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What is Community Service Learning?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

Community service learning is a type of learning that uses experience in a service setting to teach a variety of skills and concepts. Often, the ideas learned through this type of education are not simply how certain tasks are performed, but also why things work in certain ways or theories relating to the task. As such, community service learning is often taken seriously by schools at all levels and can even result in course credits. This type of education is seen as particularly beneficial because it not only teaches essential concepts and provides a service to the community, but it also teaches responsibility and connects service to satisfaction in the minds of students. Theoretically, students who engage in community service learning may become more responsible and smarter citizens than they might have otherwise.

There are many different ways to approach community service learning, but the most common way is to connect a task that needs to be done with a concept that needs to be learned. For example, in a project that involves building houses, a student might learn geometry and physics while also learning construction skills. By teaching not only how to do a specific component of the task, but also all concepts involved in designing the task, the student can learn important concepts in an experiential environment.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

What skills can be learned through community service learning depends on the program undertaken. A community service learning project might include learning new language skills, math, or even the humanities. The degree to which the specific knowledge sought integrates with the service being performed varies, and some projects may require more traditional classroom components in order to be effective in terms of education.

There are additional components traditionally considered important in community service learning projects that do not directly relate to either service or academics. Generally, these projects are considered more valuable if they are directed at least partially by the students or youth involved, because direct involvement promotes responsibility. Also, groups that believe in service learning often also believe in the importance of a youth voice. Making sure that the service projects are wanted and effective is also considered important.

Much like service tourism, service learning is not perfect. Many people believe that service that provides benefits to the people who are performing the service is a less pure form of humanitarianism, as it is not always entered into from the sole desire to help other people. In response to critics, many people who support this form of learning argue that integrating humanitarian efforts into other kinds of work rather than segregating those feelings into a specific activity is actually an extremely important step toward building a caring community. By teaching that service is a duty all the time, not only while volunteering, these programs teach empathy and responsible living as well.

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