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Of What Use Is It? Multiple Conceptualizations of Service Learning Within Education


by Dan Butin 2003

Service learning has become a prominent feature of the K-16 educational landscape. Service learning is seen to enhance student outcomes, foster a more active citizenry, promote a "scholarship of engagement" among teachers and institutions, support a more equitable society, and reconnect K-16 schools with their local communities. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) the recent proliferation and expansion of service-learning theory and practice, there is a troubling ambiguity concerning even basic principles and goals in the service-learning literature. This article attempts to clarify service-learning practice and theory by offering four distinct conceptualizations of service learning: technical, cultural, political, and poststructuralist. In so doing, it hopes to accomplish two goals: first, to clarify the assumptions of and implications for service learning within each perspective; second, to suggest that the dissonance and synthesis across multiple perspectives offers a means of reframing some of the most vexing problems within service-learning theory and practice. Specifically, this article focuses on the limited community impact of service learning, the limited empirical evidence for defining and articulating best practices that lead to meaningful and sustained student outcomes, and the difficulty of rigorous and authentic assessment of service-learning outcomes. The article offers a means, through multiple perspectives, of reframing and dealing with such issues.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 9, 2003, p. 1674-1692
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11561, Date Accessed: 10/22/2014 11:24:16 AM

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About the Author
  • Dan Butin
    Gettysburg College
    E-mail Author
    DAN W. BUTIN is an assistant professor of education at Gettysburg College. His research focuses on the intersections of critical multiculturalism, poststructuralist thought, and alternative pedagogical strategies. His current project investigates the potential of service learning to disrupt the norms of Whiteness in teacher education. His recent work has appeared in Educational Researcher and Educational Studies.
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