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AYFP Policy Brief on Service Learning

May 10, 2004

This is a draft outline of the report informed by the three meetings in early 2004. We are currently in the process of gathering feedback from the field on this one-page document. Your feedback will shape the propositions and further inform the report. Deadline for feedback is June 15, 2004. Please send feedback to spearson@aypf.org. Thank you!


Proposition 1: Civic education-including character education and service-learning-is necessary to the survival of our democracy. We must change the context in which we view the mission of our schools; their lost purpose, which must be regained, is “to make citizens.”

Proposition 2: The overriding question driving education reform must be: “What kind of child (person, human being) do we want to produce? The answer we offer is: “A child who can take charge of his/her learning process so as to: (a) learn for a lifetime, (b) make a net contribution to the society, workforce/economy, and culture, and (c) be civically engaged as a citizen and decision maker.”

Proposition 3: The national education policy preoccupation with reading, mathematics, and science as the “core disciplines” of public education is myopic and lop-sided. It is not delivering the outcomes the nation requires. The importance of placing civic education on a par with core subjects cannot be overstated.

Proposition 4: We need a new reform strategy that balances two paramount goals: (1) higher levels of academic achievement in core academic disciplines, with (2) school and community efforts aimed at producing informed, principled, and engaged citizens.

Proposition 5: Service-learning, character education, and civic education demonstrate an encouraging and impressive success in improving student engagement in school and community life, and in bolstering academic performance.

Proposition 6: A linked approach bringing together civic education, character education, and service-learning must be guided by the following precepts. These linked approaches:

  • Must be of high quality if they are to succeed and should proceed with an eye to changing school culture. Accountability for quality and content, therefore, is paramount;
  • Must be directed by a state policy that is reflected in local policy and action;
  • Must be student-focused, democratic in nature, and unaffected by partisan politics;
  • Must be infused throughout the whole curriculum, not taught separately, i.e., they should contain a reflection component, use interdisciplinary instructional methods, and be continually fed by contextual learning;
  • Must be directed by a philosophy/policy committed to experiential learning;
  • Must be outcomes-based, with outcomes being measured by behavioral change in students, by positive changes in student engagement, and visible changes effected in community settings;
  • Must be accompanied by a focused communications and PR effort to build and sustain public support;
  • Must be focused on developing needed civic skills, e.g., critical thinking, flexible thinking, problem-posing, and problem-solving;
  • Can and should be used as a vehicle for meeting curriculum standards across the board; and
  • Must use the school building as the unit of educational reform.

    Proposition 7: Success in these approaches will be grounded in a “coalition mentality” that links schools, community organizations, local government, and the business and nonprofit sectors.

    American Youth Policy Forum, April 2004. This is a working document for comment.


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