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Volume 17, Number 1
January/February 2001

The Benefits of Service-Learning

 

Elbert Hubbard, a popular homespun philosopher at the start of the 20th century, had some words of wisdom well worth reconsidering at the start of the 21st century: "A school should not be a preparation for life," Hubbard observed. "It should be life." How right he was. Survey after survey shows the public expects today's students to be well versed not just in reading, math, and science, but also in the citizenship skills they'll need in a complex and increasingly diverse America. And surely in a nation where even a hotly contested presidential election barely draws a 50 percent turnout, it's time for schools to better engage students in our civic life. My high school civics teacher made government come alive for us; that's what inspired my lifelong interest in public service. Today we have an innovative teaching method for making civics lessons real for all students: service-learning.

By its very definition, civic responsibility means taking a healthy role in the life of one's community. That means that classroom lessons should be complemented by work outside the classroom. Service-learning does just that, tying community service to academic lessons. Students apply their classroom lessons in English, government, science, math, economics, and other subjects to very real community problems. They learn while they serve and thus establish a link between the joy of learning and the joy of service that rewards them throughout their lifetime. Service-learning helps students become engaged in the public issues of their community, and fosters respect and tolerance for others. This education method has been drawing rave reviews wherever it is tried, and I'm excited about it too.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.

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