The Importance of Service Learning

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When a woman approached Benjamin Franklin following the concluding session of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the fall of 1787 and asked what sort of government the delegates had come up with, Franklin famously replied: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it." The relevance of that notable statement transcended centuries and applied itself not only to national politics. The People’s participation in maintaining an agreeable government depends on a collective activism regarding both state and local civic affairs.

Arizonans must become more active in the multiple facets of public service. In a state that has experienced tremendous population growth over the past couple decades, these migrants have found themselves disconnected from their new communities. In addition, there is a demand to increase the rate of volunteering, as more communities struggle with the current recession and state budget cuts. There is also a need to boost voter participation; citizens of a diverse state such as Arizona should take advantage of available political forums to contribute their varied opinions and solutions – or else legislation passed won’t reflect the true wishes of the people.

One way to ensure a civically engaged population is to nurture and promote amongst youth and teenagers the value of participating in one’s community, with the hope that involvement will continue into adulthood. Most school districts in Arizona do not require students to volunteer as a graduation requirement. Those that do, necessitate a number of hours to be completed and logged individually; for example, Deer Valley Unified School District in Maricopa County requires eight hours of volunteering during a student’s senior year. Of course any opportunity for one to help society should be applauded – however, this particular process negates cooperative long-term attachment to a beneficial project and does not incorporate knowledge learned in class, or apply meaning in a real-life context. The implementation of Service-learning programs into public school curriculum would uphold useful skills associated with community involvement and citizenship, as well as address problems in real settings rather than do repetitious tasks in seclusion.

Service-learning is defined as a “course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995).

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