Everything, especially when those names are being misused. Two articles have come to my attention recently, both supposedly being about service learning. Unfortunately, a Vice Principal at a high school and the Philanthropy News Digest have failed to distinguish between service learning and community service, making serious claims against service learning as an effective way to create compassionate citizens and leaders in our community capable of thinking on their own, researching root causes of issues, and taking action.
Both articles maintain that 'service learning' as they call it is not effective, and when required by the schools actually leads students to stop volunteering and participating in their schools later in life. While this in itself is concerning, it becomes clear to those of us who actually participate in Service Learning, that both authors have confused the pedagogy of true service learning with after school and extra curricular community service, often completed by youth for required hours.
Many people confuse the two. In fact, I just collaborated with Girl Scouts in a workshop last weekend to teach the difference between a community service project and service learning. Community service is most often a one time (or even regular) volunteer event such as a food drive, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or picking up litter in a park.
Service learning is long term, researching the root cause(s) of an issue, working with a community rather than for them, working for a sustainable solution with a long term rather than short term impact. An example project that has come out of our service learning program Penny Harvest is a school researching nutrition in their school, researching gardening, collecting pennies to fund a school garden, planting as a school community, and harvesting the garden for their school cafeteria and local community.
In another example, students were talking about homelessness and discovered that homeless kids in their community did not have a place to go to do their homework after school or hang out and be kids. The kids researched the issue, worked with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and ended up creating a library in one of their shelters. The kids organized a book drive in their school, and used their Penny Harvest funds for other supplies. They also worked with the local senior citizen center to establish an after school tutoring and literacy program. The project was so successful, they duplicated the model in a second shelter the following year.
While community service projects are still great ways to introduce youth to giving back to their community, and very valuable shown here in Youth Service America's collection of reports, Service Learning is a very different opportunity for learning to give back. In fact, #6 in YSA's top ten reasons for giving back states that: HIGH QUALITY SERVICE-LEARNING LEADS TO INCREASED ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT & SUCCESS.
While I understand what the authors of those articles were trying to say,it is so important that they realize the difference between community service and the true value of quality service learning.