|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION: A PHILOSOPHICAL CLARIFICATION
ERIC C. SHEFFIELD
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
This study, in the jargon of public school teachers, has been a "group project."
Some who have contributed to the project did so as I began researching and writing;
others, however, have been involved for a much longer time. Among those who joined
the project very early on were my parents. My mother gave me the drive and
organization skills that are necessary to complete a project of this magnitude--skills that,
as my father often quips, are "from the German side of the family." She also reminded
me, especially at various dark hours of my life, that everything happens for a reason. My
father instilled in me a love of language and reason that ultimately led to my study of
philosophy and, at the same time, extolled me to "follow my heart." Had I not followed
my heart or been driven to succeed, I never would have completed this project.
Sheer drive and love of learning, however, are useful only when good teachers
and a clear philosophical perspective direct them in action. I have been lucky. Robert
Wright, Rodman Webb, and Arthur Newman have inspired and guided me as I have
worked through the many pitfalls of graduate study and research. Robert Sherman, the
most important philosophical influence on this project, introduced me to pragmatism and
then devoted many hours of his retirement to edit the numerous drafts of this study. His
perspective, experience, editing skills, and time have brought this research to fruition.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the most important group in this project, my
immediate family. Our sons, Ezra and Stefan, have been patient and supportive while
Dad has "worked all weekend" for the last several years--years that can never be gotten
back. My wife, Dana, has been an inspiring partner on this as she has been on all of our
family "projects" throughout the years. She consoled me when the work was tough,
cheered me as the work progressed, and pushed me when I got complacent. She will
continue to be the inspiration for any future "group projects."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ............................. ............................................................... ii
A B STRA CT ................................ .................................... ................... vi
1 PHILOSOPHICAL CLARITY IN SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION ...................1
B a ck g ro u n d ...................................... ...................................... ............... 1
State ent of the P problem .................................................................... ................... 2
The Purpose and Significance of the Study ............. .............................. .............. 7
R elated L iterature.............................. ............... ..... 8
M eth o d o lo g y ................................................................................................. 1 1
O organization ............................ .............. ...... 12
2 THE CONCEPTUAL HISTORY OF SERVICE-LEARNING.............. .................16
Community Service, Public Education and American Character............................. 18
The Service-learning Concept Outgrows Itself ........................................................... 36
Historical Consequences For Practice: Looking Back to the Future............................ 39
3 THE MEANING OF SERVICE IN SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION ...............41
Hegemonic Notions of the American Service Ethic .............. .................................. 43
M utuality as Com m unity Service ........................................... .......................... 50
Howard Radest: A Complete Act of Service ........................ ............................. 53
C consequences for Practice ......... .................................... ..................... .............. 61
4 EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION AND SERVICE-LEARNING .................................67
Traditional Notions of Learning and Knowledge............................... .................... 69
The Progressive Revolution: A Foundation for Service-Learning ............................ 71
Consequences for Practice .............................. ....... ............................................ 85
5 REFLECTION: THE TIE THAT BINDS EDUCATION AND SERVICE..................89
The Relationship Between Service, Academics, and Reflection.................................. 92
Reflection: A Continual Component of a Service-Learning Projects......................... 102
Consequences for Practice ........................................................... ................ 111
6 THE AIMS OF SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION............................................115
Service-learning Aims: a Survey of the Research ............................................... 117
Philosophical Foundations For Service-Learning Aims............................................ 124
C consequences for Practice ....................................................................... 138
7 SERVICE-LEARNING AS DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION................................... 140
The Need for a Democratic Theory of Education...................................................... 143
The General Characteristics of a Democratic Theory of Education........................... 145
Service-Learning As a Democratic Educational Reform........................................... 151
A Critique of Service-Learning Practice............................. .............. 156
Suggestions for Service-Learning Research ........................................ ................ 164
C including R em arks................... .............. .............. .......................... .................. 166
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ...................................... ................................. ..................... .....167
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ............... 177
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION: A PHILOSOPHICAL CLARIFICATION
Eric C. Sheffield
Chairman: Robert R. Sherman
Major Department: Educational Leadership, Policy, and Foundations
A constant desire of the American public is the reform and improvement of
educational practice. Service-learning is one such reform that recently has caught the
attention of educators, politicians, and the general public. Its advocates suggest it as a
way to make public education more responsive to the needs of students and as a way to
strengthen democratic institutional and participatory practice. It is also, however, in need
of conceptual clarification. Until service-learning is understood at its most basic,
foundational level, it may well travel the path that other reforms have and never reach its
full potential. The purpose of this study is to clarify the service-learning concept so that
its practice will be successful.
As a study that provides conceptual clarity, it is necessarily philosophical in
method. This philosophical analysis relies heavily on the work of both progressive
philosophers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as contemporary
service-learning scholars to provide the foundational guidance needed to understand
service-learning and, therefore, its practice as a democratic, educational reform.
The author first traces the conceptual history of service-learning, tying it to the
thought of progressive philosophers such as John Dewey, William James, William
Kilpatrick, and Paul Hanna. He then brings the service-learning idea through the
twentieth century and in doing so indicates when and how the current conceptual
confusion has developed. The subsequent chapters attempt to clarify those concepts that
drive service-learning practice. Those concepts are service, experiential education, and
The conceptual framework developed from the analysis of each of these notions
then is used to determine the appropriate aims of service-learning education. Finally,
service-learning is "placed" in the context of democratic educational practice as a way to
determine its viability as an educational reform and to suggest further research endeavors
that might test the conceptual understanding embraced by this study. Ultimately, this
project provides a foundation upon which future service-learning practice can be based
and current service-learning practice can be constructively critiqued.
PHILOSOPHICAL CLARITY IN SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION
By signing the National and Community Service Trust Act (P.L. 103-82) into law
in September 1993, President Bill Clinton (with the support of Congress) gave political,
legal, and financial life to the educational reform movement known as service-learning.1
P.L. 103-82 not only created a source of funding for service-learning but also promised
federal support in the form of training, materials development, and research. Though the
idea of service-learning has been around in various forms for some time, it was P.L. 103-
82 that gave viability to the idea of service-learning. Service-learning continues to be
one of the most discussed educational reform movements of recent years. This interest is
driven by federal funding in the form of grant monies to local school districts and by the
potential it has for fixing many current educational problems.
Service-learning is an educational reform plan that its proponents contend has
numerous benefits, including increased academic understanding, citizenship and
character development, community transformation, and a more intense student
engagement than that found in traditional approaches to education.2 Service-learning
begins with a "felt" community problem. Through reflection, academic and democratic
1 P.L. 103-82 is the successor to the 1990 National and Community Service Act
(P.L. 101-610). It expanded the 1990 act to specify and separate funding streams and to
2 Maryan J. Gray, Elizabeth H. Ondaatje, and Laura Zakaras, Combining Service
and Learning in Higher Education (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1999).
solutions are considered and then "applied" to the problem in the form of community
service. Reflection, the core component, provides the connection between what is
learned in the classroom and the application of that learning to the particular community
problem. The service activity links server and served in the common democratic goal of
solving a commonly felt community problem. That connection creates a deeper
understanding of scholarship and citizenship, and removes barriers among community
"strangers." Service-learning education, understood correctly, holds great hope as a
transformative, democratic method of teaching and learning. However, that potential will
be realized only when service-learning practice is founded on sound conceptual thinking.
Statement of the Problem
Americans are notorious for paradoxically seeing their institutions as the best in
the world and, at the same time, as inadequate.3 Public K-12 education is no exception.
In fact, K-12 education is a regular target for criticism when a national problem arises,
regardless of the nature of that problem. This perception is not surprising because
historically Americans have conceptualized public education as a panacea for fixing any
political or economic disturbance.4 Public K-12 education today is viewed in much the
same way as it has been throughout its history. It remains the essential institution for
creating and maintaining a successful democracy. As such, the American public
continues its demand that public education be reformed to meet the changing needs of a
rapidly changing society.
3 Seymour Lipsett, Jr., American Exceptionalism (New York: W.W. Norton &
4 A discussion of this American view of education can be found in Henry J.
Political and educational movements in response to these demands are wide in
both scope and potential. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush and his cabinet have developed
new initiatives that base individual school funding on student achievement as measured
by a statewide, standardized test. Vermont has tried, somewhat successfully, to innovate
its educational funding process in an attempt to fix past inequalities. Minnesota, Ohio,
and Florida have embraced systems that provide public funding to private schools--
systems supported by a recent Supreme Court ruling.6 These are only a few of the new
reform plans touted with, seemingly, each local and national election. Depending on how
educational reforms fare in the courts and election year politics, the traditional means and
aims of public education might well be changed forever.
Rising from current education reform proposals is what has been called "the
sleeping giant of educational reform."' That sleeping giant is service-learning. Service-
learning is an educational model that is Deweyan in character and grows in part out of the
American progressive tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in
part from contemporary service-learning "pioneers."8 This educational approach has the
Perkinson, The Imperfect Panacea: American Faith in Education, 1865-1965 (New York:
Random House, 1968).
5 The Vermont fiscal reforms are well documented in David Goodman,
"America's Newest Class War," Mother Jones (September/October 1999): 39-42.
6 Zelman, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Ohio, et al. V. Simmons-Harris
et al. No. 00-1751 (Supreme Court of the United States of America).
7 Joe Nathan and Jim Kielsmeier, "The Sleeping Giant of School Reform," Phi
Delta Kappan (June 1991): 33-36.
8 Dwight Giles and Janet Eyler, "The Theoretical Roots of Service-Learning in
John Dewey: Toward a Theory of Service-Learning," Michigan Journal of Community
Service Learning 1 (Fall 1994): 77-85; Timothy Stanton, Dwight Giles and Nadinne
potential to alleviate student alienation, improve academic skills, solve community
problems, and increase students' civic participation. It might even quiet student and
critic voices that accurately describe traditional schoolwork as boring, abstract and
unrelated to "real world" problems. It is also, however, a reform movement that is
outgrowing its own conceptual framework.
Educational scholars generally agree that the early success of the service-learning
movement (pre-P.L. 103-82) has given way to growing confusion about what service-
learning is and how it should be practiced. As Richard Kraft has pointed out, "One of the
major difficulties in evaluating or researching service-learning programs is the lack of
agreement on what is meant by the term service learning and exactly what it is meant to
accomplish."9 Rahima Wade writes in her book Community Service Learning: "While
many educators may be convinced of the value of service-learning through their contacts
with student and community, a healthy dose of critical reflection and analysis is essential
to producing and sustaining quality programs."10 She goes on to say that service-learning
practitioners "engage more in cheerleading for their programs than in introspecting about
their shortcomings.""1 Dwight Giles and Janet Eyler maintain that service-learning
Cruz, eds., Service-Learning: A Movement's Pioneers Reflect on Its Origins, Practice,
and Future (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1999).
9 Richard Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction to its Theory, Practice, and
Effects," Advances In Education Research 3 (Fall 1998): 17.
10 Rahima Wade, Community Service Learning (New York: State University of
New York Press, 1997), 301.
"lacks a well articulated conceptual framework."12 They cite three reasons that the
service-learning movement has not become a formal field of study:
Part of the transition from a movement to a field involves the challenge of
developing a clearly defined and commonly shared body of knowledge. It is our
observation that this process has occurred slowly in service-learning for at least
three reasons. Perhaps the foremost reason is that the practitioners of service-
learning are more oriented to action than scholarly pursuits, and thus their
writings have tended to be focused more on processes and program descriptions.
Secondly, service-learning, at least until very recently, has been quite marginal to
the academic enterprise, and thus educational theorists outside of service-learning
have ignored it as a potential area of conceptual as well as empirical inquiry.
Finally, it seems that there is a general resistance to theorizing in service-
Goodwin Liu, in his foreword to a brief history of service-learning, sees the
following as fundamental, unanswered questions about service-learning:
What theory of knowledge can account for the pedagogical role of community
service? Should we aim to assimilate service-learning into the norms of the
traditional academy, or should we advocate it as a critique of those basic norms?
What does it mean to enlist the community as a true partner in education? Is it
possible to build a national movement without unduly compromising local
autonomy and self-determination? 14
Richard Battistoni expresses his concern for the very survival of service-learning
education. He writes, "We are at a point in the life of the current service-learning
movement ... when our practice is outstripping our understanding of what constitutes
12 Giles and Eyler, "The Theoretical Roots," 77.
14 Goodwin Liu, introduction to Service-Learning: A Movement's Pioneers
Reflect on Its Origins, Practice, and Future, edited by Timothy Stanton, Dwight Giles,
and Nadinne Cruz (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1999), xii.
15 Richard Battistoni, foreword to To Serve and Learn: The Spirit of Community
There are two crucial and related points that must be understood concerning
service-learning and philosophical understanding: first of all, attempts to trace service-
learning to one philosophical tradition or another do not answer the more important
conceptual question, "What is service-learning education?" That is, service-learning must
be understood at its basic, foundational level before it can be practiced successfully, and
the tradition-tracing work that has been done thus far does not provide that grounding.
Secondly, there has been very little theoretical work done on the conceptual
nature of service-learning education aside from the tracing of its philosophical origins.
The type of philosophical work found in these studies, though interesting, does not
address important conceptual questions such as those posed above. The question this
study attempts to answer is not which political or philosophical camp can claim service-
learning. Nor is it about what broader political goals service-learning promote. The
present question is the prior, more crucial, philosophical question: "How must service-
learning be conceptualized if its practice is to meet the potential that it holds?" Until
service-learning is understood conceptually, its practice will suffer because educators will
lack the philosophical understanding that is necessary to direct service-learning projects,
to evaluate those projects, and to do further needed research--all of which are essential to
the survival of the service-learning reform.
The problem this study attacks, then, is the conceptual muddiness that exists at the
most basic, foundational level of the service-learning approach to K-12 education. This
truly is a "felt problem" in the Deweyan sense of the word. Service-learning advocates
in Liberal Education, edited by Joseph Devitis, Robert Johns, and Douglas Simpson
(New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998), viii.
continue to struggle with practical questions that result from not clearly understanding its
underlying ideas. The lack of conceptual clarity not only confuses the implementation of
service-learning; it retards the evaluation process and stagnates needed research efforts,
as well. Until service-learning is understood at its most basic conceptual level, its
practice and promotion will remain problematic.
The Purpose and Significance of the Study
The purpose of this study is to bring conceptual clarity to the service-learning
reform endeavor in public, K-12 education. This research involves asking and answering
the difficult question, "What do--and should--educators mean by service-learning?" To
answer this question, this study will analyze the concepts that foundationally support
service-learning education. Because these are issues of conceptual clarity, this study will
utilize a philosophical research method. The significance of this study is clear: without
philosophical research into what is meant by service-learning, its potential to transform
American public education will never materialize. Once service-learning is clearly
understood, it may well revolutionize public education and help solve those educational
problems about which politicians and the public talk. This project will open possibilities
and improve practice by bringing philosophical focus to the practice of service-learning
Implicated in the conceptual clarification of service-learning are two related
purposes. Firstly, for service-learning to fulfill its potential, research of all kinds must be
done. Important quantitative and qualitative research is needed to evaluate and redirect
current practice. However, such research will be worthwhile only when based upon a
clear understanding of service-learning. As William James argued, only after a sound,
conceptual analysis of any endeavor is done, can philosophical vision be directive for
further research.16 Without definitive foundational guidance, service-learning research,
both qualitative and quantitative, cannot be carried out and used in a quality manner.
Until that conceptual guidance is available for directing researchers to the important
questions, research results will continue to be misguided and possibly antithetical to its
successful implementation. Service-learning can remain a viable public education reform
only insofar as it is supported by equally viable conceptual research.
Secondly, public school teachers and administrators need conceptual clarity to
both direct and defend service-learning efforts. In terms of direction, it is crucial that
practitioners understand the "why" of service-learning in order to successfully undertake
the "how" of service-learning. Without a basis for making choices in practice,
uninformed and potentially harmful decisions may result. As to defending service-
learning practice, educators must be able to explain to the public and its political
representatives why service-learning education makes sense if it is to win their approval
and the funding that comes with that approval. Institutional change can be excruciatingly
slow and painful. Change in public education is no exception. This study will be
significant as well, therefore, in providing a rationale for establishing the service-learning
reform movement in public K-12 schools.
The claim made here, about the conceptual "muddiness" within service-
learning,is not to say that there have not been good attempts to construct conceptual
16 William James, Pragmatism and the Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press, 1975), 53.
frameworks around service-learning. One such example is Robert A. Rhoads'
Community Service and Higher Learning. Rhoads advocates service-learning as a
reasonable method of encouraging an "ethic of care." He bases his argument on George
Herbert Mead's ideas of self, "the other," play, and games, and on feminist social
critique from Carol Gilligan and others.17 His discussion is clear and convincing;
however, it is an argument that can come only after a complete analysis of the service-
learning concept is done. Service-learning might very well add to the development of an
ethic of care in both individual students and democratic American society. It is, however,
impossible to say until it is clear what is meant by service-learning education.
