Civic Engagement Through Service Learning and 21st Century Skills: Not Preparation for Life, but Life Itself
“Participate in civic life and democratic decision-making.” This is the sixth on the list of seven 21st Century Skills that students demonstrate and develop through service learning. You can read the discussion of the first of five skills on the list (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ) by using the links in the parentheses or by scrolling down through this blog.
I’m reminded of John Dewey when I read, “Participate in civic life and democratic decision-making.” Dewey told us that, “Education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” (This quote, which is how I usually see it in print, is truncated—here is the whole thing.)
Service learning does not simply prepare students to participate in civic life and democratic decision-making.
Service-learning immerses students in civic life; and there are many opportunities for students to exercise democratic decision-making including, but beyond, simply voting and acting on the majority’s ruling.
But, as usual, there is more to it than that…I’ll try to be succinct.
One of the principles of KIDS model service learning is apprentice citizenship. By having students work with community partners to solve authentic problems and fill real needs, students learn, like an apprentice working and learning with a master craftsperson, why and how to be effective members of our participatory democracy.
The results from evaluations of students doing service learning clearly suggest those dispositions and skills are honed on a range of outcomes. Students develop civic skills (as well as social and academic skills) while doing service-learning.
Perhaps the most interesting outcomes are the measures of an essential attitude—civic efficacy—the belief that, “I can make a difference!” Students involved in service learning score higher on measures of civic efficacy. Because service learning cultivates that attitude it is an invaluable tool for tuning our society.
If you are looking for an example of a project in which students engaged in civic life and modeled democratic ideals, then the winner of the 2009 State Farm Youth Leadership for Excellence in Service-Learning Award is a project about which you should know. As you read the short description, think about how the actions of this group exemplify the spirit of the democratic ethic of valuing all the members of a community.