Thursday, December 1, 2016

In The Service Of What? The Politics of Service Learning

                                                         Charity or Change?
        In the article "In The Service Of What? The Politics of Service Learning" by Kahne and Westheimer the authors describe in tremendous detail, two accounts of service learning projects.  The first project, "Serving Those in Need" was done by a 12th grade U.S. Government class. The second project "Homelessness Here and Elsewhere" was done by a seventh-grade class at Lexington Middle School . Although both are Service Learning Projects, they are both greatly different. Service learning can have a tremendous impact on a classroom Kahne and Westeimer bring up the argument of Charity vs. Change. From the two examples we can see how much of a difference there is between charity and change, and the impact both have.

Charity: the voluntary giving help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.
    In the 12th grade classroom, the focus of study was democracy and citizenship. The students had the freedom to chose which ever activities they wanted for their service learning projects. Some examples of these were, working in a center for babies whose mothers had high levels of crack cocaine in their bloodstreams during pregnancy, working in a hospital running errands for doctors and helping patients locate the sites of appointments, and preparing and distributing survival kits for the homeless. The teacher wanted his student to reach the outcome that "Students would interact with those less fortunate than themselves and would experience the excitement and joy of learning while using the community as a classroom." When looking at this concept it originally comes off as a great learning experience and opportunity for personal growth. I bet the students had a very humbling experience volunteering, but how did their volunteer work help their specific communities? When a student helped volunteer in a center for babies whose mothers had high levels of crack cocaine they probably had a great impact on the people they worked with, but they only contributed temporarily.  The student who created survival kits for the homeless definitely helped those struggling to survive on the street, but it did not help end the cycle of homelessness. Those survival kits were temporary aids for a select few, that helped contribute to the cause, but did not fix homelessness. After they were done volunteering, that was probably the last involvement they had with the organizations they helped.

Change: to make or become different.
     In the seventh grade classroom Ms. Adams took an entirely different approach with her students. By working with her class Ms. Adams identified issues of common concern, and then democratically voted on one subject. The subject they picked was homelessness, and the unit of their service learning project was "Homelessness Here and Elsewhere". Ms. Adams focused and examined several different aspects of homelessness such as social, economic, legal land political characteristics that can be classified under homelessness. The class as a whole researched and familiarized themselves with the knowledge of the topic by reading articles and listening to guest speakers. Then after being educated on the topic, the class created action plans to aid relief and started raising money for two local advocacy groups. These two groups were also democratically decided by vote. During this service learning project Ms. Adams also had her students reflecting on what they had learned. She had her students reflect through writing, group and class discussions. Not only were they reflecting on what they had learned but also their own personal experiences.

     So whats the difference? Both projects are extremely different, the 12th grade class focuses on the individual. The focus was for students to experience the excitement and joy of learning while using the community as a classroom. This to me is were both projects become very different. In the 12th grade class the service learning project is exactly as it reads. Students go out in the community and give service to others in hopes of personal growth. In the 7th grade class Ms. Adams focuses on the group as a whole though. This is where I tie in some outside thinking. One person can't make a great deal of change (or at least the average person), they may be able to come up with great ideas, but ultimately they are just helping a cause. But when you have a community of people who all have a common issue, now you have the "power and potential to change". Yes, Ms. Adams students did help  the community, but they didn't just answer calls at a desk, or run errands. Instead they planted the foundation for change.  One common analogy I kept thinking of was temporary tattoos vs real ones. When you get a temporary tattoo it doesn't take much time to set it up and put it on your arm, and after it is printed it eventually fades away, leaving the skin exactly as it was. This is the 12th grade class, there service learning projects were temporary, not taking much effort to create and eventually fading away. When getting a real tattoo though it takes a lot of time effort to create it, and then it has to be tattooed on the skin. But when its all done it does not fade away. This is the 7th grade class. Even though this is a very vague analogy really think about the difference in time, and effort the two tattoos require. That's how I picture the differences between charity and change.
    After reading these two experiences of service learning projects it really has opened my eyes to my experience in the classroom. At first I saw it as sacrifice of my own time to help a teacher in an inner-city classroom. But after my personal experience and reflection I have realized it is a lot more than just me taking a group of students to do literacy work. When I show up I can either go in with the mindset "alright lets get these required hours done and maybe I can learn some teaching strategies along the way" or "I hope I can influence and impact these students so that both the teacher and the students have a better learning environment and both myself and the students can learn in that environment". This article did open my eyes, and it makes me value my influence more as an educator in my service learning project.

I know this Ted Talk is really long, I watched  majority of it and found it a rather interesting argument on charity vs. change in a social environment.

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