s) and in conjunction with our P-12 and community partners. Service learning is particularly suited to this course, as students examine why education in the United States has taken the forms that it has, who the dominating educational ideas most benefit and who they disadvantage, and how existing educational experiences develop and extend the practice of democracy and social justice. Undergraduate students complete 10 hours of field experience and graduate students complete 15 hours of field experience.
Service learning adds a new dimension to the learning that takes place in the college classroom. Teaching for social justice “aims to inspire levels of academic performance far greater than those motivated or measured by grades and test scores” (Bigelow et al., 1994, p. 5). Service learning provides the necessary scaffold for higher quality education.
Bigelow, B. Christensen, L., Karp, S., Miner, B., & Peterson, B. (1994) (Eds.). Creating classrooms for equity and social justice. In Rethinking our classrooms: Teaching for equity and justice (pp. 4-5). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
Furco, A. (1994). A conceptual framework for the institutionalization of youth service programs in primary and secondary education. Journal of Adolescence, 17(4), pp. 395-410.