Another example of building broader systems around service-learning can be
found in C. David Lisman's Toward a Civil Society. Lisman grounds service-learning
conceptually, that is philosophically, in the tradition of "strong democracy." After
clearly explaining differing conceptions of strong and weak democracy, Lisman "places"
service-learning in a scheme where it plays a vital role in the concept and practice of
strong democracy as advocated by Benjamin Barber, and in the commonwealth tradition
suggested in the work of Harry Boyte.1 However, as in the case of the Rhoads book,
17 Robert Rhoads, Community Service and Higher Learning: Explorations of the
Caring Self (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997); George Herbert
Meade, Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago, Ill:
The University of Chicago press, 1934); Carole Gilligan, In a Different Voice:
Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University
18 C. David Lisman, Toward a Civil Society (Westport, CT: Greenwood
Publishing, 1980); Benjamin R. Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a
New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, c1984); Harry C. Boyte,
Commonwealth: A Return to Citizen Politics (New York: Collier Macmillan, c1989).
Lisman's discussion of service-learning is not much help until a clear conception of what
constitutes service-learning is available for discussion.
Other literature and research projects related to service-learning are easy to find.
There are journals whose sole purpose is to provide research results to service-learning
practitioners.19 It is, on the other hand, difficult to find published research that examines
service-learning from a truly philosophical point of view. There are countless character
studies, attitude studies, case studies, quantitative studies, surveys, and even
ethnographic-like studies, but little in the way of philosophy.20 The few doctoral
dissertations that purport to deal with service-learning philosophically do so in a manner
similar to what Rhoads and Lisman do in the work cited above.21 That is, they attempt to
show how service-learning fits into a particular philosophical tradition or political
practice. It is another case of getting the cart before the horse in educational practice and
begs the question, "How can useful research be carried out on an educational approach
that does not have a clear conceptual framework?"
There have been several brief articles that have begun the philosophical work
needed to clarify the service-learning pedagogy. Most of these have attempted to point
out connections between the work of John Dewey and service-learning theory. Julie
Hatcher has done some groundwork in tracing the Deweyan roots of service-learning in
an article that appeared in the Fall 1997 edition of the Michigan Journal of Community
19 For example, The Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.
20Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction," 7-23.
21For example, Lori Varlotti, "Service-Learning As Community: A Critique of
Current Conceptualizations and a Charge to Chart a New Direction" (Ph.D diss.,
University of Minnesota, 1997).
Service Learning.22 Dwight Giles and Janet Eyler also have discussed Dewey's influence
in their article, "The Theoretical Roots of Service-Learning in John Dewey: Toward a
Theory of Service-Learning," in the Fall 1994 issue of the same publication.23 Though
Giles and Eyler briefly discuss the theoretical basis for the service-learning movement,
their central argument is that these theoretical issues lack complete understanding. Seth
Pollock has written an interesting book, Three Decades of Service-Learning in Higher
Education (1966-1996), that traces the recent history of service-learning as an
institutional movement and provides some insight into the conceptual evolution of the
movement.24 However, it is a history, not a philosophical discussion. The scant amount
of philosophical work found in the service-learning literature means that it is research
that yet needs to be done.
William James described philosophy as being "prospective," or visionary.25
Indeed it is, for without conceptual clarity neither the means nor the aims of any endeavor
will be sufficiently understood. John Dewey says about philosophical research,
When it is acknowledged that under disguise of dealing with ultimate reality,
philosophy has been occupied with the precious values embedded in social
traditions, that it has sprung from a clash of social ends and from a conflict of
inherited institutions with incompatible contemporary tendencies, it will be seen
22 Julie Hatcher, "The Moral Dimensions of John Dewey's Philosophy:
Implications for undergraduate Education," The Michigan Journal of Community Service
Learning 4 (Fall 1997): 50-58.
23 Giles and Eyler, "The Theoretical Roots."
24 Seth Pollock, Three Decades of Service-Learning in Higher Education
(1966-1996): The Contested Emergence of an Organizational Field (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 1997).
25 James, Pragmatism, 53.
that the task of future philosophy is to clarify men's ideas as to the social and
moral strife of their own day. Its aim is to become so far as is humanly possible
an organ for dealing with these conflicts. That which may be pretentiously unreal
when it is formulated in metaphysical distinctions becomes intensely significant
when connected with the drama of the struggle of social beliefs and ideals.26
That is, philosophical problems come out of real conflict between real people at a
conceptual, or "visionary," level. It is the goal of philosophical research to provide
guidance out of confusion that is derived from conceptual fogginess and thereby provide
a clear path to solve problems felt in practice.
Philosophical research might most clearly be understood as "the criticism,
clarification, and analysis of the language, concepts, and logic of the ends and means of
human experience." 27 That is, philosophical research has the goal of clearly explaining
the conceptual basis for social practice. Without such an explanation, neither the means
nor the aims of that practice can be clearly understood. The particular social practice that
is the focus of this study is the service-learning educational reform plan. The problem
dealt with here is precisely one that is philosophical in nature; that is, until the confusion
over what constitutes service-learning is made clear conceptually, practice, both in terms
of the "in-the-trenches" use of service-learning and of research goal-setting and political
promotion cannot move in a positive direction and will outstrip itself.
Having given due justification for the study in the present chapter, Chapter 2
briefly describes the history and evolution of service-learning as an educational concept.
26 John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (Boston, MA: The Beacon Press,
1958 ), 26.
27 Robert R. Sherman, "Differing Conceptions of Philosophy," Lecture hand-out,
EDF 654 University of Florida, 1995.
This historical overview will show how the conceptual muddiness has developed as the
service-learning movement has grown both in conceptual complexity and in practice.
This necessarily abridged historical story is based on the few texts that deal specifically
with service-learning's history and additionally examines the work of philosophers from
which essential service-learning concepts have evolved. The work of these philosophers
is crucial to understanding where service-learning has been and how it should be further
Subsequent chapters are organized around the different conceptual terms of the
service-learning model of education. The idea of service is taken up in Chapter 3.
Service, on the face, seems a simple matter. However, in considering service as a
component of a public school reform, the issue becomes more complicated, particularly
in relation to concepts such as mutuality, "strangers," solidarity, diversity, and
democratic connection. The service concept as it works in serve-learning is muddied
further by traditional American notions of service, such as charity and philanthropy, that
confuse rather than clarify its meaning. A clear understanding of the service concept in
service-learning is necessary to its successful practice. In the end, this study advocates
and fleshes out a concept of service recommended by Howard Radest as the most useful
for successful service-learning practice.28
Chapter 4 explores the learning theory that service-learning practice embraces.
Learning in service-learning is clearly experiential in nature. However, what is meant by
"experiential" in the context of service-learning is not completely clear and is explained
28 Howard Radest, Community Service: Encounter with Strangers (Westport, Ct.:
here. John Dewey often is described as the father of experiential education; he is relied
on heavily in clarifying experiential educational theory. Other progressive educators, in
particular William H. Kilpatrick and Paul Hanna, complete the Deweyan concept of
experience as it relates to service-learning. The work of David Kolb, a more recent and
much heralded experiential theorist, is examined as well to see what, if any, contribution
it makes to service-learning theory.
The most essential component of service-learning education is reflection.
Unfortunately, as will be made clear, it often is the most confused or ignored in practice.
Reflection, as it is explained in Chapter 5 of this study, connects the experience of the
service project to academic, classroom learning. Chapter 5 clarifies what reflection is
and how reflection must be conceived as a component of service-learning practice. To
complete this analysis, John Dewey's significant work on the features of reflection is
called upon and ultimately championed as the best notion for service-learning practice.
Reflection is a component that is continuous and essential throughout each and every
aspect of the service-learning philosophy. Without a clear conceptual understanding of
reflection, successful practice is simply impossible.
Chapter 6 elaborates and evaluates the specific aims of service-learning
education. As John Dewey argued, educational aims are necessary to successfully guide
educational practice and must be understood as a dynamic part of the means used to
achieve those ends.29 That is, educational aims cannot come from outside the educational
process. Service-learning advocates claim that a variety of goals can be attained through
29 John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of
Education (New York: MacMillan Co., 1944 ), 104.
implementation of the service-learning model of K-12 education. These include not only
traditional academic growth, but growth in democratic character dispositions and
community transformation, as well. This chapter scrutinizes these general aims to see
first if they are desirable and, second, if they are attainable from within the service-
Chapter 7 completes the research loop by examining service-learning's place
within a democratic theory of education. Service-learning is characterized in Chapter 7
as a fitting democratic reform rather than as a radical turn from tradition. This
summative chapter then argues that this study provides both a foundation for future
service-learning endeavors as well as a critique of current practice. Finally, it suggests
other areas of research that must be undertaken to further understand service-learning
education. The clearing of the conceptual fog will provide important insights into this
very important educational reform movement.
THE CONCEPTUAL HISTORY OF SERVICE-LEARNING
Tracing an educational reform movement's conceptual evolution is an important
endeavor. It is important because ignoring the history of an idea can lead to
misunderstanding and unsuccessful practice, as layers of contemporary thinking get
recklessly piled onto existing theory. In the case of service-learning education, this is
precisely what has happened. Service-learning practice has moved beyond its conceptual
grounding. Discovering historically how this conceptual muddiness has occurred is a
first step toward re-clarifying the service-learning idea. It is also important to understand
service-learning historically because, as John Dewey argued nearly a century ago:
The danger in a new movement is that in rejecting the aims and methods of that
which it would supplant, it may develop its principles negatively rather than
positively and constructively. Then it takes its clew in practice from that which is
rejected instead of from the constructive development of its own philosophy.1
It is, as Dewey made clear, essential to avoid the mistakes of the past. It is
equally important that historically good ideas are not jettisoned along with the bad. To
have both requires historical understanding. As Albert Adams and Sherrod Reynolds
In examining these ancestral artifacts, some striking similarities to modem
practice appear, while once prominent features seem to have been distorted or lost
completely. Weaving the tapestry of past and present together is the refrain of
openness to experience and change. Pausing to listen to progressive forefathers
1 John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938), 6-7.
engaging in this dialogue may provide experiential educators with the kind of
historical perspective that helps clarify future directions.2
Historical accounts of service-learning education, however, are few and far
between. Aside from a single major study that documents its successes and failures as a
contemporary institutional practice, and another study informally "reflecting" on its
origins, no complete history of service-learning exists.3 Though several other less
ambitious discussions that trace the conceptual history of service-learning education are
available, they take the form of brief synopses that invite a more complete historical
Some advocates of service-learning trace the philosophical birth of the current
movement to the early twentieth century and the progressive educational thought that
John Dewey represented.5 They credit the progressives with first seeing the necessity to
develop an intimate relationship between public schools and democratic communities that
2 Albert Adams and Sherrod Reynolds, "The Long Conversation: Tracing the
Roots of the Past," Journal of Experiential Education (Spring 1981): 21.
3 Seth Pollock, Three Decades of Service-Learning in Higher Education (1966 -
1996): The Contested Emergence of an Organizational Field (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 1997); Timothy Stanton, Dwight Giles and Nadinne Cruz eds., Service-
learning: A Pioneers Reflect on Its Origins, Practice, and Future (San Francisco: Jossey
4 Those brief histories include Richard Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction
to its Theory, Practice, and Effects," Advances in Education Research 3 (Fall 1998): 7-
23; Dwight Giles and Janet Eyler, "The Theoretical Roots of Service-learning in John
Dewey: Toward a Theory of Service-Learning," Michigan Journal of Community Service
Learning 1 (Fall 1994): 77-85; Mary Hepburn, "Service Learning in Civic Education: A
Concept with Long, Sturdy Roots," Theory Into Practice 36, no. 3 (1997): 136-142;
Bruce Conderman and Beth Patryla, "Service Learning: The Past, Present, and the
Promise," Kappa Delta Pi Record 32, no. 4 (1996): 122-125.
5 Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction"; Giles and Eyler, "The Theoretical
Roots"; Goodwin Liu, introduction to Stanton, Giles and Cruz, A Movement's Pioneers.
might drive experiential educational practice. Though the progressives never used the
phrase "service-learning," their thought has been essential to contemporary service-
Other service-learning advocates, however, trace the movement back only as far
as the 1960s and 1970s.6 The "pioneer" rebirth of progressive theory included the 1967
coining of the phrase "service-learning" and the growth of service-learning practice in
public schools throughout the 1970s.7 The important point to remember is that this
chapter is not written to credit either the progressives or the pioneers; rather, it is written
with the understanding that both of these groups of forward-thinking educators
contributed much to the theoretical underpinnings of service-learning. The hope is that
from this historical analysis can be gleaned important clarifying notions from both
movements, notions that will help clear the conceptual fog of present service-learning
Community Service, Public Education and American Character
The citizens of the United States have a relatively long history of individual,
voluntary, public service as part of their national character. Alexis de Tocqueville argued
in 1835 that the political framework and the lack of aristocratic hierarchy demanded that
individuals serve society voluntarily; otherwise, selfish individualism would destroy
6 Stanton, Giles, and Cruz, A Movement's Pioneers.
7 William R. O'Connell, "Service-Learning as a strategy for Innovation in
Undergraduate Instruction," in Service-Learning in The South: Higher Education and
Public Service 1967 1972, edited by William R. O'Connell (Atlanta, Georgia: Southern
Regional Education Board, 1973), 5.
democracy in the United States.8 The American notion of democratic service can be
found in familiar tales of barn raising, church construction, and caring for families fallen
ill, as well as in political participation. Robert Bellah et al, in Habits of the Heart, note
that this tension between individualism and public commitment continues to play out in
the making of policy, educational and otherwise, today as it has throughout U.S. history.9
It is a tension that is essential to maintaining democratic institutions that are held together
by a common ideology rather than by historical practice or tradition.10
While communities busied themselves building the young nation, public
education came to be seen as necessary to maintaining democratic life and democratic
institutions. Horace Mann saw that "enlightened" participation must be encouraged and
civic skills taught in public schools so that American democracy could survive.1 Public
education blossomed as a result of Horace Mann and other forward-thinking educators.
Not until the late nineteenth century, however, did these two essential democratic
practices (community service and public education) come together in service-learning
8 Alex de Tocqueville, Democracy In America (New York: The New American
Library, 1956 (1835)).
9 Robert Bellah, et al, Habits of the Heart (Berkeley, CA: University of California
10 Seymour Lipsett Jr., American Exceptionalism (New York: W.W. Norton &
11 Horace Mann, Twelfth Annual Report Covering the Year 1848 (Boston, Ma:
Dutton and Wentworth, State Printers, 1849), 90.
Penn Normal School: the Birth of Service-learning Practice
The Civil War not only forcefully reunited the southern and the northern states,
but also brought community, service, and education together for the first time in U.S.
educational history. Out of the fiery battles of the civil war came a newly emancipated
slave population that had to be educated. Ex-slaves needed democratic education to
thrive economically and to participate as American citizens. Following the Civil War,
African-American educational institutions such as Tuskegee and Hampton provided those
necessary educational services in the American South, particularly through ex-slave
education.12 Penn Normal School in South Carolina approached the problem of educating
these new citizens by combining community service with public education: it was one of
the earliest experiments with service-learning education.
Rossa B. Cooley and Grace Bigelow House established Penn Normal,
Agricultural and Industrial School in St. Helena, South Carolina, in 1862. The school's
mission was to educate ex-slaves so that they could deal successfully with their newly
won freedom. Though Cooley and House never used the term "service-learning" when
describing the activities at the Penn School, it is clear in what they did say that service
and learning were intimately linked in practice. Paul Kellogg noted in his forward to
School Acres: An Adventure in Rural Education, that Cooley and House found
The experience of Penn in education "of the people, by the people, for the people"
not only plays luminously on the needs of rural districts the country over, but
upon a dilemma confronting our cities. Miss Cooley reveals how the New
England school of the "three R's" with its academic ramifications fell short when
it came to training-for-life under the changing conditions of the rural South. She
12Velma Blackwell, "A Black Institution Pioneering Adult Education: Tuskegee
Institute Past and Present" (Ph.D diss., The Florida State University, 1974); Keith Schall,
ed., Stony the Road: Chapters in the History of Hampton Institute (Charlottesville, VA:
University Press of Virginia, 1977); Mary Francis Armstong, Hampton and its Students
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1875).
sets forth the strategy and spirit of the two revolutions at Penn School--how the
life of the farms was brought into the classrooms, and then how through the
school acres and other extramural activities the process was reversed and the
educational impulse was spread to the ends of the island.13
Penn Normal school clearly operated on a conceptual foundation similar to that which
progressive educational philosophers would advocate: "to learn it is to live it."14
The Penn Normal School belief that schools, as essential democratic institutions,
must be conceptualized as inexorably tied to the broader community was another
indication that Cooley and House practiced service-learning education. Students,
citizens, and teachers attacked community problems together through projects that
blurred the classroom/community line. The school became a vital part of the community,
not a separate institution:
The children return to their homes each evening and connect those homes with the
school with an unbroken intimacy. The mass of children in a thousand
communities in the South cannot go to boarding schools. The rural teacher must
be interested in the family as well as in the child and the larger community
interests are as important as the classrooms.15
The Penn school philosophy also held that for a school to be a real part of the
community, it must be "elastic" and start with the problem-driven interests of the students
and their families.16 Student centered educational practice, an intimate interaction
13 Paul Kellogg, forward to School Acres: An Adventure in Rural Education by
Rosa Cooley and Grace House (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), xiii.
