Keys 19/08/2020

Service-learning as a border crossing

“Borders are set up to define the places that are safe from the unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip, along a steep edge. A border is a vague and indeterminate place created by the emotional residue of a natural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. (Anzaldúa, 1987:3)

Service-learning requires that students not only cross the physical borders of the university classroom, but also cross social and identity borders in their relationships with community members, and therefore in their learning. Service-learning is an invitation to teachers, students and community members to cross the barriers of the traditional; to recognize and accept a different kind of learning in which thinking, identity and culture are interconnected.

It therefore requires a broader conceptualization of the learning process and the situation in which learning takes place. It also focuses awareness on the non-linear, unstructured process of learning in service-learning and highlights the tensions arising from the uncertainty and complexity of emerging learning experiences. Finally, it emphasizes the nature of learning as a process of participation in critical thinking and discussion about the construction of knowledge

SL is an invitation to cross the frontiers that limit our view of knowledge as static and limited; a predetermined source of information to be acquired. Instead, knowledge is restructured as incomplete, in a state of flux, as conflicting ground, being continuously created and recreated by students as actors in response to new ideas and experiences. This promotes the legitimacy to what Giroux 12 (1993) refers to as “frontier knowledge”, i.e., knowledge that falls outside the norm, As a result, everyone is forced to recognize the authority, authenticity and validity of frontier knowledge as a form of cultural capital worthy of change in higher education (McClaren, 1995: 126).

This vision of service-learning as learning that allows borders to be crossed ultimately requires teachers who cross borders often deeply rooted in Higher Education. It requires an articulation of underlying epistemological positions and teachers who have to specify the purpose for which they use service-learning. It then forces us to rethink the boundaries we create around service-learning practice located in solitary disciplinary areas. Both teachers and students are asked to view learning in these borderlands differently; that is, not the transposition or application of existing knowledge to a new setting. Instead, in the border service-learning zone, our learning is essentially about questioning traditionally accepted patterns of thinking, established interactions with others, and how we define ourselves and others. Many Higher Education teachers who apply service-learning to their courses expressly want students to be able to recognize and understand the importance of frontier knowledge and its relationship with culture and identity. Cultural, social and physical boundaries, as well as identity boundaries, have therefore to be crossed in service-learning (by both teachers and students).

Service-learning invites us to define who we are as “servants” in relation to the “served” [recipient or beneficiary of the service] and helps us to recognize how boundaries continue to keep these two groups separate (Hayes & Cuban, 1997:76). A more critical framework for service-learning strives to break the set of patterns and boundaries sometimes associated with experienced curricula. It is often the case that the teacher begins by setting clearly defined objectives for student learning, followed by disciplinary knowledge inputs. With this framework in mind, students are then placed in the field. A critical framework for service-learning must take cognizance of the fact that teachers can no longer structure the entire process or exercise total control over student learning. In other words, teachers cannot put students’ experiences in a fixed place or fully anticipate what they will learn in their involvement with the community; at best they can help students link what they learn from a service-learning experience to academic content,”/… …/ “When service learning is approached in a more critical way, there is a shift in the boundaries of how learning occurs with/in the experience. It eliminates the autonomy of the teacher as the only person who determines and names the formal theory, or texts, to be considered. The experience and voice of the students become the key]”11/ .

OSMAN, Ruksana y PETERSEN, Nadine (Editors): “An introduction to service learning in South África”(2013) In “Service Learning in South África”, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, Southern África

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