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History of Service-Learning
The history and origins of the service-learning practice in the United States is older than its own name (Clearinghouse, Titlebaum, Daprano, Baer, & Brahler, 2004). However, the phrase service-learning was first used in 1966 to describe a joint project between Tennessee college students and professors working on area developmental organizational projects (p. 4). Subsequently, in 1967 Robert Sigmon and William Ramsey, while working at the Southern Regional Education Board, coined the term for the first time (Giles & Eyler, 1994; Sigmon, 1979; Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999). Later in the 1970s, Sigmon published in the Synergist his manifesto entitled, Service-Learning: Three Principles (1979), in which the author framed the foundations of service-learning as a pedagogical method. According to Sigmon, every service-learning practitioner should adhere to the following three principles:
1) Those being served control the service(s) provided. 2) Those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions. 3) Those who serve also are learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned (p. 10).
The point at issue here is the conceptualization of service-learning as a dialectical process in which all participants equally evolve as active learners and agents of change.
During past decades, particularly the 1980s, much of the service-learning debate revolved around its definition (Crews, 2002). It seems like previous scholars could not establish a consensual agreement on what to call “service-learning” and what should be included (Plann, 2002). Even though the broad scope of service-learning allows other programs to exist under the same description (Furco, 1996), sometimes such a rubric also tolerates the emerging of “moniker” programs (Butin, 2010). Kendall’s (1990) review of the service-learning literature illustrates the aforementioned case. The author provides 147 different definitions depending on whether service-learning is seen as an educational or philosophical method. Although such conceptualizations will change to meet the goals and expectations of civic, social, educational, and governmental institutions (Maurrasse, 2004; Shumer & Shumer, 2005), some of them brought a much-needed conceptual clarity to the field. For instance, the National and Community Service Act of (1990) defined service-learning as:
A method (A) under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that (i) is conducted in and meets the needs of a community; (ii) is coordinated with an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program,
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Such articulation is a model in the field because it institutionalized and made official the practice of service-learning in the United States by authorizing the creation of grants, federal government corporations, and some funding programs and resources such as the Corporation for National & Community Service, AmeriCorps, and the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Furthermore, the Act of 1990 validated the previous efforts of the presidents of Brown, Georgetown and Stanford universities, along with the president of the Education Commission of the States in the creation of Campus Compact (Clearinghouse, et al., 2004). More important, the Act of 1990 ratified The Principles of Good Practice in Combining Service and Learning (1989), a document that experienced service-learning participants at the 1989 Wingspread Conference drafted for the purpose of being implemented nationwide as the foundation for effective programs in schools and on campuses (p. 9). The ten principles are as follows:
1. An effective program engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
2. An effective program provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service-learning experience.
3. An effective program articulates clear service and learning goals for anyone.
4. An effective program allows those with needs to define those needs.
5. An effective program clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
6. An effective program matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes challenging circumstances.
7. An effective program expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.
8. An effective program includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
9. An effective program insures that the time commitment for service-learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interest of all involved.
10. An effective program is committed to program participation by and with diverse population (Porter & Poulsen, 1989, p. preamble).
The previous events finally developed a foundation for mutual understanding of the nature of service-learning among practitioners and theorists. Additionally, Bringle & Hatcher (1995) proposed what has been considered by some experts one of the most accepted definitions in the field:
Service-learning [is] a course-based, credit-bearing, educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organize service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (p. 112).
Ultimately, what is at stake here is that service-learning is an academic activity and, moreover, it is connected to a curriculum. This feature differentiates service-learning from other community-based programs such as community service and volunteering (Furco, 1996). Another distinction from this definition is the assessment of reflection as the critical component of service-learning because it is the link that connects philosophy and pedagogy, theory and practice, universities and communities, the cognitive and the ethical. As Eyler (2001) notes, “Reflection is the hyphen in service-learning; it is the process that helps students connect what they observe and experience in the community with their academic study” (p. 35).