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What is "Service Learning," and why should you be concerned about it?

May 7, 2004

The following article is a critical review of service learning, a curriculum program and teaching methodology that is being aggressively promoted and instituted throughout the schools in our country. The article was written in response to a draft policy brief on service learning from The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF)(See the policy brief.)

AYPF is taking a lead role in instituting service learning in American education.

From their website:

Service-Learning and Citizenship: This area focuses on policies, methodology and programs that feature service-learning, and national and community service. Service-learning is a teaching methodology used in schools, juvenile justice programs like Youth Court, and community-based organizations to apply academic skills to solving real world problems. Service-learning is used in Learn and Serve America and can incorporate project-based learning, applied learning, contextual-based learning, and frequently involves civic engagement, character education, and tutor/mentoring. Individuals involved in national and community service volunteer their time to assist schools and communities. Programs include VISTA, AmeriCorps, Freedom Corps, Senior Corps, City Year, America's Promise, and many others.

Information in this section encompasses programs and strategies used in both formal and informal settings and lists related forum briefs, field trip/discussion group summaries and publications.


YPF has commented to us that the their policy brief is still in draft form. The author has modified his critique to clarify that the AYPF proposal is a draft.

AYPF also believes that the article's negative portrayal of the AYPF and its service learning initiatives are biased and unfair, since the proposal is likely to change.

However, the AYPF draft was based on a series of three discussions held in Washington in early 2004. Summaries of those presentations may be found on their website. These presentations and other material published by the AYPF raise similar concerns.

We believe that the service learning critique below raises valid and urgent questions about the role of service learning in transforming education in this country. That transformation reinvents the mission of education from teaching academic, knowledge- based learning to molding the worldview of the next generation. (See Transformational Education)

This critique also raises valid issues about the AYPF, a wealthy non-governmental organization (NGO) funded by a host of corporate foundations that are financially driving a radical transformation of our schools. (See AYPF funders.)


Social engineering, across-the-curriculum mandates, political activism, and your child
by Charles R Lewis

The influential (ostensively mainstream) American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), recently disseminated a policy paper draft {"To Make Citizens - Seven Propositions toward a Course Correction in Education"} "informed by [a] series of three Capitol Hill Forums," one of which this writer attended. The paper champions universal institution of "Service Learning" programs (already mandatory for high school graduation in several states, and, according the the Department of Education, participated in by a staggering one-third of all K-12 students nationwide).

Service Learning (SL) generally entails social activist projects in which students supposedly learn outside the classroom (a concept SL credits - proudly - to John Dewey, long the object of wide ranging criticism vis a vis his alleged influence on the progressive "dumbing down" of American education throughout the 20th century). Participants, under the guidance of ambitious teachers, have engaged in numerous political activities, including protests.

According to this document:

Programs must be:



The "throughout the curriculum" mantra echoes CCE precepts, and means, in practice, that the producing of a particular human product trumps math, science, historical facts, grammar, etc.

A lengthy AYPF booklet ("Building an Effective Citizenry") advocates mandatory SL for all U.S. students. Some chapter titles:

"Extending service to all youth" [our emphasis]
"Engaging youth in public policymaking through youth cabinets and youth commissions"
"Youth action for educational change"
"Students changing the course of public policy"
"The power of youth court to build an effective citizenry."

And a remarkable quote: "Effective initiatives respect and recognize that youth can bring experience and knowledge" [to the solving of public policy problems]. [again, emphasis ours]

Service Learning is the activist corollary to the radical agenda that has incrementally assumed control of our schools (rendering academics increasingly pretentious and perfunctory). It has been institutionalized by NCLB and CCE. With SL, every American pupil is expected not only to internalize this ideology, but to act upon it. If SL is imperative to "the survival of our democracy," then there is no escaping it; conscription will be universal.

Service Learning is in - or coming to - your town, and it is driving curricula. SL is determined to engage each of our callow children in political activism. Ignore it at your peril.

Copyright © 2004 Charles R Lewis
Blanket permission granted to distribute for no cost, with proper references.


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