Service Learning as a Scholarly Pursuit

Service Learning as a Scholarly Pursuit

Sylvia Turner
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0280-8.ch012
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This chapter will show how one of the top scholars programs at the University of Tennessee incorporates meaningful service-learning into its curriculum. Their model, which includes academic courses, service dialogues, and service, promotes greater scholar engagement in the community and undoubtedly enhances the classroom experiences for its students. Following the practices of many of the earlier movements, the program tries to recognize the valuable resources, the human competence, and the rich cultural legacies in the schools and communities in which they serve. It is a constant and dynamic process of assessment and reflection that will hopefully transform not only the scholars but the communities they serve.
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In Knoxville, the community-schools movement is supported by the University of Tennessee. Through the Office of Teaching and Learning Innovation, the University actively promotes service learning as a course-based, hands-on pedagogical approach in which students make connections between three key components: (1) their service experience, (2) their classroom learning, and (3) reflection (“What is Service Learning?”). Service-learning is a mutually beneficial relationship in which communities receive support for addressing specific needs. Students, on the other hand, gain real-world problem-solving skills, which can be juxtaposed against some of the theoretical approaches they learn in class, as well as learn how to negotiate social and institutional relationships. In addition, service learning encourages students to [re]view the world through the lived experiences of people who have different experiences than their own and provides a new way of interpreting a “familiar reality” (Kronick, Cunningham, & Gourley 2). Learning to see the world from differing perspectives, particularly from the perspective of people and communities from different ethnic backgrounds, can enhance multicultural competencies, reduce stereotypes, and increase students’ awareness and understanding of structural inequality (Einfeld, & Collins, 2008).

The most critical component of service-learning involves the process of reflection – the process of “creating meaning from newly sensed information, … [and] integrating disparate sensed facts and general knowledge, … to creat[e] a new understanding about those facts” (Kronick, Cunningham, & Gourley, 28). At its core, service-learning involves helping communities address specific needs and helping students understand and address systemic inequality. In order for this transformation to occur, students’ actions must be coupled with meaningful reflection. This process of engagement is critical to helping students move from being passive learners to critical thinkers (Freire, 1968) about the socio-historical, cultural and political contexts in which social problems evolve (Einfeld & Collins, 2008).

In “The Truthful Mirror: Reforming the Civic Engagement Movement in Higher Education,” Taylor, Luter, and Uzochukwu argue that “the civic engagement/service learning-movement is informed by a liberal amelioration model rather than a social transformation model” (Kronick, 9). To transform communities, universities must work with communities to address the underlying issues that undermine Black and Latinx communities including poor housing conditions, health disparities, high unemployment, income and wealth inequality, and poor educational outcomes. The complexity and entrenched nature of these core problems necessitates universities working with communities on the issues community members deem as most pressing. While universities may bring valuable resources to bear on these core problems, communities provide expertise in identifying the challenges and resources within their neighborhoods. This approach further recognizes the unique social, cultural, economic and historical context in which communities evolve.

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