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New Resources on Service Learning: Diversity Education as a Route to Civic Renewal

As authors Richard Guarasci and Robert Rhodes suggest, and as the scores of newly invented community service programs around the country attest, experiential learning is an essential part of diversity education. Demonstrating that diversity can be a route to civic engagement and the strengthening of communities, service programs are emerging as components of larger curricular transformations. These programs counter criticism that diversity education is divisive. Instead, they represent powerful new models for student learning in and for a diverse and strong democracy.

Guarasci, in the forthcoming book Democratic Education in an Age of Difference (Jossey-Bass), describes a new form of community-based learning that he argues is essential to cultivate, in Benjamin Barber's words, "strong democracy." According to Guarasci, dean of Hobart College, in order to "bring forward a new paradigm of democratic education appropriate for this emerging interculturalism, experiential learning will by necessity play a central and critical role in acquainting both teachers and learners about the particulars of difference in any specific context, as well as honing the pedagogy of multicentric democracy." In calling for a new form of community-based learning, Guarasci believes that through "direct encounter and experience, students and teachers increase their comfort with 'the other,'" while they begin to see their connection to it, as well as its presence within themselves."

Community service education programs can be vehicles to advance students' civic capacities and their abilities to conduct productive "dialogues across difference" and "to build communities of difference."

Guarasci describes the renaissance in service-learning programs around the country and suggests that strong student interest in these programs represents a crucial opportunity for teaching about diversity and reinvigorating democratic citizenship without homogenizing or denying difference. These programs "introduce students to persons, stories, languages, and legacies well beyond the scope of their experience."

Guarasci sketches a paradigm for this new community-based learning, which involves both community service activities and more traditional classroom learning. It also depends on respectful collaborations with community partners who are fully involved in developing both the service and curricular parts of these programs.

In the forthcoming Community Service and Higher Learning (State University of New York Press), Robert Rhodes, professor of educational administration, also argues that community service education programs can be vehicles to advance students' civic capacities and their abilities to conduct productive "dialogues across difference" and "to build communities of difference." He also suggests that "students' involvement in community service provides a basis for creating a more democratic and caring form of higher learning."

In describing a new model for "critical community service," he combines "a theory of service with a feminist ethic of care and democratic concerns for social justice and equality." Rhodes focuses large portions of his book on the voices of students who have participated in community service activities. In these chapters, he argues that "community service is, by its nature, an encounter with diverse others" and can help students "to understand the complexity of postmodern social life." He argues further that "critical community service" can help counter the tendency students often have "to reconcile otherness by situating cultural difference either as irrelevant (as in denying difference) or as something beautiful and exotic."

Rhodes also underscores the importance of designing community service projects around a notion of mutuality-"a relationship that is based on equality and collaboration between the 'doer' (providers of a service) and the 'done to' (receivers of a service). Community service needs to be seen as 'working with people in need rather than working to service them.'"

Selected Resources for Community Service Learning
  • Campus Compact: The Project for Public and Community Service, c/o Brown University, Box 1975, Providence, RI 02912; 401/863-1119; campus@compact.org
  • Campus Outreach Opportunity League, 1511 K Street, NW, Suite 307, Washington, DC 20005; 202/637-7004; homeoffice@cool2serve.org
  • Corporation for National and Community Service, 1201 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20525; 202/606-5000

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