14 William Heard Kilpatrick, Philosophy of Education (New York: MacMillan
and Co., 1951), 243.
15 Rosa Cooley and Grace House, School Acres: An Adventure in Rural
Education (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), 3.
16 Ibid., 56.
between school and community, and experiential learning were all harbingers of
progressive educational theory generally, and service-learning particularly.
Pragmatism: The Service-learning Philosophy is Born
The service-learning concept that drove the Penn Normal School pedagogy was
put into formal philosophical talk as that institution expanded its practice. Progressive
educators and philosophers of the newly developed pragmatic school of philosophy
theorized that public schools in a democracy must be tools of the community and
extensions of the home. Notions of education and service intertwined as a result of
changes in educational philosophy that were driven by a shift in the notion of philosophy
generally. In advancing William James' pragmatism, John Dewey, William H.
Kilpatrick, and Paul Hanna, in particular, talked of an educational philosophy that took
student experience to be primary in educational practice. The change in educational
thinking mirrored the shift in general philosophical inquiry from abstraction to lived
John Dewey argued on this point that
If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental
dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men,
philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education. Unless a
philosophy is to remain symbolic--or verbal--or sentimental indulgence for a few,
or else mere arbitrary dogma, its auditing of past experience and its program of
values must take effect in conduct. Public agitation, propaganda, legislative and
administrative action are effective in producing the change of disposition which a
philosophy indicates as desirable, but only in the degree in which they modify
mental and moral attitudes. On the other side, the business of schooling tends to
become a routine empirical affair unless its aims and methods are animated by
such a broad and sympathetic survey of its place in contemporary life as it is the
business of philosophy to provide.1
17 John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan Company,
1944 ), 328.
That is, public schools must be directly involved in the life of its community if they are to
succeed as vital democratic institutions. Pragmatic philosophers held that good public
education, like useful philosophy, must approach its aims by beginning with real life
problems. Absent this, both practices (philosophy and education) degenerate to mere
speculation and abstraction. The feeling and facing of real rather than artificially created
community problems not only fosters reflective, critical thinking, but also encourages
young citizens to actively participate in transforming their community.
William James' Call to National Service
Numerous educational scholars, writing about the emergence of national service
generally and service-learning particularly, correctly credit William James with
suggesting a transformation of military pride into peaceful, civic organized activity
similar to service-learing.18 In his speech, "The Moral Equivalent of War," James
proposed the following:
If now--and this is my idea--there were, instead of military conscription, a
conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of
years a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be
evened out, and numerous other goods to the commonwealth would remain blind
as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man's relations to the globe he lives on,
and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life. They would
have paid their blood-tax, done their own part in the immemorial human warfare
against nature; they would tread the earth more proudly, the women would value
them more highly, they would be better fathers and teachers of the following
18 Kraft, "An Introduction"; Liu, "Introduction To."
19 William James, "The Moral Equivalent of War" International Conciliation
No.27 (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1910).
William James' community service ideas and pragmatic philosophy were the catalysts for
progressive educational change. This change in philosophy generally and philosophy of
education specifically, began the conceptual evolution that became service-learning.
John Dewey's Democratic Education
John Dewey did not call it service-learning, but what he advocated was similar in
both aim and method to what the Penn Normal school initiated near the end of the Civil
War and what contemporary service-learning educators claim to do today. In 1899,
Dewey delivered a series of lectures specifically for teachers. These talks contained the
beginnings of a philosophy of education on which service-learning might be based.
Dewey described the kinds of approaches to education that fit the democratic experience,
debunked traditional learning theory, and prescribed similar practices to those found at
the Penn Normal School.
Echoing educational practice at Penn Normal School, Dewey conceived public
schools as extensions of the family and important community institutions. Dewey said
about this relationship that,
If we take an example from an ideal home, where the parent is intelligent enough
to recognize what is best for the child, and is able to supply what is needed, we
find the child learning through the social converse and constitution of the family.
There are certain points of interest and value to him in the conversation carried
on: statements are made, inquiries arise, topics are discussed, and the child
continually learns. He states his experiences. His misconceptions are corrected.
Again the child participates in the household occupations, and thereby gets habits
of industry, order, and regard for the rights and ideas of others, and the
fundamental habit of subordinating his activities to the general interest of the
household. Now, if we organize and generalize all of this, we have the ideal
school. There is no mystery about it, no wonderful discovery of pedagogy or
educational theory. It is simply a question of doing systematically and in a large,
intelligent, and competent way what for various reasons can be done in most
households only in a comparatively meager and haphazard manner.20
Clearly Dewey was talking about a notion of public schools that Cooley and
House had already embraced in practice at Penn Normal: a democratic institution
intimately connected to and driven by community problems and citizen needs.
William Kilpatrick's Project Method
William Kilpatrick, a student of Dewey and a follower of pragmatism, developed
educational concepts that clearly support contemporary service-learning practice. In his
1922 essay, "The Project Method," Kilpatrick discussed public education and its role in a
democratic community and explained his own ideas of "purposeful acts" related to
learning. Based on Dewey's philosophy of democratic education, Kilpatrick argued that
the project method of teaching was essential to education in a democratic community:
As the purposeful act is thus the typical unit of the worthy life in a democratic
society, so also should it be made the typical unit of school procedure. We of
America have for years increasingly desired that education be considered as life
itself and not as a mere preparation for later living. If we apply this criterion to the
common run of American schools we find exactly the discouraging results
indicated above. It is the thesis of this paper that these evil results must inevitably
follow the effort to found our educational procedure on an unending round of set
tasks in conscious disregard of the element of dominant purpose in those who
perform the tasks.21
Kilpatrick's contributions to service-leaning theory are various and immense. His
most important and enduring contribution, however, is not his explication of the
purposeful act or the project method's relationship to democracy. Other progressive
educators, such as Dewey, had made those points already. Rather, Kilpatrick is important
20 John Dewey, The School and Society (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1976 ), 52.
21 William H. Kilpatrick, The Project Method: The Use of the Purposeful Act in
the Educative Process (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1922), 12.
to service-learning because of the specificity of his suggestions for educational practice.
The steps of "project method" contained most of the components that contemporary
service-learning educators suggest. He wrote that
the following steps have been suggested: purposing, planning, executing, and
judging. It is in accord with the general theory here advocated that the child as far
as possible take each step himself. The function of the purpose and the place of
thinking in the process need but be mentioned. Attention may be called to the
fourth step, that the child as he grows older may increasingly judge the result in
terms of the aim and with increasing care and success draw from the process its
lessons for the future.22
These "steps" were obvious antecedents to contemporary service-learning practice and
echoed John Dewey' s description of the thinking process.23
Paul Hanna and the Progressive Education Association
The pragmatic/progressive movement in public education strengthened
throughout the decade of the 1920s as Dewey and Kilpatrick argued for progressive
educational reform. In 1931, Dewey repeated the call for Kilpatrick's project method
approach by advocating it as a "Way out of Educational Confusion," and George Counts
took the progressives to task while maintaining the hope that community based schools
could "build a new social order."24 In 1936, a study was published by the Progressive
Education Association (PEA) that looked specifically at community service activities by
a variety of youth organizations around the country. It was the most ambitious study of
22 ibid., 17.
23 John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective
Thinking to the Educative Process (Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933).
24 John Dewey, The Way Out of Educational Confusion (Westport Connecticut:
Greenwood Press., 1931); George Counts, Dare the School Build a New Social Order?
(Carbondale, Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 1932).
community service among youth before the 1970s, and its theoretical clarity is especially
The 1936 PEA study took the form of a survey directed by Paul Hanna. The
survey team sent questionnaires to youth organizations asking for descriptions of
community service projects and specific benefits for both server and served. The study
was undertaken during the depression and at the height of social programs such as the
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other "alphabet" depression remedies.25 Though
the survey responses provided interesting stories of youth solving community problems
through service projects, the important aspect of the study for the present discussion was
the clear theory that accompanied the survey results. It was the pen of William Kilpatrick
that provided the philosophical basis for the study. Following an initial discussion
couching public education within democracy, Kilpatrick argued that there are specific
notions that must be part of any community education theory:
As for the problem before us now, we wish to build up in our young people a
sensitiveness to such community deficiencies as they can help to correct. We wish
them to be so sensitive to possible community improvements that they will of
themselves see new opportunities and wish to take hold of them. To sense such a
situation so as to be stirred by it to action--this is the first step in dealing with that
situation. The second step follows at once. If we are really stirred to action and
wish to act intelligently, we shall study the situation to see what should be done.
This neglected spot in our village is (by step 1) an eyesore, to be improved if
possible. Now (step 2) we ask what can be done about it, or what we should do.
Shall we ask the owner to clean it up? Or shall we ask his permission to make a
playground of it? What would it cost to make a playground? What kind of
clearing and grading would be necessary? It is at any rate quite clear that good
study would be necessary to answer these questions and decide what to do. The
third step, of how to do it, follows so closely upon the second as often to merge
into it. We could not decide what to do until we decided, at least within limits,
how to do it. So here we have the further detailed study necessary for making all
the plans. The fourth step is the execution of the plan. Here we have the kind of
25 Perry Henry Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army : A History of the Civilian
Conservation Corps, 1933-1942 (Montpelier, Vt.: P.H. Merrill, 1981).
study that goes with carrying out the plan, and particularly the study that goes
with watching how well our plans work out. We shall probably have to revise our
plans as we try them out. If so, more study and learning. The fifth step is the
backward view: Now that we have finished, what have we learned? How could
we do it better another time? What lessons of any or all kinds shall we draw?26
Kilpatrick's discussion contained the theoretical essentials of service-learning
education. Kilpatrick fleshed-out his ideas in finishing the introduction to the Hanna
Why, next, do we wish community activities? The answer follows hard upon the
preceding. A community activity can have a reality and a challenge that no lesser
activity can properly have. Moreover, it serves to bring the youthful group (school
or church or club, etc.) into desirable intimate contact with the surrounding
community. To do something which others count significant ranks very high
among the satisfying and steadying influences in life. For the young to feel that
their activities have community significance is to accord to them a worth and
standing that will call out the best the young have to give. Why "cooperative
community activities"? What, finally, is meant by cooperative community
activities, and why are they desired? Here again we build on the preceding. By
cooperative community activities we mean those in which many share, preferably
the old along with the young.2
Paul Hanna further developed the community education concept set out by
Kilpatrick in describing his research criteria for good community educational practice.
He explained that if community service was to be a vital pedagogical approach then the
participating students must
1. Sense its social significance. 2. Have a part in planning the project. In a
democracy, probably no learning are more significant than those which result
from social experiences in which a group need is faced cooperatively, analyzed,
possible solutions projected, tentative plans agreed upon, and the task eventually
culminated. 3. Have some sporting chance of carrying the project proposed
through to more or less successful conclusion. 4. Accept the responsibility for
success or failure of a project. Any vital learning experience is incomplete until
the plan and its execution have been evaluated in terms of successes and/or
26 William Heard Kilpatrick, introduction to Youth Serves the Community by
Paul Hanna (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1936), 11.
27 Ibid., 14.
failures in the social environment. 5. Actually grow in total personality as a result
of the work undertaken.2
Importantly, in light of contemporary service-learning theory, Hanna discussed the value
of the project to the community as well as to the student:
1. Any project must culminate in the actual improvement of living in the
community. 2. Projects must clearly be an obligation of youth as well as
adulthood. 3. In so far as possible, projects must get at the basic problems of
improving social welfare.29
Finally, Hanna directed his readers back to John Dewey in echoing the notion that
education be approached in the same way that humans think and act to solve problems.
This thinking process has the following distinguishing phases: (a) Something is at
stake. A state of confusion or disequilibrium has occurred. We are aroused to
take action to achieve a better adjustment. (b) The difficulty is located and de-
fined. No intelligent effort at improvement can be made until the nature and
source of the unsatisfactory aspects of the situation are clarified. (c) An
hypothesis is developed for meeting the difficulty and improving the conditions.
This projection of proposals and plans is the most important technique which man
possesses for continued progress. (d) A detailed plan of operation with continued
reflective criticism of each step of the plan is worked out. (e) The best
experimental method in terms of the purpose, materials and tools available, and
the unpredictable elements which arise in the process of carrying out the plan
must be utilized. (f) When the plan has been carried out the results must be
measured in terms of the values anticipated at the beginning, and the plan itself
must be criticized for possible improvement. Furthermore, the enterprise must be
judged in terms of its effect on those who participated in its solution; that is, it
must be judged in terms of its enrichment of personalities.30
28 Paul Hanna, Youth Serves the Community (New York: D. Appleton-Century
Company, 1936), 11.
29 Ibid., 36.
30 Ibid., 40.
The late 1930s brought Nazi Germany to the fore of international concern. Adolf
Hitler's military movements distracted America from educational concerns and turned all
thought to its inevitable involvement in WWII. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, many
school systems practiced the progressive, service-learning approach to education, but by
1940 progressivism in public education waned. School districts that supported
progressive programs were challenged on both political and economic grounds, and lost.
Though progressive thought remained a small part of public school operation in some
districts, the service-learning concept generally lost favor with politicians, the American
public, and educational critics who viewed it as "soft pedagogy." 31
By the 1950s, only William Kilpatrick and a few of his ardent followers carried
the service-learning concept forward through their work with the citizenship education
project (CEP) at Columbia University's Teachers College. With generous support from
the Carnegie Foundation and other benefactors, CEP continued to use Kilpatrick's ideas
particularly in citizenship education. By the mid 1950s, little was left of the progressive
movement and the service-learning notion they had developed. The Progressive
Education Association itself changed its name and then disbanded in 1955. In 1957, with
the launch of the Russian-built Sputnik rocket, came the temporary death knell for
progressivism. The Russian launch brought chagrin to most Americans and a call to
concentrate on tough academic instruction and not the "soft pedagogy" of experiential
educational approaches that the progressive educational movement advocated.
31 For an informative discussion of the progressive movement in education and
Though the conceptual history of service-learning and the progressive movement
in education are not precisely the same, the fading of progressive philosophy from the
forefront of the American public school debate took with it the conceptual notion of
service-learning. It would be nearly fifteen years before service-learning regained its
foothold in educational thought and practice. The re-birth of the service-learning concept
came about in its original birthplace--the American South. This rebirth came not in K-12
education, but in the practice of southern universities.
The Rebirth of the Service-learning Concept: "The Pioneers"
In 1967, out of such programs as Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America
(VISTA), and Donald Eberly's National Service plans, came the first use of the phrase
"service-learning." 32 The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) established a
service-learning internship program in 1964. By 1967, the program involved more than
300 college students. William O'Connell explained in 1972,
The term service-learning has been adopted as best describing this combination of
the performance of a useful service for society and the disciplined interpretation
of that experience for an increase in knowledge and in understanding one's self.
The coupling of action and reflection has implications for both education and
vocation and also is seen as more than a useful technique for performing a task or
for educational enrichment. It leads to practice in the development of a lifestyle.33
The SREB service-learning program did not develop from a detailed philosophical
discussion, as it had 35 years earlier. It did, however, re-introduce to public education
the "soft pedagogy" issue, see Arthur Zilversmit, Changing Schools (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1993).
32 For a discussion of national service and its relationship to service-learning, see
Donald Eberly's National service: A Promise to Keep (Rochester, NY: J. Alden Books,
330'Connell, "Service-Learning, a Strategy," 5.
some of the concepts found in progressive educational philosophy. The specific concept
of service-learning, and experiential education generally, found their way back into
educational reform talk and practice throughout the American South as a result of the
SREB internship program.
With the Vietnam War continuing and thousands of young Americans hoping for
possible service alternatives to the draft, the gates were opened for service-learning
practice and theory. 34 In 1969, the Atlanta Service-Learning Conference began "with
500 students engaged in service-learning projects."35 The Atlanta project culminated in a
conference and publication of "Atlanta Service-learning Conference Report--1970." In
1971, ACTION, a federal agency, was established to bring together and oversee such
programs as Peace Corps, VISTA, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Service
Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), and the National Student Volunteer Program
(NSVP). Also in 1971, The National Society for Experiential Education was brought into
being and became involved in advocating service-learning education.
