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Working Side by Side: Creating Alternative Breaks as Catalysts for Global Learning, Student Leadership, and Social Change
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Sumka, Porter, and Piacitelli offer both the history and strategy of an emerging educational model that crosses borders between disciplines to develop competencies and leadership characteristics for social change. The authors document “short-term, student-run immersion service trips” designed to sharpen critical thinking and deepen commitment to future action for social justice (8). In this study their primary example of the alternative break movement is an organization called Break Away that grew out of Vanderbilt University. This and other new programs like the Alternative Break Citizenship school (ABCs) are rooted in efforts from the 1960s that experimented in transformational learning experiences combining travel, intercultural dialogue, collective action, and critical theorizing. A common denominator of these programs is the goal of social justice education.
One theoretical framework undergirding these programs is an “active citizen continuum” pointing the way toward authentic relationships for life-long reflection, action, and community enrichment (10). The integration of critical theory and practice moves participants beyond charity and critical theorizing to active citizenship and intercultural competence. A key component of these programs is student leadership. By practicing the actual implementation of the model from the planning and training stages, students gain confidence and facility with each step of the work. In addition to providing the history and theory behind the programs, this book offers practical details contributing to the success of the learning. Readers find pointers on working relationships between staff and students as organizers and leaders of the trips, the alcohol and drug free policy, clarification of the roles of staff versus student leaders, as well as ideas about training, assessing, and fund-raising.
The study would be strengthened by further development of the concept of justice. Despite the significance of social justice to this work, little attention is given to making explicit what is meant by justice. Similarly, the concept of global learning could be explored in relationship to literature on intercultural dialogue, collective action, and transcending political borders. Although this book provides an introductory discussion of what community means, contrasting communities of affinity versus communities of geography, the extensive body of work in philosophical and critical theory developing that distinction is not acknowledged (351). In other words, the academic and intellectual strands contributing to this model are not noted with as much care as the recent history of the particular program.
This is a compelling read for anyone interested in learning that fosters authentic relationships rooted in “values of social justice, dignity, empowerment, and capacity building” (33). Although religious and theological frameworks are not discussed directly, schools or educators who offer immersion or intercultural learning experiences will benefit from reading this research. The authors’ caution about the tendency to slip toward do-gooder tourism, poverty tourism, and forms of educational travel where privileged students unwittingly perpetuate legacies of colonialism is timely and relevant.The conclusion of this book includes observations about the “need for inspiration and collective action” (359). If faith communities hope to be known as sources of inspiration and collective action in the future, this book offers potential for fertile common ground.
Teaching Civic Engagement
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own terms and in its increased diversity? What unique contributions does religious studies offer the public sphere, especially when seen as separate from the work of religious communities who concentrate on religious belonging? How might the disciplines dedicated to such study offer a distinctive shape and response to the civic mission of the contemporary university?” (xiv-xv). Further uniting the individual contributors’ perspectives are their insights offered towards the development of a model of civic engagement that answers these questions.
Section I describes the CLEA model of civic engagement. The employed acronym is drawn from the terms complexity, location, empathy, and action. The terms refer to dimensions, better still, capacities essential for civic participation emerging from the “virtues of civility, reasoned deliberation, and commitment to the common good” (xiii). The intellectual capacity needed for democratic society is evident when persons achieve awareness of the complexity of the world, especially a view of the world beyond the way the powerful control the interpretation of social reality (8-10, 14, 25). As democracy blossoms into pluralism, the person who would be a responsible citizen must exhibit awareness of his or her social location and point of view relative to that of other persons (15, 27-28). Beyond awareness of difference, he or she must have empathy, namely a sense of connection to others as all are (or should be) in pursuit of the common good (15-16, 31). The responsible citizen must act on what he or she has come to know as true (16, 34).
In Section II, various strategies for teaching civic engagement are described. Among the various methods used for teaching civic engagement is reflective writing which is summary and evaluation of different points of view relative to one’s own view (49, 50-53). In critical assessment of texts and media, students learn to interrogate symbols, internet (websites), newspaper and news programs, visual and performing arts, and various forms of entertainment (49, 53-54, 88-89, 95) but also learn how they may be used responsibly (100-102). Field trips are immensely helpful aids in teaching (49, 54-55, 77-80, 119-121). Another method of teaching civic engagement is community-based learning which involves teachers and students going into the community as well as representatives from the community visiting their classroom (49, 55-56, 66-71, 110, 112, 136-137). Engagement may also be taught through students’ involvement in community service projects designed to address a need or problem in a community (49, 57, 110, 112). Ascetic withdrawal, for example, in the form of abstinence from or limiting use of cell phones, smart phones, email and texting, impulse buying, consumption of fast-food, use of products made through exploited labor, may enable students to empathize with other persons adversely affected by American consumerism and to discern and cease the unhealthy habits they have formed through compulsive behaviors (93-94, 151, 155). Successful teaching requires creativity in the selection of instructional methods as well as discernment of the combination of methods, two or more, that will lead to achievement of specified learning objectives (58-59).
