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Political Participation Exercises as a Means to Teach Civic Skills, Engage Students and Recruit Majors
Unformatted Document Text:  learning assignment to be the most effective it must include time for reflection, and for a service learning assignment to teach civic skills it must have a political component built into its design. Hunter and Brisbin (2003) found that 11 percent of faculty who use service learning did not require any reflection or processing. If deeper insight and comprehension are one of the goals of these participatory activities, how can we assume that students easily see the connections between larger issues and their own acts? As Walker states, “feeding the hungry does nothing to disrupt or rethink poverty or injustice…as educators, our task is to take the students’ experiences and help them understand the larger social and political context” (2000, p. 647). In other words, instructors need to help students make the connection between their individual experience and the larger world of politics and power. Students are often inclined to volunteer or join non-profit groups, but they don’t always see how a political party or involvement in campaigns and elections can achieve more effective and more wide-reaching policy goals. Moreover, traditional service learning assignments might increase community involvement, but much of the participation is not political in nature. For this reason, at century’s turn, the luster of service learning as a means to teach political participation skills became slightly worn. In many service learning assignments, students simply do not see the larger political implications of their work because they aren’t doing political work, but rather more volunteer, philanthropic activities. Indeed, Ball (2005) discusses the “mixed, but generally discouraging, empirical record” that community involvement or service leads to political engagement (p. 287). John Saltmarsh (2005) adds, “in the early 1990s … the emphasis [in service learning activities] was on a reflective, community-based pedagogy rather than on civic learning outcomes. While it was assumed to occur, civic learning was oftentimes omitted as a 7

Authors: Lupo, Lindsey. and Griffin, Rebecca Brandy.
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learning assignment to be the most effective it must include time for reflection, and for a service
learning assignment to teach civic skills it must have a political component built into its design.
Hunter and Brisbin (2003) found that 11 percent of faculty who use service learning did
not require any reflection or processing. If deeper insight and comprehension are one of the
goals of these participatory activities, how can we assume that students easily see the
connections between larger issues and their own acts? As Walker states, “feeding the hungry
does nothing to disrupt or rethink poverty or injustice…as educators, our task is to take the
students’ experiences and help them understand the larger social and political context” (2000, p.
647). In other words, instructors need to help students make the connection between their
individual experience and the larger world of politics and power. Students are often inclined to
volunteer or join non-profit groups, but they don’t always see how a political party or
involvement in campaigns and elections can achieve more effective and more wide-reaching
policy goals.
Moreover, traditional service learning assignments might increase community
involvement, but much of the participation is not political in nature. For this reason, at century’s
turn, the luster of service learning as a means to teach political participation skills became
slightly worn. In many service learning assignments, students simply do not see the larger
political implications of their work because they aren’t doing political work, but rather more
volunteer, philanthropic activities. Indeed, Ball (2005) discusses the “mixed, but generally
discouraging, empirical record” that community involvement or service leads to political
engagement (p. 287). John Saltmarsh (2005) adds, “in the early 1990s … the emphasis [in
service learning activities] was on a reflective, community-based pedagogy rather than on civic
learning outcomes. While it was assumed to occur, civic learning was oftentimes omitted as a
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