In 1972, ACTION published High School Student Volunteers. This manual
provided a discussion of volunteer programs in high schools and suggested how such
programs might be established and run. The authors listed three "essential ingredients"
for a successful high school volunteer program:
1. The community must have needs that can be met by student volunteers. 2.
Students must be interested in working hard on a volunteer basis to meet those
34 As Donald Eberly points out in A Promise to Keep, these options never fully
35 Eberly, A Promise to Keep, 66.
needs. 3. The school must support the effort by coordinating individual projects
into a coherent program.36
The authors of the manual also argued that only public schools could focus and reinforce
the volunteers' experiences to insure that real learning resulted. They were convinced
that "reviewing their community work in class, students become better volunteers;
drawing on their experience in the field, volunteers become better students."37 The
ACTION authors explained why service and learning were important for public school
students and how the two might be incorporated into K-12 education. The publication of
the ACTION manual was particularly important for service-learning's rebirth because it
had not been part of public school pedagogy for the 35 years prior to its publication.
Through federal agencies such as ACTION and professional organizations such as
the Association for Experiential Education, service-learning grew both as a concept and a
practice, particularly on college campuses during the middle and late 1970s. For the most
part, however, service-learning remained on the periphery of educational reform as a
somewhat underdeveloped internship idea. In 1979, the National Student Volunteer
Program was renamed and became the National Center for Service Learning (NCSL) and
published the first issue of the journal "Synergist" in which are found the "Three
Principles of Service-Learning." These Principles became the basis of a widening
philosophical discussion returning to the question of how to define service-learning
36 ACTION, "High School Student Volunteers" (Washington, D.C.: National
Center for Service Learning), 1.
37 Ibid., 4-5.
38 Robert Sigmon, "Service-Learning: Three Principles," Synergist (Spring 1979):
A Conservative Backlash: The Reagan Years
The return to service-learning education, manifested in the establishment of the
NCSL, ran aground as many educational initiatives have in the past. In 1980, the election
of Ronald Reagan ushered in a conservative backlash to progressive educational policy.
This backlash once again brought a temporary end to the progressive/pioneering
education reforms of the 1970s. What Sputnik had done in the late 1950s, conservative
educational policy did in the 1980s. The NCSL was shut down in 1982, and service-
learning once again disappeared from educational talk and practice for most of the
decade. It was, however, a relatively brief silence for the service-learning concept.
In 1985, several college and university presidents formed Campus Compact,
giving voice once again to the idea that college and university students should learn
through serving their communities. In 1986, the federal government established Youth
Service America (YSA), which advocated and supported student service by providing
both funding and training. However, it was not until 1989 that service-learning had its
third rebirth as an educational reform for public, K-12 education in The United States.
In 1989, the Johnson Foundation sponsored the Wingspread Conference on Youth
Service at which more than 70 organizations collaborated to write "ten principles of good
service-learning practice."39 The Wingspread report was the first conceptual
reformulation of service-learning since the late 1960s and early 1970s internship
programs and the first of many conceptual descriptions of service-learning constructed in
the 1990s. The Wingspread principles were the most complete attempt to clarify service-
39 The Johnson Foundation co-sponsors conferences on various public interest
matters at its center in Racine, Wisconsin.
leaning conceptually since the early part of the twentieth century. The principles
developed at the Wingspread conference are accepted widely as the guide for present
service-learning practice. Though the concepts contained in the document are less than
complete, they do capture the character of service-learning education. Following a brief
"preamble," the conference participants suggested that a successful service-learning
1. Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good. 2.
Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service
experience. 3. Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
4. Allows for those with needs to define those needs. 5. Clarifies the
responsibilities of each person and organization involved. 6. Matches service
providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing
circumstances. 7. Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational
commitment. 8. Includes training, supervision monitoring, support, recognition,
and evaluation to meet service and learning goals. 9. Insures that the time
commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best
interests of all involved. 10. Is committed to program participation by and with
These "principles" became the rules of engagement for service-learning, and though they
did not answer the numerous philosophical questions asked by progressive educators,
they did provide some guidance and a framework from which contemporary service-
learning advocates could start.
In 1990, to encourage the civic engagement called for by the Wingspread
Principles, Congress passed, and President George Bush, Sr. signed, the National and
Community Service Act of 1990. This first in a series of federally supported grant
programs made 75 million dollars available through the Points of Light Foundation and
the Commission on National and Community Service for community service activities.
40 "Principals of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning" (Racine
Wisconsin: The Johnson Foundation, Inc.), 1-2.
Service-learning partnerships between communities and schools (both public and private)
were encouraged through the awarding of grant money. In 1993, as a centerpiece of his
first term in office, President Bill Clinton gave further life to the service-learning
movement by signing the National and Community Trust Act. This legislation created
the Corporation for National Service (CNS), a federal agency that would administer both
AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America programs.41 Learn and Serve America,
several professional organizations, and a handful of major universities pushed to institute
service-learning in K-12 education.42 As advocates, these organizations still provide the
means and much of the research support for service-learning in K-12 education initiated a
The Service-learning Concept Outgrows Itself
In the last fifteen years there has been an explosion of literature related to service-
learning research and practice. As is discussed in the first chapter of this study, much of
that recent discussion calls for a conceptual re-evaluation of service-learning education.
The Corporation for National Service and the other organizations mentioned above
continue to provide grant monies and technical suggestions for service-learning
practitioners; however, technical support and money add little to the service-learning
concept philosophically. This lack of philosophical clarity is particularly problematic for
teachers in need of a foundational rationale for service-learning practice. One only has to
41 Americorps funds and supports college student service in exchange for some
tuition money and Learn and Serve America provides the same for school and
community based service-learning projects.
42 These supporters of service-learning include such groups as the Association for
Experiential Education, Alliance for Service-Learning in Education Reform and
visit the Corporation for National Service web site to see that conceptual muddiness has
affected service-learning practice. At the CNS web site are various definitions of service-
learning presented as "a basis for discovering the common ground among them and to
promote discussion about the meaning of service learning."43 Such definitions might
well encourage discussion, but they leave the concept as a whole (as well as each of its
individual components) unclear.
According to the National and Community Service Act of 1990, service-learning
is an educational method
Under which students learn and develop through active participation in ...
thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs;
that is integrated into the students' academic curriculum or provides structured
time for a student to think, talk, or write about what the student did and saw
during the service activity; that provides students with opportunities to use newly
acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities;
and that enhances what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond
the classroom and into the community and helps to foster the development of a
sense of caring for others.44
Timothy Stanton, a leader and advocate in the field says that
Service learning appears to be an approach to experiential learning, an expression
of values--service to others, which determines the purpose, nature and process of
social and educational exchange between learners (students) and the people they
serve, and between experiential education programs and the community
organizations with which they work.45
universities such as the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of
43 Corporation for National Service Website (www.cns.gov/leam).
45 Timothy Stanton, "Service Learning: Groping Toward A Definition" in Jane C.
Kendall and Associates, Combining Service and Learning (Raleigh: National Society for
Internships and Experiential Education, 1990), 85.
Literally dozens of organizations that support service-learning explain its
conceptual basis differently. One such organization, the Alliance for Service-Learning in
Education Reform, defines service-learning as
a method by which young people learn and develop through active participation in
thoughtfully-organized service experiences that meet actual community needs;
that are coordinated in collaboration with the school and community; that are
integrated into each young person's academic curriculum; that provide the
structured time for a young person to think, talk, and write about what he/she did
and saw during the actual service activity; that provide young people with
opportunities to use newly acquired academic skills and knowledge in real life
situations in their own communities; that enhance what is taught in the school by
extending student learning beyond the classroom; and, that help to foster the
development of a sense of caring for others.46
In Research Agenda For Combining Service and Learning in the 1990s, Dwight Giles, et
al, define service-learning as both a program type and a philosophy of education. As a
Service-learning includes myriad ways that students can perform meaningful
service to their communities and to society while engaging in some form of
reflection or study that is related to the service. As a philosophy of education,
service-learning reflects the belief that education must be linked to social
responsibility and that the most effective learning is active and connected to
experience in some meaningful way.47
Rob Shumer, reporting on a Delphi study on service-learning, describes the current
philosophical problem best when he writes,
While there is consensus on some aspects of service-learning, for the most part
there is still disagreement on the details. There is consensus that service-learning
can be envisioned through forms, or types, and that these forms are best
understood through specific examples. There is general agreement that service-
learning occurs in two general categories: school-based and community-based.
Twenty-nine different dichotomous variables continueua') were named which
46 "Standards of Quality for School-based Service Learning" (Alliance for
Service-Learning in Education Reform, 1993).
47 Dwight Giles, Ellen Porter Honnet, and Sally Migliore, eds., Research Agenda
for Combining Service and Learning in the 1990s (Raleigh, N.C.: National Society for
Internships and Experiential Education, 1991), 7.
further describe purposes, goals, processes, and settings of service-learning. All
these types and models provide a framework for conceptualizing service-learning
in its various configurations; yet none of them are fixed or exact in meaning or
description. As powerful and as exciting as any educational innovation and
practice, service-learning is still very much an amorphous concept which
continues to resist rigid definitions and universal understanding.48
Dr. Shumer cautions that service-learning should not be penned-in by conceptual
dogmatism. However, as he says, service-learning remains "amorphous" and, therefore,
confused in its meaning. Until there is philosophical clarity, service-learning will
continue to ebb and flow with the political/educational tides as it has throughout its
history. Without a clear conceptual understanding, service-learning practice will suffer.
The history of service-learning education reminds reformers that philosophical clarity is
essential if true reform is to happen and, more importantly, to last.
Historical Consequences For Practice: Looking Back to the Future
In an interesting and insightful article predicting yet another demise of service-
learning education, Don Hill "looked back" to the year 2010 and tried to analyze what
went wrong. He gives ten reasons for service-learning's disappearance from the
educational reform scene. Though each reason he gives has a sense of its own, it is his
second reason that identifies the current "felt problem" with service-learning education
and that is the subject of the rest of this study. Hill "looked back" and "predicted" that
Service learning remained an ambiguous or fuzzy concept to the majority of
teachers. In order to meet political pressures to allocate government and
foundation money to a wide variety of eager schools, the definition of service
learning was commonly broadened to the point where almost anything could fit.
Service learning, by becoming everything, became almost nothing.49
48 Robert Shumer, "Describing Service-learning: A Delphi Study" (unpublished
manuscript), University of Minnesota library, July 1993.
49 Don Hill, "Death of a Dream: Service Learning 1994-2010: An Historical
The history of service-learning education surely involves numerous other players
not mentioned here. But, the point of this necessarily brief historical outline is that the
incredible growth of service-learning practice has not had a corresponding growth in
conceptual understanding. In fact, service-learning has taken on a confusing, amorphous
character as groundless practice races beyond understanding. In light of where the
service-learning concept has been historically, it must be grounded first and foremost in a
strong conceptual foundation. For its practice to be successful and defensible against the
ever-shifting sands of educational criticism, the driving philosophical concepts of service,
experiential learning, reflection, and reasonable aims must be clearly understood in the
context of service-learning education. The chapters that follow are an attempt to provide
Analysis by One of the Dreamers," (Service Learning 2000 Center, Stanford University,
THE MEANING OF SERVICE IN SERVICE-LEARNING EDUCATION
Alexis de Tocqueville observed early in American history that the practice of
community service resulted from the political reality of the newly formed American
democracy.1 Robert Bellah describes de Tocqueville's observation:
Through active involvement in common concerns, the citizen can overcome the
sense of relative isolation and powerlessness that results from the insecurity of life
in an increasingly commercial society. Associations along with decentralized
local administration mediate between the individual and the centralized state.
Associational life, in Tocqueville's thinking, is the best bulwark against the
condition he feared most: the mass society of mutually antagonistic individuals,
easy prey to despotism.2
The political situation of democracy combined with the religious beliefs of the American
founders and the physical demands of the new frontier to create an American service
ethic that remains part of American character to this day. Helping one another was and
is an essential activity for the survival of democracy. The service ethic filled the void of
lost connections that resulted when America turned from aristocracy to democracy--from
a people with a common history, to a people living by a common creed.3
Though the general notion of service that de Tocqueville observed in America's
infancy remains, the particulars of the concept have evolved to include many different
1 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America (New York: The New American
Library, 1956 ), 197.
2 Robert Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 38.
3 Seymour Lipsett, Jr., American Exceptionalism (New York: W.W. Norton and
ideas depending on the service situation. The service ethic has developed over time and
now entails such practices as philanthropy, obligation, charity, volunteerism, punishment,
and mutuality. The growing sophistication of the service idea has lead to confusion about
just which idea of service can best explain its place in service-learning education. It is
crucial to good practice that educators understand precisely which concept of service
should be called upon for service-learning education.
The understanding of the service concept cannot be ignored in discussions of what
constitutes good service-learning education. Service is, after all, one of the major
concepts advocated by service-learning educators and must be understood clearly in order
to practice service-learning successfully. Much theoretical work has been done in
fleshing-out what, for example, philanthropy means to a community and what it means to
the psyche of the "server" and the "served."4 Without an equally sophisticated
understanding of the implications of service in service-learning, meaningless service,
community detachment and missed educational opportunities can result. The purpose of
this chapter is to clarify the concept of service in the particular situation of service-
learning. Ultimately, this study advocates conceptualizing community service the way
Howard Radest does in his book, Community Service: Encounter With Strangers, as the
most fitting description of what it means to serve within service-learning education.5
4 For discussions of this relationship, see Robert Coles, The Call of Service
(Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993); Ram Dass, Compassion in Action:
Setting Out on the Path of Service (New York: Bell Tower, 1992); and Anna Freud, The
Ego and Mechanisms of Defense (New York: International Universities Press, 1946).
5 Howard Radest, Community Service: Encounter with Strangers; (Westport, Ct.:
Hegemonic Notions of the American Service Ethic
An easy first step in clarifying the service idea is to delineate how service should
not be conceptualized and practiced in service-learning. Service clearly cannot be
identified with the notions of philanthropy, charity, or noblesse oblige found in the
American poorhouse tradition. Each of these, though slightly different conceptually, are
one-sided attempts to help the "lost," "lonely" and "needy" of the nation or neighborhood.
They are approaches to serving the less fortunate that develop as monologues in which
the needy are talked about and tended to by those who perceive themselves as need-less;
that is, they are attempts to serve others whether those others want to be served or not.
Each concept, in its own way, develops into practice that emphasizes the privilege and
power inherent in hegemonic relationships. Service as punishment, a practice common in
legal judgments in and out of public schools, is not simply unworkable--it is dangerous to
the practice of community service. It can develop into a powerful tool used to control
already marginalized students. Even volunteerism, when closely examined, does not
have the characteristics necessary to completely understand service-learning education.
Philanthropy as Community Service
Robert Payton helps clarify philanthropy when he says "one-way transfers are not
all philanthropic, but all philanthropic transfers are one-way."6 Payton argues that
philanthropy has developed (especially recently) as a means to help the needy in the face
of a declining market interest in state-sponsored welfare.7 In his market analysis,
philanthropy is an economic endeavor that is a one-way transfer and a desirable
6 Robert Payton, Philanthropy: Voluntary Action for the Public Good (New York:
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988), 47.
7 Ibid., 118 -130.
replacement for lost interest in state-sponsored financial support for the needy.
Philanthropy in this sense is what Payton calls the "third sector" (the other two being the
public and private sectors). Payton does include some form of dialogue between haves
and have-nots in his discussion, but it is the dialogue of the market: if I help you, then
you owe something to someone, if not now, then in the future.8
Brian O'Connell mirrors Payton's ideas in suggesting that philanthropy ought to
"fill-in" where government support could not or should not do so. As such, he regards
philanthropy as an important part of "personal and national freedom."9 Though
O'Connell calls the endeavor a "discourse," it is a discourse among the privileged
problem-solvers, not between the needy and those who provide for that need. Nor does
philanthropy account at all for the possibility that the served can provide an educational
service to the servers or that the "servers" are in need as well.
Most importantly for the present discussion, philanthropy is not the idea of
service that is appropriate for service-learning education. The pretended "discourse"
between privileged power and the needy is one that complicates rather than eases lost
connections found in American class and creed society. Philanthropy does not reconnect
a community in any sense hoped for by advocates of service-learning. It is, as many
critics argue, antithetical rather than supportive of the practice of democracy.10 One
8 Ibid., 52-53.
9Brian O'Connell, Philanthropy in Action (New York: The Foundation Center,
10 Radest, Community Service; Benjamin Barber, An Aristocracy of Everyone:
The Politics of Education and the Future of America (New York: Ballantine Books,
1992); Robert Rhoades, Community Service and Higher Learning (New York: State
University of New York Press, 1997).
almost can picture a Shakespearean aside as the privileged protagonist-in-the-know
informs the audience-as-public what is really going on with the needy and how the
powerful are fixing their problems. The "fixes" come through contributions of money to
organizations set-up to help "those" folks.