Section III goes further into defining civic engagement and locating it within the curriculum. Civic engagement is defined as participation in political processes such as voting, development of relationships, and collaborations or partnerships that lead to policy that contributes to the common good (165, 167, 170, 175). Civic engagement is not only local and national but also global (184). It is connected to, inseparable from, the idea of social justice (185). Also, it is connected to advocacy, not taking a political position but rather “taking a side in a debate and arguing for it” (209-210). Disagreement about the relation of and distinction between religious studies and theology is resolved in the consensus that both function best as means for analysis and critique of societal and cultural traditions that result in privilege and inequality (236). Whether in religious studies or theology, the course offered in civic engagement is an opportunity for students and teachers to practice democracy (17, 188-190, 246-247).
In spite of the charge that the described teaching methods are difficult to grade and are not academically rigorous (37-39, 218-220), this volume of essays merits consideration. It is a rich resource on instructional methods. The combined essays offer a substantive definition of civic engagement. Most importantly, the collection correlates teaching method to the cultivation of capacities needed for life in democratic society.
Learning Through Serving: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities, 2nd Edition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
First published in 2005, Learning through Serving is a collection of critical thought on the nature of service-learning, as well as a practical field guide for educators looking to expand their skills in this arena. Cress, Collier, Reitenauer, and their colleagues at Portland State University seek to respond to the organic growth of service programs in contemporary higher education – both curricular and extracurricular. Fundamentally, the authors consider service-learning as a liberatory pedagogical tool that induces students to take control of their own learning, and deconstructs the banking model of schooling (famously attacked by Paolo Freire) that remains dominant in much contemporary education. Learning through Serving is intentionally transdisciplinary, and will certainly be helpful for religious studies or theology educators who employ community-based learning or service-learning models. The wealth of experience the authors share, their diverse voices, and lucid consideration of socially-engaged pedagogy yield great value for those seeking to deepen their practice of service-learning.
The authors’ goals are to assist educators and students in thinking through their community service experiences, in the interest of holistic conscientious formation: “In sum, the book is about how to make academic sense of civic service in preparing for students’ roles as future citizen leaders” (xix). Although some readers might balk at the emphasis on “leadership” – and even the use of the term “service” itself – the authors consider a variety of leadership styles suited for different contexts, and make considerable effort to attend to questions of privilege and social justice. This is interspersed throughout the text, but the authors also dedicate a full chapter (“Creating Cultural Connections”) to addressing these issues explicitly.
This guide was constructed with the intention that it would be read in the context of an academic class – thus the chapters are arranged to build on one another throughout the course of a semester. Learning through Serving is composed as a textbook, placing great emphasis on clarity and structure, without sacrificing substance for the sake of readability. The different chapters oscillate between hands-on course planning and more theoretical treatments of civic engagement and democratic philosophy. The new edition makes a particular effort to attend to the global interconnectedness that increasingly defines contemporary digital realities. Service-learning courses have traditionally cultivated porous boundaries between “town” and “gown,” but in an academic climate that increasingly embraces remote student enrollment, service-learning benefits from critically considering how it might adjust to accommodate – and even take advantage of – new developments in university structure, while empowering students to be responsible citizens.
Cress and her colleagues are experienced enough to know that, in practice, service-learning courses rarely go as planned, and that for a variety of reasons, instructors may have to adjust their approach mid-semester. Ultimately, the service component of a class aspires to be interwoven into the fabric of the more formal coursework, integrating the two elements into a mutually-enhancing, symbiotic whole. Learning through Serving offers a wealth of pedagogical advice for service-learning courses, but also situates service-learning within a larger commitment to civic engagement and building a more just society. It contains invaluable nuts-and-bolts course planning assistance, and gives wise counsel on how to develop enduring, reciprocal community partnerships that build capacity for the long haul.
