Erin Payseur Oeth, Associate Director of Civic Learning Initiatives, Baylor University
June 25, 2018
I started my career in civic engagement working in the area of service-learning, building links between the classroom and the community. Through the years, I have transitioned to a focus on deliberative work, building civic literacy, skills, and practice that lay the foundation for informed engagement. On a broader scale, we have seen the conversation within CLDE shift from more of a service-focused engagement to a broader civic engagement that includes service, deliberation, voter engagement, and social justice work in ways that have enriched the field, our students, and our communities.
Yet, sometimes there is a tendency to see these different initiatives as separate and distinct, without considering the ways they often intersect and complement each other. Sometimes perhaps there is a tendency to think of service-learning as passé in light of renewed emphasis on other streams of civic engagement like deliberation.
For the purpose of this blog post, I want to explore how service-learning and public deliberation, in particular, can build off each other and suggest possible advantages for integrating these efforts on campus. The old does not have to give way to the new, but rather can open us up to exploring new possibilities.
We know that service-learning is a high-impact practice. Longer term service experiences using service-learning is associated with higher civic knowledge, civic dispositions, and efficacy scores . It also has been shown to help students foster a greater attachment to communities.
Public Deliberation has also been shown to broaden awareness of public issues and improve democratic skills and attitudes. It is also associated with improved skills relating to judgment, wisdom, and group decision-making, as well as individual and group efficacy.
How can these two modes of civic engagement build off each other to deepen civic learning experiences for our students on campus and in the community? I want to suggest several possibilities that I see for enriched synergy between the two:
In the language of the CLDE Theory of Change, deliberative work is a valuable vehicle for developing a civic ethos, building civic literacy & skills, and engaging in civic inquiry to address social issues. Through the process of deliberation, it then moves participants toward civic agency (through joint decision making) and civic action (through implementation of proposed actions). Service-Learning, on the other hand, often starts with civic agency and civic action and then moves participants toward civic inquiry (through reflection), civic literacy & skills (through context & dialogue), and civic ethos (through democratic attitudes and habits).
Instead of choosing one mode of civic engagement over the other, perhaps we can explore ways to integrate these practices, so that we maximize the potential of both service-learning and public deliberation. As campuses with long traditions of service-learning work to broaden the scope of civic engagement for their students, public deliberation may be a way to engage these service partnerships in new ways to enrich learning for students and the experience of community members.
Do these ideas resonate with your experience in service-learning or public deliberation? Have you seen any programs integrate these two concepts well? What potential do you see for the intersections of these or other modes of civic engagement?
Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASPA. If you agree or disagree with the content of this post, we encourage you to dialogue in the comment section below. NASPA reserves the right to remove any blog that is inaccurate or offensive.