Nor is philanthropy as service, educational. As the progressives argued, "to learn
it, is to live it." In a philanthropic act there is no "living it," no social interaction that is
necessary for active reconstruction of problematic experience. There is no opportunity to
"feel with" the other, in the words ofNel Noddings, and, therefore, there is no
opportunity to learn about the "other."11 Philanthropy additionally ignores the fact that to
make something different and better of a "felt problem," there must be, as John Dewey
argued, a complete act that includes experience, mediation, planning, implementation,
and evaluation to see what resultant change has occurred in the problematic situation.12
In short, philanthropy does not provide for a reconstruction of the situation. Lacking
meaningful interaction in experience, reflective thinking does not occur or is incomplete,
and learning to manipulate ideas in genuine experience does not happen. Future
philanthropic experiences remain equally meaningless, and stagnation rather than growth
results. There is no development of disposition or habit of mind necessary to learning.
Philanthropy clearly is not educational and, therefore, cannot be embraced in service-
11 Nel Noddings, Caring (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), 30.
12 John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective
Thinking to the Educative Process (Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933).
Charity as Community Service
Though there are subtle and important nuances among philanthropy and its sister
concepts charity and noblesse oblige, the problems they bring to the service-learning
notion are nearly identical. Charity is more than simply a financial attack on the
problems of society, such as that practiced by philanthropists. There is often personal
service as well. Charity, however, is no more useful an idea than philanthropy when it
comes to service-learning education. As Benjamin Barber points out, "the language of
charity drives a wedge between self-interest and altruism, leading students to believe that
service is a matter of sacrificing private interests to moral virtue."13 This concept of
service leads to one-way interactions where only a one-way transfer is seen as important.
As with philanthropy, charity portrays service as an endeavor in which only the served
has needs and only the server has goods.
Robert Coles describes this characteristic of charity in his important study, The
Call of Service. Coles describes charity as "an old fashioned name for much that gets
called service. For some of us the word has patronizing implications--toss 'them'
something called 'charity."'14 His father understood this problem as well: "my father, on
the other hand, was critical of comfortable people giving an hour or two here or there and
utterly avoiding taking a hard look at how our institutions work (and for whom)."15
Coles describes charity as an enterprise based on strong religious and spiritual notions of
service. It provides an important means of support for Americans in need. Charity is not
13 Barber, Aristocracy of Everyone, 207.
14 Coles, Call to Service, 54.
15 Ibid., 54.
helpful, however, in understanding the practice of service within service-learning
education. There is nothing in the concept of charity that is, again, educational to the
server, and community division rather than community connection can be the result. As
"We don't want your damn charity" was a refrain I heard from many poor people,
black and white, in the South and in Appalachia; they were determined to claim as
a right what others offered as a gesture of personal generosity.16
Benjamin Barber makes clearer the objection to the practice of service as a "one
way transfer" such as that found in the concepts of philanthropy and charity. He
correctly argues that in a democracy it is the interaction of server and served that is most
important to democratic community building and democratic education. Barber writes in
An Aristocracy of Everyone:
Many draw a misleading and dangerous picture of service as the rich helping the
poor or the poor paying a debt to their country as if "community" means only the
disadvantaged and needy and does not include those performing service.17
Viewing service in reverse, many participants in charity "serve" (give money and time) in
order to assuage their guilt about being one of the "haves" rather than the "have nots,"
and make the monologue baser even than what Barber suggests. The working out of guilt
transforms charity into a completely self-serving activity.1 In this case, as one well-
known cultural critic has said,
The guiding purpose here is the spiritual animation of the giver, not the alms he
dispenses. The person who has given a year in behalf of someone or something
16 Ibid., 54.
17 Barber, Aristocracy of Everyone, 210.
SColes discusses this at length, particularly through repeating his conversations
with Anna Freud to the reader on this topic. See particularly, Call To Service.
else is himself better for the experience. National service is not about reducing
poverty; it is about inducing gratitude.19
Clearly this is not a workable notion for service-learning education.
Obligation as Community Service
The idea of noblesse oblige is an even more un-democratic and mis-educative
concept than is charity. It denotes an aristocratic obligation. As such, it is part and parcel
of the language and practice of European aristocracy, complete with noble breeding and
the responsibilities that come with it. Rarely is "noblesse oblige" mentioned by name in
discussions of community service because of its bald-faced reference to undemocratic
and clearly hegemonic practice. Unfortunately, as Richard Kraft notes, it is the most
characteristic of many service-learning programs:
In research on service learning conducted as a result of CNCS venture grants in
Colorado reflection for or with service recipients was reported in only 1% of
the grant recipients' projects, and in only 4% of the projects was discourse
encouraged among students and recipients regarding the effects and/or design of
the service. Discourse throughout the project between service partners should be
the hallmark of the service experience.2
Active interaction between "server" and "served" is a necessary part of service-learning
education. Without discussions about why one has democratic obligations to others, and
void of worthwhile reflection on what one who serves may receive in return, service
involvement degenerates into privileged obligation. The conceptual assumption of
privilege perpetuates the belief that social class division is natural to a democracy and
that one's position in that system indicates individual worth.
19 William F. Buckley, "National Debt, National Service," New York Times, 18
20 Richard Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction to Its Theory, Practice, and
Effects," Advances in Educational Research (Fall 1998): 11.
Punishment as Community Service
Another practice commonly found in public school settings (and at criminal
sentencing hearings) that should be divorced from service-learning is compulsory service
as punishment. Unfortunate ties between rule breaking and service have developed as
more and more often (especially among youth) community service is assigned as part of a
"criminal" sentence. In many public schools, rule breakers can be found performing
"service" to the school as punishment for unacceptable behavior. This "service" often
takes the form of custodial chores (cleaning, moving furniture) performed before, during
or after the school day. It is reminiscent of the chain gang mentality that viewed
"service" performed in public as proof that rule breakers will be punished and is done
with the hope that it will deter others from breaking rules.
The ramifications of associating "community service" with punishment are far-
reaching. As punishment, service develops into a political tool that the powerful use to
correct and control the behavior of the powerless. The results are particularly acute when
the "punishment" takes place without reflection about why the behavior was
unacceptable and how the service is related to the "crime." Students, understandably,
perceive service to be something that results from misbehavior, rather than as a
democratic, educational principle. The "call of service" can be destroyed when service is
used as punishment.
Volunteerism as Community Service
A concept regaining popularity recently, particularly as public schools look for
parental and other adult involvement, is that of volunteerism. "Volunteer" has an
altruistic ring to it. It means, simply, one who gives of him- or her-self freely. However,
upon examining the language and practice associated with volunteering, it becomes clear
that the concept is not descriptive of service necessary to service-learning. The volunteer
concept is incomplete because, as Howard Radest argues, it (like philanthropy, charity,
noblesse oblige, and punishment) lacks an understanding of democratic community
building and connecting:
Community service also conveys a transcending purpose which volunteering does
not. It endorses the search for the lost connection even while it is ambivalent
about the virtues of those to whom it is addressed. The volunteer, although
seldom alone in his or her task, responds as an individual. He or she is the
autonomous citizen making a personal choice. In the appeal to volunteers we are
directed to the work to be done. The community service participant, on the other
hand, is embedded in an environment filled with symbols and references, a gender
and class and caste environment, and finally a preparatory environment.
Community service is addressed to the participant's needs as much as if not more
than to the work to be done. It is addressed too, to the transcending purposes of
the work to be done. In a sense, the present is more significant for the volunteer
than the past or the future. But it is the past and the future which help to make
sense of community service.21
The idea of volunteering lacks the democratic notion of connecting and community and
therefore must be avoided in service-learning practice.
Mutuality as Community Service
The elimination of these traditional notions of service for service-learning is
helpful, but incomplete. There remains the project of coming to complete understanding
of the service idea in the particular practice of service-learning. The most obvious
shortcoming common to each of the above conceptions of service is that there is no room
made for interaction. None of them takes into account the dialectical nature of service
activity in service-learning education. Each paints a picture of service as action with
little or no substantial interaction. A concept commonly and successfully employed to
explain the interaction that should occur in service-learning is mutuality, or
21 Radest, Community Service, 44.
synonymously, reciprocity. Howard Radest, among others, argues that mutuality is one
conceptual component of what is meant when describing service. It is, in fact, commonly
mentioned in theoretical discussions of service-learning education.22
Community service is based on the perception of need: "Need is a leading
character in community service. Where I am in the story, however, shapes its meaning
for me. With the encounter, the idea of need becomes problematic."23 The problem that
comes in the encounter is precisely that of hegemony discussed above. With need come
the needy and, more often than not, a power relationship. Admitting need is admitting
class divisions. The admitting of class division in service distinguishes the server and the
served and separates rather than connects the two groups of "strangers."
For community service to work in service-learning education, these dividing lines
must be blurred in the realization that the server also is in need and receives a service as
well as providing one. The needs that can be met on the part of the server include a
richer understanding of the nature of diversity, a deeper understanding of the particular
population being served, and, the academic ability to carry out lessons from classroom
learning in experiential problem-solving. It is the interaction described either as
mutuality or reciprocity that makes service-learning education socially and politically
powerful, for it is through mutual interaction that the lessons of the served to the server
22 Radest, Community Service; Rahima Wade, Community Service Learning
(New York: State University of New York Press, 1997); Robert Rhoads, Community
Service and Higher Learning: Explorations of the Caring Self (Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press, 1997); Goodwin Liu, introduction to Service-Learning: A
Movement's Pioneers Reflect on Its Origins, Practice, and Future, edited by Timothy
Stanton, Dwight Giles and Nadinne Cruz (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1999).
23 Radest, Community Service, 79.
can be learned and thereby influence future behavior. It is also through the interaction of
server and served that academic or technical skills can be enhanced through ethical use.
Mutuality explains that not only is academic/cognitive training expanded through the
interactive service experience, but learning about "strange," unfamiliar social worlds, and
developing new ethical dispositions crucial to democratic connection, occur as well. It is
in the interaction, or the "two-wayness," of the stranger-self relationship that is important
and mandated by the idea of mutuality.
Robert Rhoades points out that the idea of mutuality is echoed in numerous
discussions of the community service ethic.24 For Jane Kendall, mutuality is "the
exchange of both giving and receiving between the 'server' and the person or group 'being
served'" and is the core concern of community service.25 Nel Noddings, in advocating a
moral ethic of care, suggests that the interaction between server and served should be
seen not as empathy, but as a receiving of the other as part of him- or herself:
The notion of "feeling with" that I have outlined does not involve projection but
reception. I have called it engrossmentt." I do not "put myself in the other's
shoes," so to speak, by analyzing his reality as objective data and then asking,
"How would I feel in such a situation?" On the contrary, I set aside my
temptation to analyze and to plan. I do not project; I receive the other into myself,
and I see and feel with the other. I become a duality.26
For Noddings, one becomes emotionally attached to the other in the reciprocity of the
24 Rhoades, Higher Learning, 138.
25 Jane Kendall, "Combining Service and Learning: an Introduction," in Jane C.
Kendall, ed., Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and
Public Service (Raleigh, N.C.: National Society for Internships and Experiential
Education, 1990), 19.
26 Noddings, Caring, 30.
service act. In any of these ways of seeing service, it is the persistence of otherness that
generates the mutual, interactive relationship between doer and done-to.
The reciprocal relationships advocated by Kendall, Noddings, and Radest, can
eliminate, or at least dilute, the hegemony between haves and have-nots that exists prior
to a service experience. These writers answer the criticism leveled earlier in this
discussion against the concepts of charity, philanthropy, noblesse oblige, and
volunteerism by deepening what it means to encounter a stranger through service. Within
this more complete scheme of service, mutuality becomes the core concept to
understanding the service component of service-learning education as a dialogue that
blurs the line between doer and done-to. In that mutual interaction is the essence of the
community service called for in service-learning education.
Howard Radest: A Complete Act of Service
Most service-learning theory begins and ends with the concept of mutuality.
Howard Radest, on the other hand, presents ideas that fully explain what community
service means. His argument provides a sound conceptual basis upon which service in
service-learning education can rest. In Radest's argument, understanding the service act
can be complete only with the inclusion of two concepts that he calls "solidarity" and
"diversity." In adding solidarity and diversity to mutuality in the understanding of
service, Radest suggests a three-component service structure that greatly expands the
understanding of service--one that can clearly explain the service idea and its practice in
Howard Radest's Mutuality
For Radest, the core concept of mutuality is explained by the reciprocal nature of
the interaction between "doer" and "done to" and the social relationship that it magnifies:
Community service introduces us tangibly to the reciprocities of doer and done-to.
On the positive side, community service is a particular way of learning my human
"being" precisely because it is an encounter of strangers with whom I am
nevertheless connected by the possibility of a reciprocal interchange of positions.
I can be doer; I can be done-to. On the critical side, community service is a way
of challenging those relationships that separate human beings into the near-
permanent haves of power and near-permanent have-nots of powerlessness ...
community service is not a transference of what is mine, my surplus of wealth,
power, energy, to another as in acts of charity or acts of leadership but rather a
restoration of what is mine and what is yours as human beings which actual
situations have subverted or even destroyed. To be a doer in the presence of the
done to is to respond to the other in myself. Both of us are active; neither is
Radest is careful not to imply that the reciprocal relationship found in such a notion of
service could eliminate differences, particularly cultural differences:
Mutuality should not be confused with similarity. It is precisely because the other
remains the other and because I remain myself that community service works out.
Our needs will not echo each other and where I am in need some other is able to
This explanation of mutuality emphasizes, as most discussions of mutuality do,
that the one providing service receives as much or more than the one being served. The
intense interaction between the server and the "other" provides the opportunity to practice
classroom lessons, to reflect critically on the meaning of difference, and to develop a way
to reach an understanding of what that difference means to the server and to a
community. Mutuality provides the opportunity to experience a "felt problem" in the
Deweyan sense and does the reflective thinking that Dewey describes.29 The particular
learning theory and concept of reflection embraced in this idea of the complete act of
service is discussed fully in the following chapters of this study. It is enough to say here
27 Radest, Community Service, 179-180.
29 John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement.
that it is in mutuality that a problem is dealt with, and it is in mutuality that real and
complete learning, therefore, occurs. The exchange of ideas and experiences between
server and served provides the opportunity to develop critical, reflective skills and
academic training. As Richard Kraft writes,
In this interactive, dialogical form of reflection, individuals can explore each
other's opinions, thoughts, desires, and perspectives. Without this emphasis on
dialogue between individuals, service learning again becomes one-sided, focusing
on the isolated views and perceptions of the student without true understanding of
each individual's perspective. Misunderstanding and missed opportunities for
learning can occur in isolated reflection.30
Clearly, mutuality is an important concept to understanding community service in
Conceiving community service as simply a matter of mutuality ignores an
important educational aspect of community service and, therefore, creates roadblocks to a
complete understanding of service-learning. Mutuality itself provides no understanding
of dispositional preparation for future encounters with strangers. In Deweyan thought,
mutuality alone cannot be educative because it does not provide for habits that lead to
future, richer service experiences.31 As Radest puts it, "mutuality, after all, neglects my
relationship with the stranger whom I do not encounter, neglects the idea of my readiness
30 Kraft, "An Introduction," 11.
31 John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938), 13-
for encounters."32 To deal with this conceptual shortcoming, Radest borrows from
Richard Rorty and introduces the idea of solidarity:33
Solidarity is the name of my relationship to the stranger who remains unknown--
only a person in an abstract sense--but who is, like me, a human being. Solidarity
is then a preparation for the future and at the same time a grounding in the
As an act of solidarity, service is habit-forming in the Jamesian sense, for as James says,
Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. Nothing
we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. As we become permanent
drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and
authorities and experts in the practical and scientific spheres, by so many separate
acts and hours of work.35
In this way Radest's concept of solidarity develops into a disposition toward democratic
interaction and service. Solidarity is a readiness to act, to respond to the "stranger." It
answers Dewey's demand that projects, to be educational, dispose the individual to future
such experiences.36 Solidarity is the "acknowledgements of relationships I could have,
and in particular, relationships of being needed and being in need," and these
acknowledgements "become part of my awareness of myself."37
32 Ibid., 183
33 Radest is clear about his "indebtedness" to Rorty on the discussion of solidarity,
but equally as clear in his distancing himself from Rorty's radical pluralism. Radest,
Community Service, 183. See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
(Cambridge, New York : Cambridge University Press, 1989).
34 Radest, Community Service, 183.
35 William James, Psychology: The Briefer Course (Notre Dame, Indiana:
University of Notre Dame, 1985 ), 17.
36 Dewey, Experience and Education, 89-90.
37 Radest, Community Service, 184.
Richard Rorty says it this way: Solidarity "is to be achieved not by inquiry but by
imagination, the imaginative ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers."38 To use
the language ofNel Noddings' feminism, solidarity is the ability to "feel with" the
stranger.39 As such, solidarity means that community service prepares one for encounters
that might not happen, but could happen. It develops in the student not simply emotional
readiness, but a cognitive/imaginative readiness as well. As Radest notes, "above all,
solidarity calls for a certain generosity of perception, the will to find the other
unthreatening in his or her otherness and to acknowledge the legitimacy of the call of the
other upon me."40 The readiness for future encounters entailed in this view of service can
be achieved best through experiential and academic preparation that develops in the
student an understanding of the stranger--an understanding that makes empathy available
in the interaction. That "feeling with," together with the service experience, gives life to
the service and to future "stranger" interactions. Solidarity then, is an essential
educational concept within the larger idea of community service, and particularly so for
service-learning. It is an attitude to be developed through and for successful community
service and includes cognitive learning related to various forms of the "stranger."
