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Political Hermeneutics as Pedagogy: Service Learning, Political Reflection, and Action
Unformatted Document Text:  witnessing nothing short of generation change; that is, that conceptions of citizenship are in flux and the new generation is constructing an alternative and perhaps even more empowered form of citizenship. While I find much of Dalton’s analysis to be very instructive regarding our current generation of college students, I am still left wondering how they will manage to make the connection between their own personalized sets of values and a broader understanding of political and economic structures. Many students are full of moral indignation toward illegal immigrants; however, they are uninspired to reach even a preliminary grasp of a politico-economic system that perpetuates the status quo. These are complex issues; however, I offer a simple assertion that I suggest may be a component of their interpretation. Do our students know how to think about the political? More specifically, have we prepared them to think critically, as citizens, about the political realm? Clearly, I have my doubts regarding a positive answer. I should disclose here that I hold some theoretical biases that I share from an approach to political theory with its roots in the work of Hannah Arendt. While it may represent a most extreme form, I draw much inspiration for her analysis of the trial of one unthinking person. In Eichmann in Jerusalem Arendt (1963) introduces us to a concept of thinking that is inherently tied to both the moral as well as the political realm. Many know Arendt’s work for its Greco-phile privileging of action (1998). I too find resources for inspiration here, but I am especially interested in bringing to view her overall concern with the dangers of thoughtlessness. I should also say that I am not prepared to offer only one account of “authentic” thinking as such. Rather, in the paper (and presentation), I will present and analyze some pedagogical practices that are designed to invite the student to thought, to critical reflection, to moral introspection, and to a listening for the call of vocation and service. Thinking does not stand alone here. Political reflection here gets defined by the nature of its object, the civitas, or the city. Political thinking asks the fundamental question, what is the nature of our responsibility to the civitas? My course design then flows from an intent to encourage students to interrogate the connection between thinking and responsibility, principally regarding the object of the political. A Note about Content and Pedagogy Educators are confronted with an awesome responsibility when they design a new course. Much of our attention is focused on assessment of student learning outcomes and on training students with practical skills. We are harassed by the doubt surrounding how much emphasis to place on knowledge content and dispositions. Some scholars have suggested reasonable challenges regarding the impact of service learning pedagogy in addressing the disconnect between volunteer service, civic engagement, and genuine cognitive development (Hunter and Brisbin 2000). Many experts make pronouncements that knowledge as such is passé; students, properly trained, will learn all new knowledge for themselves. In moral and political theory, there seems to be ample evidence to suggest that this approach is appropriate as the goal, it seems, is to equip students with critical thinking skills for analyzing the political. I will have more below to say about course design, but I want to assert that the content of the course remains vital, especially when the task is to stimulate both reflection and action, indeed to cultivate judgment. What we think about when we think about the political will very much shape how we approach it. The educator must be phenomenologically sensitive to the what the political is (see Bracey 2005). Again, returning to Arendt, the political realm is the space in which citizens appear to one another in their plurality (if not also in their difference) (Arendt 1998, 50). The McKinlay 3

Authors: McKinlay, Patrick.
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witnessing nothing short of generation change; that is, that conceptions of citizenship are in flux
and the new generation is constructing an alternative and perhaps even more empowered form of
citizenship. While I find much of Dalton’s analysis to be very instructive regarding our current
generation of college students, I am still left wondering how they will manage to make the
connection between their own personalized sets of values and a broader understanding of
political and economic structures. Many students are full of moral indignation toward illegal
immigrants; however, they are uninspired to reach even a preliminary grasp of a politico-
economic system that perpetuates the status quo. These are complex issues; however, I offer a
simple assertion that I suggest may be a component of their interpretation. Do our students know
how to think about the political? More specifically, have we prepared them to think critically, as
citizens, about the political realm?
Clearly, I have my doubts regarding a positive answer. I should disclose here that I hold
some theoretical biases that I share from an approach to political theory with its roots in the work
of Hannah Arendt. While it may represent a most extreme form, I draw much inspiration for her
analysis of the trial of one unthinking person. In Eichmann in Jerusalem Arendt (1963)
introduces us to a concept of thinking that is inherently tied to both the moral as well as the
political realm. Many know Arendt’s work for its Greco-phile privileging of action (1998). I too
find resources for inspiration here, but I am especially interested in bringing to view her overall
concern with the dangers of thoughtlessness. I should also say that I am not prepared to offer
only one account of “authentic” thinking as such. Rather, in the paper (and presentation), I will
present and analyze some pedagogical practices that are designed to invite the student to thought,
to critical reflection, to moral introspection, and to a listening for the call of vocation and service.
Thinking does not stand alone here. Political reflection here gets defined by the nature of
its object, the civitas, or the city. Political thinking asks the fundamental question, what is the
nature of our responsibility to the civitas? My course design then flows from an intent to
encourage students to interrogate the connection between thinking and responsibility, principally
regarding the object of the political.
A Note about Content and Pedagogy
Educators are confronted with an awesome responsibility when they design a new course.
Much of our attention is focused on assessment of student learning outcomes and on training
students with practical skills. We are harassed by the doubt surrounding how much emphasis to
place on knowledge content and dispositions. Some scholars have suggested reasonable
challenges regarding the impact of service learning pedagogy in addressing the disconnect
between volunteer service, civic engagement, and genuine cognitive development (Hunter and
Brisbin 2000). Many experts make pronouncements that knowledge as such is passé; students,
properly trained, will learn all new knowledge for themselves. In moral and political theory,
there seems to be ample evidence to suggest that this approach is appropriate as the goal, it
seems, is to equip students with critical thinking skills for analyzing the political. I will have
more below to say about course design, but I want to assert that the content of the course remains
vital, especially when the task is to stimulate both reflection and action, indeed to cultivate
judgment. What we think about when we think about the political will very much shape how we
approach it. The educator must be phenomenologically sensitive to the what the political is (see
Bracey 2005). Again, returning to Arendt, the political realm is the space in which citizens
appear to one another in their plurality (if not also in their difference) (Arendt 1998, 50). The
McKinlay 3


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