Don't Touch My Hair: Culturally Responsive Engagement in Service-Learning

Don't Touch My Hair: Culturally Responsive Engagement in Service-Learning

Mary Oling-Sisay
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2900-2.ch003
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Myriad studies on service-learning agree on the benefits of service-learning for students. Because projects are designed with the needs of students and institutions in mind, the experiences of the Black communities served are seldom highlighted nor are the intricacies of the multiple relationships addressed. Voices of marginalized groups especially the Black communities—the community that is the focus of this chapter—needs to be incorporated in authentic and intentional ways to advance transformational service-learning for all involved. This chapter begins to examine issues and opportunities for best case scenarios for service-learning projects in Black communities.
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Freire’s scholarship has had a significant impact on service-learning, particularly service-learning for societal transformation. In his pivotal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed,Freire (2014), asserts that students are not merely vessels to be filled with knowledge and that education should engender critical consciousness. Only then he argues can we break down institutional and individual vestiges of oppression. Freire coined the term “banking” to describe a pedagogical method in which students operate as agents of their own subjugation. He argues against the “banking” concept, asserting that students have something to contribute to the creation and sharing of knowledge, thereby making education more of a dialogue and the eventual vehicle for liberation rather than oppression. An interpretation of Freire’s work in service-learning is that the Servers are partners with the “Served.” This means the Served are not to be viewed from a “banking” approach to problem-solving in which they are merely vessels to be filled with “superior” solutions by those who have the privilege and access to resources, but that they, too, have something to contribute from their insider knowledge about their communities and to become co-creators of knowledge (Cohen, 2012; Freire, 2014). Critical consciousness in service-learning facilitates societal transformation through group dialogue, participatory action, and empowerment between the Servers and the Served.

“The” Black Community and Diversity

Black communities are not monolithic—they are varied. Understanding the diversity within the Black community is essential to service-learning design and approaches. Aspects of diversity in the Black community come from dimensions of a difficult social, political, and cultural history (Broman, Neighbors, & Jackson, 1988). Black diversity also comes in the form of culture, language, and national origin. Although viewing the Black community from the perspective of skin color may suggest to some a singular group, even in this instance there is diversity based on whether one identifies as belonging to two or more races.

Black community diversity also entails variations based on regional, urban, and rural differences, and in some communities, age and socioeconomic status (Broman, Neighbors, & Jackson, 1988; Du Bois, 1903). Some may prefer to be referred to as African American, and others prefer to be characterized as Black. The individual needs to be asked. Yet others do not wish to be identified by a single racial label and may prefer bicultural, mixed, or biracial. These contexts are critical for the efficacy of service-learning projects in Black communities. This chapter utilizes Black in referring to communities of people of African descent.

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