Solidarity is also the realization that the "doer" (me) is just as much a stranger as the
"done to" (the other). Only through this sense of solidarity will mutuality, reciprocity, or
a "feeling with" be achieved.41
38Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 87.
39 Noddings, Caring, 30.
40 Radest, Community Service, 185.
41 It would be a mistake not to mention the work of G.H. Meade here. It was
Mutuality and solidarity make service more understandable. However, though
mutuality and solidarity explain the educational issues related to the service component,
they do not satisfy the important question of democratic obligation. This obligation (one
that de Tocqueville observed more than a century and a half ago) results not from an
aristocratic privilege as in noblesse oblige, but from organizing American life around the
ideology of democracy rather than around a common cultural history.42 To place service-
learning within democracy is to show the great promise that service-learning has as both
an educational and a democratic undertaking.
Mutuality and solidarity are born out of the fundamental "otherness" that is found
in American democracy. This "otherness" that is essential to democratic practice must be
understood in relationship to service-learning education so that its practice will succeed.
To explain this democratic notion, Radest introduces his third component of service,
diversity. Radest describes diversity as a "basic form of democratic sociability" that is
found not only in distant strangers, but also in those who are familiar to us.43 Diversity is
the realization from day to day living and institutional practice that each of us is different
from one another in numerous public and private ways. "Otherness" appears, strangely
enough, even when reflecting upon the "differences" within one's own psyche.
Meade who first argued that only in the "me-other" relationship taken into account by the
concept of solidarity that selves can develop. In particular, see Mind, Self and Society
from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago and London: The University of
Chicago Press, 1934).
42 Tocqueville, Democracy in America; Lipsett, Jr., American Exceptionalism.
43 Radest, Community Service, 185.
The diversity recognized in otherness is particularly important to American
democracy where responsibility comes through choice and not by inherited roles of
responsibility. Choice does not, of course, relinquish one's responsibility. It justifies, in
fact necessitates, service as a democratic, problem-solving and educational practice. The
absence of inherited roles of responsibility also magnifies diversity of choice as well as
diversity of selves. This diversity and individual choice is precisely what Tocqueville
meant when describing American character and democratic connection in relation to
service. The freedom brought by a national structure grounded in personal choice rather
than tradition is both exciting and frightening. It is, however, not simply a matter of race,
class, or caste, and problem solution is not simply a matter of calling for tolerance,
understanding, or appreciation. As Radest explains,
Once the possibility of otherness opens up in as radical a form as it has now
taken--diversity run wild or the normalization of differing "life-styles" and "life
worlds"--then, in a sense, human need and human response acquire novel content
more and more rapidly. Added to the usual concerns of need--the typical issues
of having and not having that stir the reformer--the encounter with strangers
moves onto new territory. Community service in meeting the conditions of
diversity initiates us into the organized practice of otherness. Above all, like art
and vocation, it denies the temptation to "remain at home."44
The otherness that is played out in diverse lifestyles, beliefs, and histories compels
American citizens to serve others within a community; otherness demands that we not
"stay at home;" otherness requires community service solutions to local problems.
Otherness, understood through the idea of diversity, must be a part of democratic
education. Service-learning education is no exception.
44 Ibid., 188.
Diversity, in its recognition of the elusive character of the American individual,
completes the notion of service fitting for service-learning education. It is the
understanding that in any service situation there must exist a dialogue between server and
served and the line between the two groups is blurred in that dialogical interaction.
Diversity requires that needs of both server and served are met by the other. Diversity
necessitates democratic connection--a connection that can be achieved through service-
learning education. Service, understood in this way, is educational because it anticipates
future encounters, and service thus envisioned teaches that diversity is the essential and
unavoidable fact of the democratic experience. Service in service-learning seeks to
connect diverse populations, thereby allowing democratic practice to thrive.
These three ideas--mutuality, solidarity, and diversity--capture not only what
service means to service-learning, but also capture the necessary relationship between
individual and community: a relationship that must be understood if service-learning is to
be understood and practiced successfully. Radest concludes that
Community service introduces concreteness into a "conversation" that would
otherwise deal in merely symbolic encounters. Indeed, without it we would, as it
were, be looking at the travelogue but not doing the traveling, and for ethics and
politics, this is a particularly serious indictment. At the same time, the appeal to
practice is dangerous, particularly in an environment that invites us to be
spectators, to operate "by the numbers" and to pay for surrogates. We are easily
misled into confusing doing with secondary activities like fundraising, going to
meetings, signing petitions and the like.45
The service in service-learning demands that teachers and students leave the classroom to
encounter other living communities where strangers might become familiars. In this way,
democratic education aids the establishment of new connections for a truly moral
democracy in America.
45 Ibid., 188.
Consequences for Practice
As John Dewey argued in Experience and Nature, philosophy that ends in
abstraction is the worst kind and gives credence to critics who claim it is mere
speculation.46 To avoid that designation, this discussion now turns to matters of practice.
What does this three-part service framework--mutuality, solidarity, and diversity--mean
for service-learning practice? First and foremost, and again following the thought of
John Dewey, this framework demands that the service come about as a means to deal
with a truly "felt problem." This conception of service assumes that the service is (to use
the language of youth) "for real." If the service "conversation" is not about a real
problem, it is merely posturing and politicking. If there is no problem, there is no need to
serve. If the problem has been invented or is not felt by the served as well as the servers,
artificial or false understanding will result and hegemonic social relationships will
remain. As John Dewey explains, "general appeals to a child to think, irrespective of the
existence in his own experience of some difficulty that troubles him and disturbs his
equilibrium, are as futile as advice to lift himself by his boot-straps."47
The requirement that need exists and is perceived puts the instructor in a place
much different than that conceived for teachers traditionally. In fact, it clearly calls for a
teacher to be similar, if not precisely the same, as that suggested by John Dewey.48 It is
the teacher's responsibility to lead the student close enough to problematic situations that
they feel them and become inclined to solve them. In this understanding of service and
46 John Dewey, Experience and Nature (New York: Dover Publications, 
47 Dewey, How We Think, 15.
48 Dewey, Experience and Education, 33-36.
education, the teacher respects the interests and felt problems of her students. She must
create situations that make her students sensitive to problems and their possible solutions.
As Dewey wrote,
The point that I have been wishing so far to make is that the possibility of having
knowledge become something more than the mere accumulation of facts and
laws, of becoming actually operative in character and conduct, is dependent on
the extent to which that information is evolved out of some need in the child's
own experience and to which receives application to that experience.49
The service-learning instructor must view education not as preparationfor life, but as life
complete with problems to be solved and experiences to be remade. She then must
provide ways to formulate problem solutions--both in and out of the classroom--and
opportunities to apply those solutions to the community problem. In this way, the service
activity leads to learning that becomes "operative in character and conduct."
Mutuality demands a particularly intense approach to solving the "felt problem."
It requires an interaction, a conversation. Mutuality demands that students meet with
strangers such that hegemony be eliminated or at least blurred. Mutuality calls for an
interaction that goes beyond the surface realization that a problem exists and beyond the
mere volunteerism discussed earlier. When Nel Noddings suggests that in caring and
serving one must "feel with" another, she means much more than a simple realization and
"fix" of a problem.50 The interaction called for in the notion of mutuality is one that can
come only with intense and regular encounters with strangers in need. For public schools
operating under the service-learning educational philosophy, it means providing face-to-
face encounters between students and strangers. The reciprocal interaction called for in
49 John Dewey, Lectures in the Philosophy of Education 1899 (New York:
Random House, 1966), 80.
50 Noddings, Caring, 30.
mutuality will be educative beyond what any classroom alone can provide. These regular
encounters can soften and ultimately eliminate the power relationship that exists between
student and stranger. Ultimately, the stranger no longer will be the "stranger;" instead,
community connection and a "feeling with" will replace the "stranger" relationship. The
realization of need will replace the desire for power.
Though the interaction called for by mutuality is essential to the service endeavor
in service-learning education, classroom activity cannot be ignored. With Radest's
foundational concept of solidarity comes the preparatory matter that is necessary in the
classroom prior to and following an encounter with the stranger. This educational
preparation is aside from any academic understanding gained through the service
activities themselves. (These "academic" aims are discussed in Chapter 6.) Solidarity
requires that students entering into a service encounter be prepared so that a
"generosity of perception" and a "will to find the other unthreatening" are developed in
the students.5 It is in the solidarity idea that habit formation is taken into account
through prior preparation. If students are to serve successfully, they must have some
understanding of the "strangers" they encounter. They must, as John Dewey argued, be
provided experiences that will open future experiences if they are to truly learn.52
For example, if students are serving a nursing home population, preparation as to
expectations for nursing home patients particularly, and the elderly generally, must be
explored in the classroom before the service is performed. This continuing preparation (it
cannot end when service begins) might take the form of reading fiction, nonfiction,
51 Radest, Community Service, 185.
52 Dewey, Experience and Education, 13-14.
viewing films, and other texts accompanied by discussions to prepare the students for the
initial service encounter.53 These classroom activities must continue throughout the
service work and bring an increasing depth of understanding, as the stranger becomes the
familiar. Academic preparation not only under girds the ensuing particular service
activity, but also advances solidarity generally for future encounters with future
"strangers." It develops the habit of readiness to interact open-mindedly with other
similar "strangers" for which solidarity calls. "Debriefing" is also necessary following
the service activities. Post project reflection (which is discussed in Chapter 5) is essential
to developing that sense of solidarity called for by Radest. Finally, service will provide
the opportunity to put classroom theory to use, thereby reinforcing academic learning.
The readiness for the particular encounter, and the more general habit of readiness
for future encounters with strangers in service activities, brings students to the important
realization of "persistent otherness," or diversity. This is particularly important for
making community connections in a democracy. Diversity is the realization that we have
an ethical responsibility to connect with each other through community service and
thereby know the diverse and numerous others that make up a community in a moral
democracy--a system based on creed rather than history or ethnicity. Diversity also
reminds teachers and students alike that every individual is a stranger in one way or
another and every individual is in need. Without the notion of diversity, the realization
that we all participate in some way or other as strangers is lost. Without correctly
understanding diversity, democratic connection and the sense of time and place called for
53 For example, Tracy Kidder, Old Friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
in service-learning will not develop. Without that understanding, service degenerates
into volunteerism where act rather than connection is the focus. For the service-learning
practitioner, this means making sure that throughout the process there are opportunities to
feel diversity, and it means emphasizing and even celebrating differences. Through the
celebration of democratic diversity, a deeper understanding of stranger encounters can be
developed--a notion far beyond simply being tolerant or appreciative.
Conceptualizing service in the manner described here makes service-learning an
important part of democratic education. Mutuality, solidarity, and diversity, when
practiced correctly in service-learning education, can provide students with opportunities
to learn essential democratic notions. Service-learning also gives students the
opportunity to develop a deep sense of self and a deep understanding of the "other."
Alexis de Tocqueville explained nearly a century and a half ago that it is precisely these
characteristics that a democracy needs to prevent the despotism that he feared would
destroy it. It is, therefore, an approach to education that is demanded by our political
system and is the responsibility of America's system of public education. Only through
public education that is part of, not apart from, the community and that serves through
interacting with the community can democratic principles be taught and learned.
Many recent studies have shown that participation in basic democratic
institutions, such as the practice of voting, has been seriously declining over the last
several decades.54 Robert Putnam and others view this decline as a sign that lost
connections once established through community activity are increasingly being broken.
54 Robert Putnam, "Bowling Alone," Journal of Democracy 6 (January 1995: 65-
Putnam, Robert Bellah, and C. David Lisman see this disconnection as dangerous to
democracy.55 Participation in community activities provided by service-learning
education, when service is correctly understood and practiced, can go a long way in re-
establishing these disintegrating connections. As Howard Radest, Nel Noddings, Robert
Bellah, Robert Rhoades and Jane Kendall argue, reconnection is an essential, definitive
goal of community service.56 Service-learning education is a public practice that can
redefine connection and defend against the individualism that Tocqueville argued would
leave its citizens prey to tyranny. Service-learning is a way to defend American
democracy against the growing practices that divide rather than connect and keep
Americans from the increasing individualism created by "bowling alone."
55 Ibid., 65 68; C. David Lisman, Toward A Civil Society (Westport Ct: Bergin
and Garvey), 1998; Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart, 39.
56 Radest, Community Service; Bellah, Habits of the Heart; Lisman, Civil Society;
Kendall, Combining Service; Noddings, Caring; Rhoads, Higher Learning.
EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION AND SERVICE-LEARNING
As was made clear in the previous chapter of this study, understanding the service
concept in service-learning is essential to its successful implementation. Equally
necessary is a clear notion of the teaching and learning process that is appropriate to
service-learning practice. Learning is the goal of any educational approach, and without
philosophical clarity about its meaning and operation, success or failure remains
uncertain. This holds true for service-learning education as it has for the numerous
approaches that have dominated educational practice over the course of human history.
When seen as inextricably tied to service, the learning theory embraced here becomes a
powerful educational philosophy.
Leaders in the service-learning community universally classify the educational
theory practiced in service-learning as "experiential."1 In fact, service-learning is a
common manifestation of experiential learning theory. Service-learning is, however,
only one of several approaches to teaching and learning that is grounded in an
experiential pedagogy.2 To complicate matters further, "experiential educators" utilize a
variety of educational practices that may or may not further the understanding of service-
1 See Corporation for National Service Web site (www.cns.gov/learn); Timothy
Stanton, "Service Learning: Groping Toward A Definition," in Jane C. Kendall and
Associates, Combining Service and Learning (Raleigh, VA: National Society for
Internships and Experiential Education, 1990), 85; "Standards of Quality for School-
based Service Learning," (Alliance for Service-Learning in Education Reform, 1993).
2 Other experiential education practices include wilderness education, adventure
education, internships, and animated learning.
learning. The project of building a learning theory that will foundationally ground
service-learning is particularly difficult because there has been an explosive growth of
literature devoted to experiential education over the last 30 years.3 The task of clarifying
what experiential education means for service-learning is made even more difficult by
those who argue, correctly, that all pedagogical approaches (from lectures to worksheets
to "hands-on") ultimately are "experiential": even the half-dozing lecture participant
"experiences" the lecture. On the other hand, John Dewey made clear that not all
experiences are educational, so that service, as understood in the previous chapter, cannot
be founded on a notion of education that ignores genuine problems of experience.4 How
experiential learning, in contrast to traditional notions of education, is viewed and applied
in the context of a service project must be clarified for service-learning practice to
As is argued in the Chapter 2 of this study, the progressive educational
philosophers William James, John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick, and Paul Hanna
initially developed the conception and rationale for the experiential education position.
Not until the middle to late nineteenth century did these forward-looking theorists first
argue to eliminate the inherent pedagogical dualism of subject and object found in
traditional epistemological theory. Too often, however, experiential learning is invoked
3 This growth is documented in "Editor's Notes: the Boom in Experiential
Learning," New Directions for Experiential Learning 1 (Spring 1978): 1-8.
4 John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938), 13;
Jeffrey Howard, "Academic Service Learning: A Counternormative Pedagogy," New
Directions for Teaching and Learning 73 (Spring 1998): 23.
rather than accounted for as uniquely related to service in service-learning.5 The aim of
this chapter is to clarify what experiential learning means to service-learning practice.
This goal necessitates the construction of an appropriate experiential theory from the
foundational work of James, Dewey, Hanna and Kilpatrick without which service-
learning cannot successfully operate.
Traditional Notions of Learning and Knowledge
The break that progressive thinkers made from traditional educational theory and
practice was truly revolutionary. However, as John Dewey warned, conceptual
revolution is often the criticism of past thought only, rather than the creation of
constructive, positive change toward a new and useful philosophical position.6 For
Dewey, criticism, particularly educational criticism, should be used to construct new
theory to improve practice. Dewey's point is important: criticizing educational practice
is simply the starting point in the more important project of developing better theory.
