The Irony of Service: Charity, Project and Social Change in Service-Learning
* Guaranteed minimum commitment of students' service hours to agencies
* Agency commitment to a serious student internship program that would allow advanced
Institute students to perform longer-term, indepth and more advanced service.
In a discussion of service at the 1994 Conference of the National Society for Experiential
Education, Nadinne Cruz (1994) offered what
seems to me the best definition of service I have
heard. "Service," she said, "is a process of integrating intention with action in the context of a
movement toward ajust relationship." Ifwe are to
educate ourselves and our students in ways that
lead us toward just relationships, one of the first
steps must be developing our collective capacity
to describe and analyze the intentions and actions
that inform our work. Irony is, simply, the gulf
between intention and action. In this paper I
attempt to describe a central irony that can (and
does) emerge in service-learning: the gap between the content and outcomes of our teaching,
on the one hand, and the type of service in which
we engage on the other. Should we approach
service as a continuum or as a set of related
paradigms? Is authenticity-the reverse ofironyto be found by structuring service-learning so that
we grow or move in a particular direction, or so
that we are challenged to self-consciously name
and work more consistently within a paradigm of
service? As educators, do we make explicit (and
try to model) the need to change, or the need to
become more ourselves? Do we advocate a way
of doing service, or do we hold up choices? Is our
concern the type of service activity that is done, or
the integrity with which it is done? How do we
know if we are moving toward justice? Imagining service as a set of related paradigms, each
with the potential to move by a different path
toward justice, seems to me a step toward overcoming the irony of service-learning, a way of
stepping into and embracing the contradictions
that often separate our intention from our action.
And it seems to me that an understanding of
service that is simultaneously more inclusive and
deeper can open spaces for all of us to find more
allies, deepen the conversations in the servicelearning community and find new ways to express and hear the hopes we have for the impacts
we might make.
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