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Reflections of a Practitioner: Service Adds Depth to the Learning Experience for Both Student and Teacher.

As an applied social scientist, I continually struggle with where my work makes the greatest impact. Through my travels to Central America and Eastern Europe, my struggles as a learner, researcher, and teacher, and my experiences advocating for women in our social service system, I have discovered that the insights and skills needed to help form new kinds of learning which integrates a commitment to a better world can be found by students and teachers in the experiences of service-learning. The working definition of service-learning that I use in my work is from the Corporation for National Service: "a method through which citizenship and academic subjects are taught which involves active learning, drawing lessons from the experience of performing service work and reflection on that service experience."

In the fall of 1995, a colleague and I decided to incorporate service-learning into a capstone course. Service would be the major requirement and emphasis of the course, resulting in the student writing a citizenship autobiography and a short ethnographic report on the service site. We did not expect opposition; however, several students organized a petition and meetings with the Dean to express their concerns with such a project. Their opposition included such issues as the time restraints of working students with families and other responsibilities, no pre-knowledge of a new requirement, forced volunteerism, and access to rewarding projects, among others.

After my own self-reflection on the situation, I decided to use this "citizenship participation" of petition organizing of the students opposed to service-learning, as a teaching moment for the following semester. I re-organized my section of the course to incorporate the concerns of the students. The new plan for the course included public forums; interview with faculty administrators, students and community agencies; and a literature review. Each of these projects was part of small group activities. The final project for the class was to determine if service-learning was an appropriate learning experience for the students in our department and if so, to develop a model for that learning. As I had expected, the students did decide that service-learning would be a valuable addition to the curriculum. The program they developed was implemented into the syllabus for my next semester's course. Their model integrated a local grassroots needs assessment, which had been completed that year, into the course. From the ideas developed by the needs assessment, the students would determine their projects for the semester. One group helped a local citizens group develop public service announcements, another organized a public panel, and another project involved a neighborhood clean-up.

This process bought into public dialogue for the students, faculty, and administrators in the school the continual pedagogical straggle to address the unique needs of our non-traditional working students: students who are working and who also seek knowledge that is applied and meaningful for their lives. I believe our classrooms can be places where students can learn to balance their subjective knowledge and the recognition of theoretical knowledge, which results in multi-dimensional forms of learning. Service-learning is a pedagogical tool to accomplish this balance.

However, the work of service must begin with the teacher. I begin by incorporating into the classroom my own service experiences with people who are or have been homeless, the elderly, tenants of low-income housing communities, youth living on the streets, as well as my travels to Central America and Eastern Europe. By using real examples of activities in public life, the discussion gains both depth and vitality. Students recognize this and participate at a deeper level. I have incorporated service-learning into three of my courses. Public service nicely dovetails the objectives of the capstone course, which addresses individualism and social responsibility; however, there are many resources of ideas to integrate service-learning projects into all disciplines.

Service-learning alone can not teach the profound insights that reflection of that service offers. Critical thinking must be applied to the concept of service. Reflection sessions and journals must address power, justice, privilege, and diversity issues. We cannot blindly use service as extra hands for human services or for enabling the status quo of oppressive service of containment for the poor and underprivileged in our world. We must continually be aware and engaged in the critical analysis of service so that we do not fall into the traps of paternal helpers and what Jane Addams refers to as the "charity ladies."

As faculty and mentors, we must also practice what we preach by engaging in the active public life of service in our own communities. I have heard many professors comment on the depth of thinking evident in the students' writing after being involved in service projects. As researchers and teachers in social science and other disciplines, we will discover the same in our own work and writing.

Dr. Winfield is a professor of applied social science at the School of Education and Human Development. The university nominated her for the Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning in 1997. Dr. Winfield has consulted for the Corporation for National Service and other non-profit and government agencies on evaluation and training for service-learning and communication. Her most recent publication is: "Community-Based Service: Re-Creating the Beloved Community" in Peacebuilding for Adolescents: Strategies for Teachers and Community Leaders, edited by Linda Forcey and Ian Harris. 1999. New York: Peter Lang Press. Homepage: <>.

Bonnie Winfield, SUNY at Binghamton, NY
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Author:Winfield, Bonnie
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Previous Article:EDITORIAL.
Next Article:Toward a Critical Service-Learning Pedagogy: A Freirean Approach to Civic Literacy.

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