New educational ideas will be useful only in so far as they are understood as fixing
specific problems of earlier ones. In this way, the old mistakes will not be repeated and
new theory can develop into useful practice. Experiential learning is an example of
educational theory that must be understood as an attempt to fix traditional approaches to
5 Richard Kraft, "Service Learning: An Introduction to its Theory, Practice, and
Effects," Advances in Education Research 3 (Fall 1998): 7-23; Dwight Giles and Janet
Eyler, "The Theoretical Roots of Service-learning in John Dewey: Toward a Theory of
Service-Learning," Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 1 (Fall 1994): 77-
85; Mary Hepburn, "Service Learning in Civic Education: A Concept with Long, Sturdy
Roots," Theory Into Practice 36, no. 3 (1997): 136-142;
6 Dewey, Experience and Education, 6.
7 John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Macmillan Company,
1944 ), 329.
teaching and learning. To this end, this study turns to a brief description of traditional
In explaining his rebellion from traditional educational notions, John Dewey
pointed out how "the history of educational theory is marked by opposition between the
idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without." 8
Epistemological theory has had a parallel pendulum swing throughout its history between
Platonic idealism and Lockean empiricism.9 These pendulum swings characterize the
"either-or" (as Dewey described it) history of epistemological /learning theory.10
Dewey saw that three characteristics fundamentally drive traditional educational
philosophy. These are that already established bodies of information and skills are seen
as being "transmitted" to students; habits of conduct are developed through conformity to
pre-established, standards and rules; and, schools, as institutions, are "marked off from"
other community institutions.1 Dewey clarified both the aims and means of traditional
education from these three general characteristics:
The main purpose or objective is to prepare the young for future responsibilities
and for success in life, by means of acquisition of the organized bodies of
information and prepared forms of skill which comprehend the material of
instruction. Since the subject-matter as well as standards of proper conduct are
handed down from the past, the attitude of pupils must, upon the whole, be one of
docility, receptivity, and obedience. Books, especially textbooks, are the chief
representatives of the lore and wisdom of the past, while teachers are the organs
through which pupils are brought into effective connection with the material.
8 Dewey, Experience and Education, 1.
9 For a discussion of the "either-or" development of epistemological theory as
seen at the time of the progressive movement, see Jesse Coursault, The Learning Process
(New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1907).
10Dewey, Experience and Education, 2.
11 Ibid., 2.
Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skill are communicated
and rules of conduct enforced.12
Jeffrey Howard explains the difference in this way: "In the traditional teaching-
learning model, learning is individualistic and privatized; students generally learn by
themselves and for themselves. The epistemology that under girds traditional pedagogy
is positivistic and in conflict with communal ways of learning."13 In light of the
communal nature of service, as conceived in this study (mutual, connected, and
interactive), the traditional educational model provides no foundation for service-learning
The Progressive Revolution: A Foundation for Service-Learning
The "either-oriness," against which Dewey and his cohorts fought early in the
twentieth century, was founded on a widely accepted epistemological dualism that kept
mind and matter separated, emphasizing one or the other rather than their interaction.
Interaction of subject and object, not separation, makes experience the essential element
in knowing and, therefore, the essential part of a successful educational theory on which
service-learning can be based. Traditional philosophies of education that emphasize the
separation of subject and object do not provide the experiential pedagogy needed for a
clear understanding of service-learning practice. The notion of interaction that Dewey
credits Francis Bacon and William James with first seeing is needed to explain service-
learning as reconnecting, communal, and educational.
12 Ibid., 3.
13 Jeffrey Howard, "Academic Service Learning: A Counternormative Pedagogy,"
New Directions for Teaching and Learning 73 (Spring 1998): 23.
Francis Bacon's Science and William James' Radical Empiricism
As John Dewey argued, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) first conceptualized science
and philosophy as dynamic projects involving the interaction of mind and matter rather
than merely the study of static concepts. His understanding undermined traditional
epistemological theory and ultimately led to a better understanding of the purpose and
method of inquiry, knowledge, and, therefore, educational practice.14 Bacon saw that
scientific inquiry is done to control nature rather than to control minds, and that could be
achieved only by conceptualizing scientific discovery as an interaction of mind and
matter in experience.
Because knowledge is created through this fundamental mind/matter interaction,
educational practice should be based on that interaction as well. Service-learning
education is no exception. The student/situation project interaction makes service-
learning educationally sound. Through "manipulating" or "reconstructing" the project
problem, knowledge and understanding are created. This experiential interaction, rather
than passive reception of information, is a characteristic of service-learning that makes it
a powerful academic pedagogy.15
14 John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1959
), 31-33. Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning (New York: P.F. Collier and
Son, 1901 ).
15 Numerous quantitative studies attest to the power of service-learning on purely
academic grounds: Vivian Houser, "Effects of Student-Aide Experience on Tutors' Self-
Concept and Reading Skills" (Ph.D diss., Brigham Young University, 1974); James
Lewis, "What is Learned in Expository Learning and Learning by Doing?" (Ph.D diss.,
University of Minnesota, 1977); Diane Hedin, "Students as Teachers: A Tool for
Improving School Climate and Productivity," Social Policy 17, no. 3 (1987): 42-47;
Stephen Hamilton and R. Shepherd Zelden, "Learning Civics in Community,"
Curriculum Inquiry 17 (1987): 407 420. Gregory B. Markus, "Integrating Community
Service and Classroom Instruction Enhances Learning: Results from an Experiment,"
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 15 no. 4 (1993): 410 419.
William James' pragmatism influenced the progressive educational revolution as
well and provides further foundational grounding for service-learning education. He saw,
as Bacon did, that it is in, not out of experience, that knowledge construction takes place.
James' argument that pure abstraction is educationally barren characterized the
progressive notion of experiential education:
He [the pragmatist] turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal
solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and
pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy,
towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist
temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open
air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of
finality in truth.16
William James' pragmatism provided a new way of understanding knowledge
development--an understanding that knowing is not a problem of mind somehow
grasping alien substance, but is one of mind and body interacting with substance. The
interaction of self and matter in experience is crucial to knowledge construction, and
therefore, teaching, and learning. Service-learning as a purely academic pedagogy is
fundamentally based on this understanding of experiential interaction.
In an article characterizing the influence that James has had on experiential
educational theory, George Donaldson and Richard Vinson tease out of his "Lectures to
Teachers and Students" (1899), eleven basic principles of experiential education.17 These
eleven principles could, in fact, appear in contemporary service-learning literature:
1. One Learns best by his/her own activity. 2. Interest is of signal importance to
learning. 3. Sensory experience is basic. 4. Effort and vigor make for good
16 William James, Essays in Pragmatism (New York: Hafner Press, 1948), 144-
17 George W. Donaldson and Richard Vinson, "William James, Philosophical
Father of Experience-Based Education: 'The Knower is an Actor,'" The Journal of
Experiential Education (Fall 1979): 7-8.
education. 5. Education modifies behavior. 6. Good education is holistic. 7.
Imitating exemplary behavior is sound learning. 8. Love and understanding are
important to learning. 9. Effective learning is interdisciplinary. 10. Respect for
individual differences is essential. 11. Sound education is specific.18
Donaldson and Vinson argue that William James was the "philosophical father" of
experiential education. He was the first to extend his pragmatism to education so clearly,
and out of his thinking progressive scholars developed a fully fleshed-out educational
theory based on experience--one that foundationally supports service-learning education.
John Dewey's Revolutionary Epistemology
Arguing that service-learning should be viewed as an attempt to "dePlatonize"
western educational thought, Ira Harkavy and Lee Benson note that "it can fairly be said:
in the beginning there was Dewey."19 Very little of the huge mass of literature on
service-learning education as experiential is absent references to the revolutionary work
of Dewey. Unfortunately, aside from some brief articles loosely linking Dewey to
service-learning, a complete discussion of Deweyan thought as it works in the
experiential practice of service-learning does not exist.20
Dewey grounded his argument for an experiential notion of education in an
explicit assumption that had been missed in the traditional ways and means of
educational practice. That fundamental assumption is that "there is an intimate and
18 Ibid., 8.
19 Ira Harkavy and Lee Benson, "De-Platonizing and Democratizing Education as
the Bases of Service Learning," New Directions For Teaching and Learning 73 (Spring
20 Giles and Eyler, "Theoretical Roots" 77-85; Mary Hepburn, "Service Learning
in Civic Education," 136-142.
necessary relationship between the processes of actual experience and education."21 This
assumption is simple and straightforward. However, current educational practice based
on traditional epistemology largely ignores the intimacy between experience and
education. Traditional teaching generally dismisses experience out of hand. As Richard
The secondary schools in particular show in their instructional practices an almost
total disregard for the experience of students. They are arenas of intense control
and manipulation endured by an objectified, disembodied, and often alienated
student population. For many students, even those who have learned how to work
the system, attending school is an inauthentic experience to be endured until real
Artificial curriculum constraints, student preparation for life in some adult "future," and
the consideration of student experience as secondary to the digestion and regurgitation of
pre-established "knowledge" are antithetical to service-learning education. Service-
learning educators must first and foremost understand this "intimate and necessary"
relationship between experience and education and incorporate that into practice. The
experience/education relationship can best be understood as interactive, social, and
Because education is experiential, it is interactive at a very basic, existential level.
That is, human beings are born into a world of objects, and in interacting and
manipulating the physical world humans come upon and solve basic problems of
existence. Dewey explained in Democracy and Education:
As long as it [a living creature] endures, it struggles to use surrounding energies
in its own behalf. It uses light, air, moisture, and the material of soil. To say that it
21 Dewey, Experience and Education, 7.
22 Richard L. Hopkins, Narrative Schooling: Experiential Learning and the
Transformation of American Education (New York: Teachers College, Columbia
University, 1994), 6.
uses them is to say that it turns them into means of its own conservation. As long
as it is growing, the energy it expends in thus turning the environment to account
is more than compensated for by the return it gets: it grows. Understanding the
word "control" in this sense, it may be said that a living being is one that
subjugates and controls for its own continued activity the energies that would
otherwise use it up. Life is a self-renewing process through action upon the
On its face, this observation appears to have little to do with service-learning education
and seems so strongly a truism as to not need comment. However, further analysis shows
that understanding experience in this way is a crucial building block to successful
The importance of the physical fact of existence to service-learning education is
that the experience of manipulating objects is essential to learning and living. The young
must develop skills and dispositions through genuine object manipulation because that
manipulation is the most essential interactive life activity without which knowledge
cannot be constructed nor life problems solved. The increasing complexity of object
manipulation leads to further success with physical objects and ultimately to the
manipulation of ideas to solve problems in experience. For service-learning to be
successful as an educational approach, students must manipulate physical objects and
mental constructs in the project situation. Manipulating the physical and mental
environment in a service project provides students with the opportunity to use their
knowledge of the world to attempt a solution to the service problem. From this basic
understanding of interaction, the increasingly complex academic disciplines of
mathematics, chemistry, and physics, for example, can be taught, applied and, therefore,
learned in service-learning education.
23 Dewey, Democracy and Education, 3.
Human interaction, of course, does not involve individuals interacting only with
objects and ideas. Humans are not born into a pure objective reality, but arrive in a world
that has an already established social organization with already existing social beings.
Education is the means by which individuals are introduced into social practice.
Education, argues Dewey, is essentially a social process and that characteristic is often
ignored in traditional epistemological approaches:
There is the standing danger that the material of formal instruction will be merely
the subject matter of the schools, isolated from the subject matter of life-
experience. The permanent social interests are likely to be lost from view. Those
which have not been carried over into the structure of social life, but which
remain largely matters of technical information expressed in symbols, are made
conspicuous in schools. Thus we reach the ordinary notion of education: the
notion which ignores its social necessity and its identity with all human
association that affects conscious life, and which identifies it with imparting
information about remote matters and the conveying of learning through verbal
signs: the acquisition of literacy.24
A sound educational approach, however, takes into account the social-ness of human
existence and incorporates that understanding into practice. As Dewey argues, the social
environment is constructed in experience and that construction dictates the learning of
social dispositions and habits of behavior. He argued in Democracy and Education that
the required beliefs cannot be hammered in; the needed attitudes cannot be
plastered on. But the particular medium in which an individual exists leads him to
see and feel one thing rather than another; it leads him to have certain plans in
order that he may act successfully with others; it strengthens some beliefs and
weakens others as a condition of winning the approval of others. Thus it gradually
produces in him a certain system of behavior, a certain disposition of action.25
In this way, habits, or dispositions to act, are inculcated into the young.
24 Dewey, Democracy and Education, 9.
25 Ibid., 11.
It is vitally important that service-learning practitioners understand and
consciously incorporate this social aspect of learning into a service project. Service
projects are, as is argued in the previous chapter, examples of social interaction--an
attempt at reconnection. Mutuality, as described in this study, is the concept of give and
take interaction between "others." A successful service project will incorporate the social
idea of "otherness" into it. If a service project is constructed and carried out without
keeping the social in mind, unintended habits or dispositions might well develop in place
of desired ones. As John Dewey implies, both academic (object manipulation) and social
(habit formation) aspects of a service project must be understood clearly if the
educational goals of skill acquisition and habit formation are to be met. His notions of
social and objective interaction might best be summarized in the following passage from
Experience and Education:
It means, once more, that interaction is going on between an individual and
objects and other persons. The conceptions of situation and of interaction are
inseparable from each other. An experience is always what it is because of a
transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes
his environment, whether the latter consists of persons with whom he is talking
about some topic or event, the subject talked about being also a part of the
situation; or the toys with which he is playing; the book he is reading (in which
his environing conditions at the time may be England or ancient Greece or an
imaginary region); or the materials of an experiment he is performing. The
environment, in other words, is whatever conditions interact with personal needs,
desires, purposes, and capacities to create the experience which is had.26
The third Deweyan notion that is particularly helpful for understanding service-
learning practice is his idea that experience implies continual growth. He correctly points
out that experience is a continuum; that is, present experience is grounded in the past and
26 Dewey, Experience and Education, 42. Dewey's emphasis.
will modify the future.27 An individual, therefore, is prepared for future life problems
based on those that he/she has dealt with in the past. The effect of a present experience on
and to future experiences in part indicates the quality of that present experience. When
service-learning projects are understood in this light, they become important not only to
the task at hand, but are crucial building blocks for future problems that students will
experience. Understanding experience as a continuum will also help to indicate what
projects will and will not be educationally sound. The idea of continuity is the basis for
developing projects that provide the environment necessary for forming good habits--
both academic and social. Service-learning projects, as is argued in Chapter 3 of this
study, must be structured with future situations in mind. To be successful, the projects
must come out of genuine present problems of experience while simultaneously looking
to the future.
These notions of experience provide service-learning educators with a foundation
upon which to build successful projects. Service projects, in order to be educative, must
provide students with the opportunity to operate in a genuine problem situation. The
service project allows for the manipulation of objects and ideas related to academic
endeavors thereby creating a depth of understanding unmatched by traditional
approaches. The project must be social, for only through interacting with others can
sought-after habits and dispositions be developed in young people and true community
transformation be accomplished. Finally, service experiences should be chosen and
organized such that students become open and eager for increasingly difficult projects:
they must both help them deal with the present and prepare for the future.
27 Dewey, Democracy and Education, 52.
Further Progressive Support for Experiential, Service-Learning Education
John Dewey was not alone in suggesting that education and experience are
inextricably connected. William H. Kilpatrick and Paul Hanna, in different ways, both
advocated such an educational approach. Kilpatrick suggested a project method approach
to education (which Dewey subsequently supported in The Way Out of Educational
Confusion) driven by what he called a "purposeful act." 28 For Kilpatrick, absent a
purpose for an educational activity, a purpose deemed important by the individual
student, that activity is useless. An educational activity that is not important in the eyes
of the student leads to short-term rote performance rather than to the depth of
understanding expected in service-learning. Kilpatrick's idea of the purposeful act mirrors
Dewey's demand that educational activity be organized around the genuine interests of
the student if that student is to fully develop.29 Kilpatrick put it this way:
As these questioning rose more definitely to mind, there came increasingly a
belief-corroborated on many sides--that the unifying idea I sought was to be found
in the conception of wholehearted purposeful activity proceeding in a social
environment, or more briefly, in the unity element of such activity, the hearty
He provided a familiar example of how a purposeful act or lack thereof can make or
break an educational project:
If she did in hearty fashion purpose to make the dress, if she planned it, if she
made it herself, then I should say the instance is that of a typical project. We have
in it a wholehearted purposeful act carried on amid social surroundings. That the
28 John Dewey, The Way out of Educational Confusion (Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood Press, 1931).
29 Dewey, Experience and Education, 44-45; Dewey, Democracy and Education,
30 William Kilpatrick, The Project Method, The Use of the Purposeful Act in the
Educative Process (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1922), 4.
dressmaking was purposeful is clear; and the purpose once formed dominated
each succeeding step in the process and gave unity to the whole.31
Kilpatrick adds an important component to service-learning project choice and
implementation. For a project to succeed educationally, it must originate in the interests
and needs of the students. On further analysis, it becomes clear why this is so. Left to
traditional notions of learning, educators tell students what projects are worthy of their
attention thereby ignoring the "powers and purposes of those taught."32 The project
becomes contrived and artificial because it disregards the personal needs, desires,
purposes, and capacities of those who will be tackling the problem in the service
situation. In a word, the project lacks the unity of purpose called for by Kilpatrick. Not
only must a service-learning project be interactive, social, and continual, it must be
driven by a purpose important to the students themselves.
