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Political Hermeneutics as Pedagogy: Service Learning, Political Reflection, and Action
Unformatted Document Text:  More important, these speculative ventures when tied to their service praxis suggested that students might actually be engaging in active reflection, if not on occasion, something hinging on hermeneutic reflection. Displacing their experience from their everyday experience, the service project, the disremptive readings, and the relatively firm criteria of the various ethical approaches explored in class provided a setting for students to engage in actual critical reflection. Is this necessarily authentic “thinking”? Perhaps. What is more intriguing is whether the students have acquired a mode of learning that will travel with them into other courses, other experiences. I cannot claim to have established a monitoring system that will tell me with any accuracy whether this particular learning experience will shape their future learning or action. Nonetheless, I believe the relative success of so many students with respect to the specific learning outcomes crafted for this course indicates that they have at least once engaged in a political hermeneutics of self-reflection. One conclusion I might draw from this analysis is that a pedagogy of political hermeneutics would best be experienced in multiple contexts. Indeed, the service learning faculty at Morningside have formed a Service Learning Working Group which is committed to supporting one another’s individual efforts in utilizing these pedagogies. What may yet be possible is to measure the combined impact of such multiple experiences for our students in a variety of disciplines. We have already noticed a small but not insignificant number of students who seem to seek out diverse disciplinary service learning courses. How ought faculty conspire to make this learning cumulative? From Civic Engagement to Civic and Political Responsibility: Prospects for Political Hermeneutics While one is properly reluctant to derive too many hard conclusions from the assessment data, I do believe that this hybrid pedagogy offers something for the instructor interested in addressing the disconnect between civic engagement and civic duty and responsibility. If students come to our classrooms with an openness to volunteerism and an interest in taking direct action (Dalton 2008), how can we craft their learning experience so that it helps them challenge their own dispositions and confront their likely lack of political fervor and political knowledge. How concerned ought we to be as political scientists regarding their future political and ethical comportment after graduation? Political hermeneutics suggests that we cannot (and indeed should not) require a specific conception of citizenship and an ideal of political reflection to be demonstrated in students. Rather, the pedagogy is interested in providing students with an approach to political reflection and also then to political action that encourages the student to continue engaging in the political play of interpretation and understanding of their own political worlds. How they choose to appear in their respective public realms reflects their own expression of political freedom. More important is, have they experienced a setting for a combination of reflection on prejudgments, an awareness of new and different circumstances experienced by an Other, an opportunity for shared service and learning about themselves in the process? Political hermeneutics encourages students to develop skills as well as dispositions that invite opportunities to “think about what they are doing” when they enter the public realm, or confront life’s mysteries and challenges in their own personal private one. Future research will require some longitudinal capacity in the approach that permits a developmental picture of this learning strategy. What is more, I believe that a more comprehensive and cross-disciplinary conversation on campus will facilitate reinforcement of McKinlay 16

Authors: McKinlay, Patrick.
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More important, these speculative ventures when tied to their service praxis suggested
that students might actually be engaging in active reflection, if not on occasion, something
hinging on hermeneutic reflection. Displacing their experience from their everyday experience,
the service project, the disremptive readings, and the relatively firm criteria of the various ethical
approaches explored in class provided a setting for students to engage in actual critical reflection.
Is this necessarily authentic “thinking”? Perhaps. What is more intriguing is whether the
students have acquired a mode of learning that will travel with them into other courses, other
experiences. I cannot claim to have established a monitoring system that will tell me with any
accuracy whether this particular learning experience will shape their future learning or action.
Nonetheless, I believe the relative success of so many students with respect to the specific
learning outcomes crafted for this course indicates that they have at least once engaged in a
political hermeneutics of self-reflection.
One conclusion I might draw from this analysis is that a pedagogy of political
hermeneutics would best be experienced in multiple contexts. Indeed, the service learning
faculty at Morningside have formed a Service Learning Working Group which is committed to
supporting one another’s individual efforts in utilizing these pedagogies. What may yet be
possible is to measure the combined impact of such multiple experiences for our students in a
variety of disciplines. We have already noticed a small but not insignificant number of students
who seem to seek out diverse disciplinary service learning courses. How ought faculty conspire
to make this learning cumulative?
From Civic Engagement to Civic and Political Responsibility: Prospects for Political
Hermeneutics
While one is properly reluctant to derive too many hard conclusions from the assessment
data, I do believe that this hybrid pedagogy offers something for the instructor interested in
addressing the disconnect between civic engagement and civic duty and responsibility. If
students come to our classrooms with an openness to volunteerism and an interest in taking
direct action (Dalton 2008), how can we craft their learning experience so that it helps them
challenge their own dispositions and confront their likely lack of political fervor and political
knowledge. How concerned ought we to be as political scientists regarding their future political
and ethical comportment after graduation? Political hermeneutics suggests that we cannot (and
indeed should not) require a specific conception of citizenship and an ideal of political reflection
to be demonstrated in students. Rather, the pedagogy is interested in providing students with an
approach to political reflection and also then to political action that encourages the student to
continue engaging in the political play of interpretation and understanding of their own political
worlds. How they choose to appear in their respective public realms reflects their own
expression of political freedom. More important is, have they experienced a setting for a
combination of reflection on prejudgments, an awareness of new and different circumstances
experienced by an Other, an opportunity for shared service and learning about themselves in the
process? Political hermeneutics encourages students to develop skills as well as dispositions that
invite opportunities to “think about what they are doing” when they enter the public realm, or
confront life’s mysteries and challenges in their own personal private one.
Future research will require some longitudinal capacity in the approach that permits a
developmental picture of this learning strategy. What is more, I believe that a more
comprehensive and cross-disciplinary conversation on campus will facilitate reinforcement of
McKinlay 16


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