I saw this exchange between Gary Stager and Miguel Guhlin late this evening after returning home from the senior awards dinner:


Last year at this time, I was doing a lot of writing about the creation of a class called Connections, a writing class aimed at critical thinking, analytic reading, and centered around the idea of transfer.  We had been working with teachers for a few months on the ideas behind it, but had no model for what it would look like.  During the last few weeks of school here, I am going to be meeting with those teachers to do some exploratory surgery on the class after one year of implementation.

One element that all of the nine teachers who taught the class this year seemed to center on, and something they all indicated generated the most interest from the students, was that of service learning.  What gave me pause was that most of the service learning projects we did all had to do with raising money or buying materials for the causes we employed (one group did raise money to make a series of Kiva loans, which was an interesting process).  Is that what our students are viewing as service learning?

Gary and Miguel’s brief conversation brought this out again for me, and in conversations with my boss lately we have been wondering if there is reason to shift any service-type project away from raising money, and more towards raising awareness.  Timely enough, ASCD released a brief meta-analysis of research on service learning projects.  According to the studies examined, projects with

the strongest effects have generally been found for service learning programs that have the explicit aim of developing active citizenship, in contrast with those that emphasize community service and character building.

So the question as I go into helping the teachers redesign their process is how can we capture the motivation that the students showed this past year for raising money, and harness it in some project that is civic-minded and has little or no connection to raising money and sending it elsewhere.  It jives very well with Gary’s line above.  Let’s see if we can take care of our own house in the hopes that it will make those around us better for it.


6 thoughts on “Glocal?

  1. Well I believe that there is a big difference between performing service and funding something. Getting ones hands dirty so to speak, looking the world in the eye in the first person is a far cry from sending money to some place – even if that “someplace” is next door or around the world. Perhaps being there and doing something is more powerful.

    I remember coming back from a trip to rural Guatemala when my son was only 6. We were not on a “service learning” trip, but learning was important (as was authenticity and fun). When a few days after Sam returned to school and he did his oral report (to make up for the two weeks of school he had missed) Sam showed a picture of a home we stopped at along the dirt road. In the picture the father and son were burning the edge if the jungle. He told his first grade classmates that this was “slash and burn”. His teacher interupted to remind the class that they had read about how terrible slash and burn was, and how it was destroying the rain forest. Sam paused, looked his teacher I’m the eye, and proceeded to explain to her that the man was trying to enlarge his “yard” enough so he could have a cow because his children were not healthy without milk. The teacher was flabbergasted. I was glad to be there to support Sam as he patiently explained that the family was not bad for doing “slash and burn”, but that the man was a good man because he was doing what he could for his children. Sam went on to say that helping people build roads to get to stores, or teaching them about goat milk might be a good way to help, but that HE believed not all “slash and burners” we “bad people who don’t care about the planet”.

    Sam was too young to take much action, but his firsthand account surely made an impact.

    1. I apologize for the many typos in my reply above, it was sent late in the night from my iPhone and I missed the several “spelling corrections” where the phone “helped me”.

      I asked Sam if he remembered this incident when I spoke with him, he said, “Yeah, I think it was the beginning of me understanding that sometimes I knew more than the books at school and that I should speak up and share what I knew”

      Remarkable. (By the way, Sam is almost 20 now)

  2. WOW Let me say that again WOW. Gail what a great story. Patrick a great post… you always seem to be the voice in my head. I can not tell you how grateful I am that you have time to think and write. We are working on a Faith in Action program and I have not been able to spend quality time really thinking about it so you have given me a jump start. There is a balance here but in the end what ever you do needs to somehow be personal/ have a real face. I need to think about the statement:
    the strongest effects have generally been found for service “learning programs that have the explicit aim of developing active citizenship, in contrast with those that emphasize community service and character building.”

    What is active citizenship versus community service? This concept takes some unpacking especially at the K-8 level so I hope this conversation will continue.

    1. Barbara, I think you are right about having a personal touch or a face… but I think it goes a bit further, to having a personal ACTION… doing something directly related to the need – ESPECIALLY in the early years. Raising money to give to an agency to buy a goat for a family is so abstract and forgettable.

  3. Yes I agree, Gail. We are working on that and even when the students raise money we try to have them use that money to finance an action they take ie they raise money then use that money to buy food and gifts and to organize and put on a Christmas party for needy families in our community.
    But I suspect this is still community service not citizenship in the way Patrick is talking about…so what is the next level?

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