Paul Hanna's contribution to service-learning theory comes from the community
side of the service equation and resulted from a groundbreaking survey study entitled
Youth Serves the Community (1936). This study, commissioned by the Progressive
Education Association, reported on a myriad of youth service projects from around the
country. As Hanna found, educational service projects (as advocated by Kilpatrick)
necessarily change the surrounding community: the community is remade in important
ways. For Hanna, the "significant social value criteria" was as important as the
"individual education criteria." He argued that a successful project has to be not only
educational, but also must have the following community characteristics:
1. Any project must culminate in the actual improvement of living in the
community. 2. Projects must clearly be an obligation of youth as well as
31 Ibid., 5.
32 Dewey, Experience and Education, 42.
adulthood. 3. In so far as possible, projects must get at the basic problems of
improving social welfare.3
As Hanna maintained, if institutional education is to be a part of the community, not
marked off from it, it has certain obligations to that community, and vice-versa. Service-
learning projects, when developed without this understanding, quickly become artificial
and antithetical to the experiential theory ascribed to here. Service project interaction of
individual and community is done with the goals of remaking the individuals involved
and of remaking the entire community. In community reconstruction the project
becomes the authentic, interactive, reconnecting, and educationally sound practice called
for by democratic community education as inherently experiential.
Contemporary Experiential Theory: David Kolb
Progressive educators such as James, Dewey, Kilpatrick and Hanna provide a
solid foundation upon which to base a variety of experiential educational approaches;
and, as is noted above, these thinkers are often (and correctly) relied upon to ground
service-learning practice. Many service-learning advocates, however, have turned to
more contemporary thinkers to guide service-learning educational activities. Of
particular importance is the relatively recent work of David Kolb. Kolb develops a brand
of Deweyan progressivism in his widely read work, Experiential Learning, from which
many current service-learning models come.34 Kolb contributes positively to experiential
33 Paul Hanna, Youth Serves the Community (New York: D. Appleton-Century
Company, 1936), 35-36.
34 Garry Hesser, "Outcomes Attributed to Service-Learning and Evidence of
Changes in Faculty Attitudes About Experiential Education," Advances in Education
Research 3 (Fall 1998): 50-58. Ronald Fry and David Kolb, "Experiential Learning
Theory and Learning Experiences in Liberal Arts Education," New Directions for
Experiential Learning 6 (Fall 1979): 79-92. Harold Henderson and Stephen Hyre,
"Contract Learning," New Directions for Experiential Learning 6 (Fall) 1979: 65-78.
theory; on the other hand, there is an aspect of his notion of experiential learning that
brings back an old problem--one that must be brought to light so that service-learning
practice based on his work can be made sound.
In the introduction to Experiential Learning, Kolb credits Dewey as "the most
influential educational theorist of the twentieth century, that best articulates the guiding
principles for programs of experiential learning."35 His book is, to a great extent, a
reprise of Dewey's thought. In summarizing his position as it relates to Dewey, Kolb
defines learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation
of experience."36 He explains that this
definition emphasizes several critical aspects of the learning process as viewed
from the experiential perspective. First is the emphasis on the process of
adaptation and learning as opposed to content or outcomes. Second is that
knowledge is a transformation process, being continuously created and recreated,
not an independent entity to be acquired or transmitted. Third, learning
transforms experience in both its objective and subjective forms. Finally, to
understand learning, we must understand the nature of knowledge, and vice
This, in summary form, is the position ascribed to in this study and comes directly from
the work of John Dewey. In so far as Kolb revisits and re-examines the work of Dewey,
and adds a contemporary readability to its substance, his work is an important addition to
Austin Doherty, Marcia Mentkowski, Kelley Conrad, "Toward a Theory of
Undergraduate Experiential Learning," New Directions for Experiential Learning 1
(Spring 1979): 23.
35 David Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and
Development (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 5.
36 Ibid., 38.
37 Ibid., 38.
However, Kolb expands upon the foundational work of earlier progressive
philosophers and develops a model that takes into account contemporary research on
learning styles and brain function. In particular, Kolb combines Dewey's experiential
philosophy with learning style differences indicated by current work on right/left brain
functioning. In this expansion of existing theory, Kolb introduces a different way of
describing the thinking process that emphasizes learning styles associated with either
right- or left-brain dominance.38 He argues that adding contemporary brain research to
experiential learning theory makes that theory stronger for driving educational practice.
At first glance, the addition of contemporary brain research to progressive theory
is a positive development. Incorporating new science into established theory is crucial to
growth in understanding. However, upon further thinking, Kolb's re-writing of
experiential theory in light of new findings brings with it an old problem: it re-establishes
a dualism in epistemological/learning theory. He wants educators to view leaning as an
"either-oriness" of thinking or feeling, concrete experience or abstract conceptualization,
and active experimentation or reflective observation, rather than as the integrated process
that Dewey explicated in How We Think.39 Kolb describes thinking as
the making use of two dialectically opposed adaptive orientations representing
two different and opposed processes of grasping or taking hold of experience in
the world--either through reliance on conceptual interpretation and symbolic
representation, or through reliance on the tangible, felt qualities of immediate
38 Ibid., 49.
39 John Dewey, How We Think (New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1933), 4-
40 Kolb, Experiential Education, 41.
Dewey, on the other hand, describes thinking and learning as a "train or chain" in
which each successive step is associated intimately with previous and future steps--a
complicated, often meandering, process of mental movement coming out of experienced
problems and ultimately returning to it with solutions.41 Kolb, in his discussion, limits
the understanding of that process. He describes the experiential learning process as
including only specific either/or ways of subject/object interaction. This rendering of
experiential learning theory brings naive simplicity to understanding the thinking (and,
therefore, the learning) process--a simplicity that divides the thinking process and
develops dualisms similar to those found in traditional epistemological theory. The
consequence of Kolb's expansion of progressive thought is a return to understanding
thinking and learning as an "either-or" project. Practice based on this extension of
progressive thought has the danger of dividing rather than reconnecting those involved,
as learners are grouped according to Kolb's dialecticallyy opposed" ways of knowing and
modes of subject/object interaction are compartmentalized and divided. This view of
experiential education is far too often relied upon in service-learning theory and one that
is damaging to its successful practice as a reconnecting democratic educational reform.
Consequences for Practice
The experiential position outlined in this chapter has several important
consequences for service-learning practice. First and foremost, a service-learning teacher
must conduct herself much differently than one in a traditional classroom practicing
from a traditional theoretical position. The service-learning teacher is an experiential
guide for her students, not a provider of already formulated knowledge. As such, she has
41 This process will be fully explained in the next chapter.
to have an understanding of the capacities, interests, and learning styles of her students
while guiding them through and to problems that come out of their experiences. If, as
Kilpatrick and Dewey argued, the experience is not purposeful in character, it will be
artificial, inauthentic and, therefore, not educational.
Secondly, project authenticity (a real, experienced problem) as required in
service-learning theory means that a service-learning teacher has to understand the
intimate and necessary relationship between experience and education as described by
John Dewey. Individual, private, competitive notions of learning found in traditional
classrooms do not take into account either the social or objective interaction called for by
service-learning theory. A service-learning project must provide students with the
opportunity to work with fellow students and "strangers" while manipulating the objects
that are part of the project problem. Only in this kind of subject and object manipulation
can both social disposition (found in the concepts of mutuality and solidarity) and
academic knowledge and skill grow with the student. Service-learning practitioners
educate the total person--social sensibility and academic ability--through authentic
projects solving authentic problems. Through just this type of social and object
interaction, community problems are solved, knowledge is constructed, and ultimately,
selves are created.
A third consequence of viewing service-learning as experiential is the integration
of school and community. The interaction of community "strangers" in service-learning
projects provides opportunities to both educate and solve community problems. Service-
learning projects can and should connect the school to the broader community. In this
way, schools can avoid being "marked off" from other community institutions and be a
vital part of democratic life. Paul Hanna makes clear, as is shown above, that community
impact must be an essential consideration for service projects. Lacking that impact,
projects become inauthentic and fall outside the concept developed here of experiential
learning. This demand entails the grooming of relationships among school
administrators, teachers and community leaders that do not normally exist in traditional
Finally, as John Dewey argued, experience should be seen as both the aim and
method of education.42 As such, service projects should be designed with future
experiences in mind. That is, service-learning teachers must orchestrate projects so that
students are open to future such problem solving activities. Growth is a process directed
to the future. Educational growth means successfully moving onto more difficult
problems/projects. Projects, therefore, should match the ability and maturity levels of the
students involved. If they are not designed with this in mind, future service project work
may be restricted rather than expanded.
The service-learning educator has a difficult task--one that is much more
demanding than that called for in traditional notions of teaching, and one that is much
more rewarding as well. The service-learning educator can accomplish her difficult task
only by stepping outside traditional notions to an understanding that good education is an
experiential process and that good teaching means guiding students through those
problematic experiences important to them now. The service concept, when viewed as it
is in Chapter 3 of this study and combined with a view of education as experiential in
nature, is an incredibly powerful pedagogy capable of re-connecting democratic citizens
42 Dewey, Experience and Education, 89-91.
while educating them for successful democratic problem-solution. Understanding service
and experiential learning are both important steps to successful practice. The two,
however, are held together by a third component necessary for service-learning
education: reflective thinking. Without a complete understanding of reflection in
educational practice, service and learning will remain disconnected and, therefore,
incomplete. Reflective thinking is the tie that binds community service to experiential
learning and is the next concept that must be clarified.
REFLECTION: THE TIE THAT BINDS EDUCATION AND SERVICE
In an article advocating the use of reflection maps in service-learning, Janet Eyler
Reflection is the hyphen in service-learning; it is the process that helps students
connect what they observe and experience in the community with their academic
study. In a reflective service-learning class, students are engaged in worthwhile
activity in the community, observe, make sense of their observations, ask new
questions, relate what they are observing to what they are studying in class, form
theories and plans of action, and try out their ideas.1
Service-learning advocates have long understood that reflection is the component that
connects service activity with academics. The interaction of the two provides students
with the opportunity to construct knowledge. Service, when viewed as it is in chapter 3
of this study, (re)connects strangers in a democratic society. Experiential learning theory
reminds service-learning educators that there is an intimate relationship between student
experience and classroom study; however, without the connection provided by reflection,
service and learning remain separate and, therefore, weak concepts for driving
educational practice. Eyler says, "In practice it is critical reflection that provides the
1 Janet Eyler, "Creating Your Reflection Map," New Directions For Higher
Education 114 (Summer 2001): 35.
2 Arthur W. Chickering, Experience and Learning: An Introduction to
Experiential Learning (New Rochelle, NY: Change Magazine Press, 1977), 12-18; Arthur
W. Chickering, Experience and Learning: An Introduction to Experiential Learning (New
Rochelle, NY: Change Magazine Press, 1977), 12-18 Ellen Porter Honnet and Susan J.
Poulsen, Principles of Good Practice in Combining Service and Learning (Racine WI:
Johnson Foundation, 1989); Suzanne.D. Mintz and Garry Hesser, "Principles of Good
Practice in Service-Learning" in Service Learning in Higher Education: Concepts and
Practices, edited by Barbara Jacoby (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).
transformative link between the action of serving and the ideas and understanding of
learning."3 Only through the correct understanding of reflection and its relationship to
both service and academics can service-learning be educational at all. Without a clear
understanding of reflection, service-learning practice crumbles into volunteerism void of
any educational value.4
Unfortunately, as has been long recognized as well, reflection is commonly the
weakest component of a service-learning project.5 Eyler notes that the
most important component of a high-quality program is frequent attention to the
reflective process. And while service itself has a positive effect on personal
development, if the objectives of service-learning include such cognitive goals as
deeper understanding of subject matter, critical thinking, and perspective
transformation, intensive and continuous reflection is necessary; little change is
produced by classes that have community service as an add-on poorly integrated
into the course. Unfortunately, minimal or sporadic attempts to integrate service
into the course are fairly typical of service-learning classes.6
Eyler's assertion that reflection is commonly ignored or misunderstood in service-
learning is supported by at least one quantitative study that found that only 4% of the
3 Janet Eyler, Dwight Giles Jr., and Angela Schmeide, A Practitioner's Guide to
Reflection in Service-Learning (Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University, 1996), 14.
4 See Chapter 3 of this study for a discussion of the conceptual pitfalls of
5 Eyler, "Reflection Map," 35; James Duley, "Field Experience Education" in The
Modem American College, edited by Arthur Chickering (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
1981); David Boud, Rosemary Keough and David Walker, "What is reflection in
Learning?" in Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning, edited by David Boud,
Rosemary Keough, and David Walker (London: Kogan Page Ltd, 1985), 7-17; Eyler,
Giles, Schmiede, A Practitioners Guide; James Toole and Pamela Toole, "Reflection as a
Tool for Turning Service Experiences into Learning Experiences" in Enriching the
Curriculum through Service Learning, edited by James Tool (San Francisco: Jossey Bass,
1995). C.E. Maybach, Second Year Evaluation of Three Components of Colorado
Campus Compact (Denver, CO: Colorado Campus Compact, 1994).
6 Eyler, "Reflection Map," 35.
service-learning projects investigated encouraged reflective discourse between service
recipients and providers; even fewer of the projects (1%) actually implemented such
What happens all too often in service-learning projects, then, is the understanding
that reflection is paramount to success and, at the same time, a disinclination to
implement structured reflective activities into service-learning projects. An important
question is begged: why is reflection ignored in service-learning practice? The
disconnection between belief and practice has a two-fold cause. Firstly, as Boud,
Keough, and Walker argue,
The activity of reflection is so familiar that, as teachers or trainers, we often
overlook it in formal learning settings, and make assumptions about the fact that
not only is it occurring, but it is occurring effectively for everyone in the group. It
is easy to neglect as it is something which we cannot directly observe and which
is unique to each learner.8
Secondly, the fact that human beings come into the world able to reflect on a limited,
instinctual level leads to the unfounded belief that no further training in how to reflect is
necessary. As Boud, Keough, and Walker describe it,
The basic reflective and puzzling techniques that help us make sense of everyday
life form the core of the very same techniques that enable students to derive
meaningful learning from the experience of service; [however,] it is the critical
questioning of why things are and the attempt to fully understand the root causes
of observable events and behaviors [that must be taught]. This depth of critical
reflection grows out of the instinctual reflective process but must be cultivated
7 Maybach, Second Year Evaluation.
8 Boud, Keough, and Walker, "Promoting Reflection," 8.
purposefully as a habit of the mind.9
Patrick Whitaker has observed that by the time children are of school-age, "they
have exercised their huge learning potential in myriad ways to become sturdy individuals,
with the skill of adaptation, self-management and communication already well
established."10 All of these critics agree that all too often students are assumed to have
critical, reflective skills and, therefore, structured, reflective instruction and practice is
ignored in both planning and implementation of service-learning projects. Quality
service-learning simply cannot happen without a clear understanding of what reflection is
and how it must be taught, modeled, and practiced. This understanding, therefore, must
be actively and consciously incorporated into any service-learning project regardless of
the ability or experience that participating students seem to have.
The Relationship Between Service, Academics, and Reflection
The opening paragraphs of this chapter argued that the process of reflection and
its relationship to service and academics must be understood for service-learning to
succeed. An analysis of reflection makes clear the nature of this necessary relationship.
As Eyler, Giles, and Schmeide argue, reflection is "contextual.""1 Reflection's contextual
nature best explains how academics are connected to service. In service-learning,
academic, classroom learning provides an introduction to the skills needed for solving a
community problem; the service project is the problematic context in which academic
learning is applied and, thereby, learned. This understanding is nothing new--it has been
9 Eyler, Giles, Schmeide, Practitioner's Guide, 14.
10 Patrick Whitaker, Managing to Learn: Aspects of Reflective and Experiential
Learning in Schools (New York: Cassell, 1995), 3.
11 Eyler, Giles, and Schmeide, Practitioner's Guide, 20.
argued throughout this study, particularly in discussions of experiential learning theory
and practice. However, only through understanding reflection completely and correctly
can students and teachers decide how the academic skills are to be applied to the
community problem. Reflection brings academics to the service experience by
contemplating the question, "How can classroom learning be applied to transform this
particular problematic situation?" A teacher might consider conversely, "How can this
problematic situation transform classroom learning?" Without the connection provided
through reflective thought, the depth of learning that is hoped for in service-learning
simply will not come to pass.
The contextual nature of reflection is explained by the fact that it is the result of a
"felt problem." As such, reflection requires that individuals step back from the problem
and construct hypotheses about how academic knowledge/skills might be applied to fix or
reconstruct the problem situation. These hypotheses then are tested in the problem
situation and judged for success and failure. Only when reflection has each and all of
these features can it bring service and academics together to create learning. Only when
service-learning practice embraces this very specific relationship among experience,
academics, and reflection will it succeed. John Dewey's notion of reflective thought
explains how this necessary relationship must be understood in service-learning practice.
John Dewey's "Reflective Thought"
Humans are born with a rudimentary ability to reflect in a trial and error fashion,
and the story of that reflective ability parallels the history of the species. The history of
reflection as a concept is long, as well, and can be traced back at least as far as the