I became involved in Service-Learning in 2007, when I added it as a component to my Emotion Seminar. Since that time, and in light of the impact the Service-Learning has on students, I’ve added Service-Learning to two additional courses (General Psychology and Marriage & Family).
I’ve found that students think more about material that might otherwise be memorized for a test and subsequently forgotten. For example, this semester alone a student in General Psychology acknowledged that his mentally categorizing a child as “just a bad kid” was a great illustration of the fundamental attribution error.
Another student, in Emotion, referenced a paper related to prefrontal regulation of amygdale activity in fear and rage responses, when describing a highly impulsive and angry child with whom he was working. In-class discussions about service-learning experiences have revealed that students become more reflective about the motives and meanings in the behavior they observe in others – and themselves.
In one class last year, a student told me that the Service-Learning experience had made her angry with me. I was intrigued. In exploring this with her, she described a situation in which a young girl was in juvenile detention through very unhappy circumstances.
“It’s like she’s being punished, and it’s not her fault. It’s just not fair.” When I agreed that it was incredibly unfair, she blurted something along the lines of, “You should have told us. You should have warned us that it’s not fair.” Now, I’m sure this student had heard, as we all have, the old, “Life’s not fair.” But to really see that bad things can happen to good, sweet kids, and that there is no happy ending for many of them, is to have a powerful experience of “Life’s not fair."
I’ve found that my use of student Service-Learning experiences as touchstone examples in class increases engagement with course content. It is not uncommon for students to linger after class to ask or comment about behavior they have seen at Service Learning – behavior they are trying to understand. Students seem to find compelling the idea that their personal service-learning experiences can be understood through a particular lens - the material covered in class.
In this way, service-learning functions very much as a circular classroom, affecting many students at least as much as those students affect the agencies they serve.
As faculty, we agree to uphold the mission of the university. We are committed to developing the “imagination, intelligence, and moral judgment” of our students. We further “try to provide for our students some understanding of contemporary civilization; and we invite them to reflect with us on the problems and possibilities of a scientific age, the ideological differences that separate the peoples of the world, and the rights and responsibilities that come from commitment to a free society.” For myself, I find Service-Learning to be the most powerful pedagogical tool I have as I try to meet these goals