Monday, December 12, 2016

Kahne and Westheimer: In the Service of What?

Throughout the piece In the Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning, Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer discuss the affects of service learning on students and the community as a whole. They define service learning as learning which, "makes students active participants in service projects that aim to respond to the needs of the community while furthering the academic goals of students". This includes a variety of opportunities and projects, from working with the homeless to working with the environment. Either way they are working to look beyond themselves and help those around them in the form of service. The question that Kahne and Westheimer are aiming to answer though, is whether or not this service is actually helping, having an effect, and causing change, or if it is just an act of charity. 

They begin to focus on the fact that while these acts of service are good in nature, the goal of the project needs to be established and lined up with the project. While being progressive is good, they say "more attention has been focused on moving forward than on asking where we are headed".  Kahne and Westheimer then discuss how it is necessary to ask question the values of the projects, what relationships are being formed, what society is being lead towards, and other underlying issues in the service learning project. 

helping-others.jpg (600×400)This then comes down to the aspects of Charity vs. Change. Kahne and Westheimer compare various different service learning projects which were done in classrooms. The service project "Serving Those in Need", done in Mr. Johnson's classroom exemplified acts of charity. Through this project they provided time and fulfill their "civic duty" and built a sense of altruism. It was a temporary project, which paid no attention to the the greater system at hand and helping to fix it. Very much like Kozol's idea of putting a band-aid on a broken leg. 

The other project done in Ms. Adam's classroom involved analyzing the system and causes of the homelessness issue as a whole, including the impacts it has, the difficulties faced by those involved. The project involved discussion and self analysis as well as the analysis of the overall systematic issue. This situation falls more into the idea of a change focused service learning project. Focus is placed on the idea of creating a lasting change, both in the system itself, as well as in the ideas and minds of the students in the classroom. 

There is not specifically a right or wrong answer in regards to having a service learning experience which is charity focused or change focused, as long as it aligns specifically with what kind of service learning experience you are aiming to achieve. In the original formation of the Service learning aspect, the goal was for students to be able to "recognize that their academic abilities and collective commitments could help them respond in meaningful ways to a variety of social concerns". These situations are the ones which are charity based, the focus is placed solely on the student and their response to things in the future.

john-deweys-quotes-1.jpg (593×240)
John Dewey was one of the main advocates for
the change style of Service Learning.
On the other hand, those Service Learning projects focused which fall under the 
change category were focused not only on where the child is now, but also where they are going and what they can do. This was explained by Lawernce Cremin saying, "by manipulating the school curriculum, they could ultimately change the world".  Through this project, they are bringing up discussions of systematic change to be able to make a greater difference throughout our society. They are making the most out of this possibility, rather than just settling at a positive feeling left behind from an act of charity. 

These charity acts are not completely dissociated with future change, and often times charity works as a stepping stone towards future change. Whether it is just an aspect of a change project or it is a project done alongside that of change, the positivity expressed and created through charity acts can act as a benefactor to that of change. Charity on it's own is also not negative and the positivity in it is still valued, but when that charity is viewed as change and nothing more is done with it, then that is where a problem my arise. 

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