Service-Learning

Service-Learning "Rules" That Encourage Or Discourage Long-Term Service: Implications for Practice and Research.

By Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

  • Publication Date: 2000-09-22
  • Genre: Education

Book Synopsis

Six students spent a quarter as service-learners in a "children's community garden." They participated 3 hours each week, presenting lessons, interacting with the children, and working beside them in the garden. They were prompt and reliable, engaged, and seemed genuinely committed to helping the children. To facilitate the "learning" component, they read and discussed scholarly and popular articles about children's gardens. To assure them that their service was meaningful, the articles underscored the importance of nature for children's development and psychological well-being. An outsider looking at these students would think they were all intrinsically motivated and all likely to continue even once the course requirement had been fulfilled. And yet, as much as they enjoyed it and as highly as they rated it as a life experience, in the two years since that quarter, only three of these students ever returned to the garden or volunteered for any other kinds of service activities. Why did some continue and others drop out of this kind of community participation? Two of the most important issues facing educators and community organizations are: how do we motivate young people to be involved in community activities, and how do we develop a long-term commitment once they are involved? For many, the first impulse is to require community service. There are increased calls for mandatory service as a way to recapture Americans' sense of community (see Markus, Howard & King, 1993, for overview). At the University of Utah, more and more faculty now require service in their classes. Many of them hope to change how we educate, but also hope to foster a lifelong commitment to service amongst their students. The description above illustrates an experience common to service-learning educators: many students appear to enjoy and benefit from a service activity, realize the contribution they're making, and seem enthusiastic at the time--but then never volunteer again. How do we account for this apparent discrepancy between these students' expressed satisfaction and enjoyment, and their lack of further service participation? Why is it that some continue but others do not?

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