[ added August 10th: What is CSL? Community Service Learning. It’s a partnership between a teacher, the students in his/her course, and a community organization. They combine a course’s learning goals with specific goals and activities that enhance communities. For example, students may create a new brochure for a local health organization. For more information please see the website of the Canadian Alliance for Community Service Learning (CACSL). ]
Okay, so I admit I’m a real supporter of Community Service-Learning. But you also know I’m a rhetorician from the context of this blog, so you will likely be resistant to my direct persuasion!
So I take a negative psychology approach to persuasion in this post. By reflecting on these 10 reasons NOT to do CSL and the social conditions under which it might NOT be wise to try it, you might actually find yourself considering the very good reasons for going ahead and doing it.
Top 10 reasons to avoid Community Service Learning (for now, at least, until you have thought it through).
This is for teachers, community partners, administrators and students who are NEW to CSL
- You are a teacher or student who has learned so much about society and community’s needs through your academic study, and now it’s time to donate your knowledge to the community, who is in dire need of your wisdom and labor because they have not studied what you have. They will be so grateful and happy to receive your ideas and time, right?
- You are a community leader and you figure it’s a cheap way to get something done in your organization. Free student labor can’t hurt, right? You’re thinking they’ll fit in as part-time volunteers. Your new staff member can take care of orienting and supervising the students.
- You are a teacher and you have a lot of demands on your time and attention. You think it will be easier than teaching the course by yourself if you can get the students and community partners to teach each other. Besides, the CSL center will deal with the community so you don’t have to, right?
- You are a student and you think it’s easier than taking a course where there is a lot of academic reading and writing and exams. It’ll just be a lot of fun and a good way to meet friends, right?
- You are an administrator and you think it will be a cheap way of increasing your institution’s ratings on the National Survey of Student Engagement, or a way to beef up your speeches to the community and say that you are giving back to the community.
- You are a community leader and you have no colleagues at other organizations or your own who have tried it before, and you have no local organization that will mentor you in the process of co-creating and guiding a project, and you have no idea how the project will impact your staff’s workload or your organization’s mandate.
- You are a teacher new to service-learning and you have no colleagues at your institution who can mentor you, no CSL center to offer you support, and you have no idea whether your administrators will permit your course to be modified to suit service learning.
- You are a student and you are looking for work experience to put on your resume while you earn credits, and this option looks like a way to do that. But you have no real interest in the subject matter of the course, nor the activities of the organization(s) who are hosting the projects or activities.
- You are an administrator and you want to start a new program in order to get your institution some external funding and leave a legacy for yourself. But you have no plan to sustain community-campus partnerships and build this into your faculty members’ careers and teaching expertise — You haven’t thought at all how community engagement is a mult-faceted win-win approach that is strengthened not only by service-learning but the potential for research partnerships, co-sponsored events, collaborative funding initiatives, alumni initiatives, and the like.
- You are a teacher and you want to impress your colleagues and boss for incorporating this new-fangled innovation, and maybe get a higher course rating from students too.
None of these motives or conditions is really wrong in itself. You might sympathize with some of this and still carry out a successful CSL partnership and project.
HOWEVER, think about what might be problematic about each one. It could lead to a lot of trouble for yourself and/or others down the road if you have unreasonable expectations, inappropriate motives, or a lack of resources for involving yourself and others in community service-learning at this time.