Service Learning

Dowload The Prout Research Institute Service Learning Toolkit  Part I

Dowload The Prout Research Institute Service Learning Toolkit  Part II

Dowload The Prout Research Institute Service Learning Toolkit  Part III

Download The Prout Research Institute Service Learning Toolkit Part IV

Service-learning – Bringing Neohumanism to Life

with Matt Oppenheim, Ph.D/Mayajiit

Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse

http://www.servicelearning.org/what-is-service-learning

Breaking it down

  • Research and evaluation of service-learning demonstrates that students learn academic subjects more effectively, are more committed to graduating school, and are dedicated to a life of service through service-learning.
  • Service-learning is focused on a specific community need that is proven through research, outreach and collaboration with community organizations.
  • The service project integrates instruction in that it directly applies academic goals, standards and content through the process.
  • With reflection, students become more conscious about how the experience is affecting them, how it is impacting academic goals, how it affects skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork as well as how it is impacting the community.
  • Another goal is to teach civic responsibility, in demonstrating that students learn ways to advocate for needed changes, and take part in the civic process in their communities and at higher levels.
  • Finally, students strengthen community by helping others become more empowered, by drawing people together in collaboration, and engaging with community goals.

Neohumanism and Service-Learning

Neohumanism spreads the sweet touch of universal love throughout the created universe.  We bring this spirit to life when we build into our educational curriculum the means to make these relationships concrete through experiential learning tied to service.  We actually can exist in mutual love through our actions.  We address inequities, injustices and can restore our relationship with the environment in harmony with Neohumanistic love.  Around the world, neohumanist schools are realizing this mission through a wide range of service-learning projects.  More and more schools in more affluent countries are assisting schools and communities in countries that suffer from the lack of basic necessities. Most schools are realizing that their local communities, neighborhood, country and global communities is where they want to be engaged.

For the past twelve years I have been immersed in service-learning through my role in universities, public school systems, and nonprofit organizations.  I see students come to life by applying their academic skills to real life challenges.  Students use their math skills in teaching accounting to recent immigrants.  They work with neighborhoods in creating community gardens, bringing communities together in supplying their own food.  They put on a play about their love of the earth and the protection of endangered animals for a community environmental protection program.  They apply the social justice value of a leader like Martin Luther King, in addressing injustices such as basic healthcare and worker rights, the right to fair housing, and the right to fair treatment under the court system.  Service-learning often begins with a short and easy to manage project.  One of my own greatest joys is to watch students lead their own classes, as they form teams and organize their work together.  Driven by a cause and sense of idealism and purpose, they are no longer driven to learn just to achieve academic goals.

Service-Learning as well as nurturing Neohumanist values and principles; challenging geo-sentiment and socio-sentiment and expanding universal by service to our eco-systems, is also a Proutistic process.  A great way to begin a service-learning campaign is to do a survey of local community needs and talents – P.R. Sarkar admonishes us to “get to know the people” and serve their needs.  It is a way of building social and political power from the grassroots.  Students realize that local problems are also global, as a country like the US depends on manufacturing from third world countries under extreme exploitation.   They become aware of the impact of Genetically Modified Food (GMO’s) and advocate for changes in agriculture and against the power of huge mega-corporations.  Of great importance as service-learning grows and expands over the years is the potential to develop regional economic, health and social development goals, and to unite with like-minded schools, communities and organizations.  Service-learning also teaches appreciation of diverse peoples and languages as students become part of a variety of communities that they might not normally be exposed to.

Service-learning programs often strive to create “Servant Leaders” – students who work selflessly as leaders with the sole goal of helping to transform communities as they transform their own lives.  In other words, service-learning leadership leads to the creation of beginning “Sadvipras” – spiritual leaders who have a wide range of qualities and skills and can bring other people to act towards change on a number of levels.

As students become impassioned about issues, they find ways to work with local council members or to mount a protest if needed.  Often, they may hold a “teach-in” at their school, where they invite local activists and agencies to discuss common concerns.  They may start a cooperative at their school to develop local economics.

How to Carry Out a Service-learning Project? (See Service-learning Ideas below)

(1).   A service-learning project starts by addressing a local issue or need.  Often students may survey community members, go on a walkabout around the community to observe problems or issues.

(2).  The teacher helps students identify academic skills to use in the process.  These projects usually help boost language and writing skills, but also involve math, science or social studies.  A local history project is a great way to use language art skills and history at the same time.

(3).  When a project has been identified, then students find collaborators to work with them as partners.  One school identified the need to have wheel-chair ramps for disabled students.  A local architect helped students design the ramp using geometry, while construction workers helped them to construct several ramps.

One of my favorite projects was to introduce the life and social change work of Cesar Chavez to a middle school in California.  We created educational kits that included a DVD about his life; a biography; wall posters and campaign pins.  Chavez led large strikes so farmworkers could obtain health care, affordable housing and education.  Some students helped develop signs in Spanish at worksites.  Others developed presentations about free healthcare, legal and workplace rights.  This project culminated in a community-wide festival about Chavez.  A local drama troupe created a play about his life; and a unique school garden started developing with an outdoor theatre, sculptures and mosaic murals and extensive organic food beds.

(4).  After a project is carried out, surveys and evaluations measure the success for the projects upon students learning, their appreciation of the world around them and their increasing commitment to education.  An evaluation of partners and those served can inform students about how to effectively partner with both and how to achieve the goals of the service project.

(5).  Students reflect upon what they are learning and how they are developing throughout the whole project.  This may be done by regular journal writing and group discussions.  It may also be done through poetry or art.  Students often change from the beginning to the end of the project.

(6).  The final step is to present and share the project to the wider community, the school and to their families, so that they can appreciate and understand the power and purpose of service-learning.

Students become life-long service organizers and get involve in other community change efforts.  They often have a stronger sense of purpose and commitment in finishing school, and also report that they know much better how to carry out their own projects for the benefit of communities. They form lifelong contacts and relationships.