Community Partner Guide to Campus Collaborations: Enhancing Your Community by Becoming a Co-Educator With Colleges and Universities
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
Growing up with a father who served as the director of the service-learning experiences at a faith-based college, I heard many stories of the joys and challenges of academic and non-profit agencies trying to work together. Later in my own teaching career, similar stories emerged as I witnessed the power and problems of out-of-the-classroom learning experiences. With a clearly stated goal (12), the authors of Community Partner Guide to Campus Collaboration effectively present an orderly guide for non-academic organizations to begin to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with post-secondary institutions.
Building on the premise that “effective community-campus relationships educate students and enhance communities” (4), the authors provide multiple ideas and strategies for a community group to function in partnership with a post-secondary institution. After a brief introductory chapter, the book lays out in subsequent chapters particular ways for non-profit leaders to explore and establish potential relationships with colleges and instructors. Within the opening chapters, the authors provide a useful definition of reciprocity that notes the differences between charity and solidarity (41) in community-campus relationships. The authors set a foundation on which a mutually beneficial relationship for both organizational and individual involvement in such partnerships can be constructed. The book also presents a variety of examples to explain the concepts of community-campus relationships.
Building on the opening chapters, the authors outline specific steps to assist an agency coordinator in both engaging faculty and empowering students for engaged learning. Again, a variety of practical examples and creative ideas are suggested. The final chapter on evaluation helps community partners, academic instructors, and students evaluate both the impact of their work with the organization and their own personal involvement and learning through such engaged learning experiences.
There is little to criticize about this book since it speaks clearly to both academic and non-academic organizations. The authors’ illustrations demonstrate a breadth of experience working within both types of organizations and their writing style is welcoming to readers who may be unacquainted with how community group and college partnerships work together to produce significant student learning outcomes. Some checklists may have provided a helpful summary, but there are other visual clues in the book to emphasize their key points and demonstrate the benefits of this educational approach.
The authors are clearly convinced that “communities are stronger when campuses and community agencies collaborate because it creates knowledgeable and engaged students who give back to their communities as committed citizens long after they graduate” (108). Their manual, written specifically for helping non-academic people navigate the post-secondary world, also benefits academics interested in connecting their students to experiential learning opportunities.
eService-Learning: Creating Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement Through Online and Hybrid Courses
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2016
This bookadvocates civic engagement and service learning in higher education to provide students with transformative learning experiences. Linking service learning with online learning the authors present eService-Learning – a high-impact modality of learning for the twenty-first century. Contributors to the volume present research on teaching and learning as it relates to eService-Learning and provide best practices on how to incorporate eService-Learning experiences in courses and curricula.
Divided into three parts, the first part of the book consists of four chapters setting forth “Essentials, Components, and Nuts and Bolts of eService-Learning.” Contributors present a rationale for civic engagement and service learning in higher education (7-19) and provide theoretical foundations for service and experiential learning, coupling both theory and practice to the emerging field of online learning (20-39). Authors guide readers in creating syllabi and learning experiences that facilitate the development of aptitudes and skills for service in online courses (40-57) and address the technology requirements for implementing eService-Learning (58-66).
The second part, “Models for eService-Learning,” introduces readers to five different models for implementing eService-Learning as illustrated by universities that have implemented it at course or program levels. Models described leverage online and on-site learning in the following ways: (1) instruction online, service-learning on-site (69-88); (2) e-portfolio and reflection online, instruction and collaboration with service partners in class (89-104); (3) instruction and service partially on-site and online (105-118); (4) instruction and service conducted online (119-129); and (5) a mixed hybrid of models (130-143). Research in part two provides a critique and analysis of these five models of eService-Learning and step-by-step guidance for implementing each model.
The third part, “Next Steps And Future Directions” provides advice to administrators and faculty interested in implementing eService-Learning at the course or program level. The first of two chapters describes the challenges that universities face if they question the relevance of higher education. The author skillfully argues that eService-Learning can reassert the relevance and worth of higher education in the twenty-first century (149-163). The final chapter expands the horizons of eService-Learning beyond the borders of higher education, suggesting possible applications for K-12 education, workplace training, learners with disabilities, and senior adults (164-166).
This book is to be commended for articulating a rationale for including outcomes related to civic engagement and service-learning in higher education and best practices for using online technologies to implement eService-Learning in courses and curricula. A conspicuous strength is the description of various eService-Learning models. As such, the volume is particularly valuable for faculty and administrators in higher education.