A research parer could begin: Students of today are expected to gain a sense of cultural awareness as part of the educational process; for many, this is accomplished through a relatively new trend known as service learning. In this educational approach, students incorporate community service projects with their more traditional learning, allowing the instructor to promote more meaningful connections between student and content and to reinforce some of the most common elements of the lesson. Service learning can provide students with the following:
- A greater sense of empathy for other cultures, something vital in a lesson on sociology;
- Education about issues related to the public health.
- More fully participate in their community, revealing the aspects of their world that can use additional support and encouraging them to work to improve the quality of life for their fellow man.
Although this theory is one that has merit for the development of the school and the community, in reality, communities expect results, but often do not provide schools with the tools that they need to be successful. As such, many schools find it difficult, if not impossible, to become the moral compass that the community so desperately desires. Even though many educators would like to conform to the demands of the community, the reality is that these demands are made without the specific support and funding need to make this process happen overall. Therefore, although the community may want schools that support the importance of diversity, in many cases, schools simply do not have the resources to make this happen.
What is perhaps most distressful about this situation is that if supported correctly, the school could provide a solid basis for the development of the community through service learning programs. However, until citizens begin looking at the process as one that is reciprocal in nature, schools will continue to struggle to provide the community with what it wants. In this situation, it would be beneficial if the school could receive unconditional support from the community, with the promise that change will occur in the long-term.
The Community and Service Learning
According to the Service Learning Organization, service learning can be a rather simple process, taking place over just a few hours or days, or it can be much more long-term, creating a greater sense of systemic change in the surrounding community. When students spend a day cleaning up part of their neighborhood, they are taking ownership for their surroundings, working to improve its appearance and raising awareness, even if just within themselves, about the implications of certain behaviors. When students spend an entire school year working on a significant project, such as creating a community garden or revitalizing a local park, they learn countless aspects of the logistical process this entails, from long-term planning to fund-raising to effective and professional communication. Service learning has the ability to reinforce a wide array of classroom lessons, ensuring the long-term success of students overall.
In today's increasingly more disconnected world, it is often difficult for students both to understand social circumstances outside their frame of reference and to decide how they fit into world. Mandatory service learning is a unique and effective way in which children and young adults can explore and serve the world around them, learning about the world and making more informed decisions about their futures.
Education Philosophy and Service Learning
Constructivist ideals, multiple intelligence theory and information on learning in different modalities all point to the benefits of hands on, meaningful service learning in a real environment. Service learning provides a more meaningful learning opportunity than those which are simulated in a classroom, with interaction and context that cannot be reproduced realistically. Unfortunately, although most everyone would benefit from these experiences, service is not something that everyone would undertake of their own volition. Making service mandatory means everyone participates, everyone has the potential to benefit from the experience.
There is a distance growing within our communities and our country; people are loosing contact with one another, especially with people from other walks of life. Mandatory service learning is a way of learning about our world, learning how it works, how we fit and how we can serve it. It offers a unique opportunity to youngsters of all ages and should become an established practice.