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  • Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning: Curricular Strategies for Success ed. by Christine M. Cress & David M. Donohue
  • Barbara Jacoby
Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning: Curricular Strategies for Success. Christine M. Cress & David M. Donohue. (Editors) Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2011, 202 pages, $27.50 (softcover)

Service-learning is a unique educational strategy that combines concepts, community-based activities, and critical reflection. Among its potential outcomes, perhaps the most desirable is preparing students for a life of active engagement in their communities, local, professional, and global. Service-learning can be embedded within the curriculum or in cocurricular experiences such as alternative breaks, student organizations, and living-learning communities. Many of us in Student Affairs engage students in such experiences and would benefit greatly from the essays in this volume.

I spend a lot of time working with faculty and staff members who engage students in service-learning in both curricular and cocurricular settings. They often tell me that this work is more challenging than their other work with students. These challenges include but are certainly not limited to such logistical issues as scheduling, transportation, and risk management. Colleagues on my campus and many others have spoken of dilemmas that arise when students confront injustice and oppression for the first time, when they ask unanswerable questions, and when they must guide students through "conflicts among freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, freedom of political choice, free press, and free speech" (p. 2). In Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning, nearly two dozen faculty members from a wide range of disciplines reflect on how engaging students in the community shapes opportunities for democratic learning, how students make meaning of their service experiences, and how they have handled the inevitable challenges they have faced. Although all of the authors describe dilemmas within courses they teach, their insights offer much for all of us who challenge and support students in the process of learning about themselves and their place in the world.

Using real incidents, the authors share their "messy, unpredictable, and often inspiring" (p. 2) accounts of tensions and trials that they have faced in the context of service-learning as students explore the intersections of political beliefs, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender, ability, and other differences as well as similarities. They share their struggles of how they negotiated interpersonal tensions and conflicts while encouraging interaction across the divides of values, viewpoints, and experiences. While the case studies in this volume do not always end neatly, the authors' reflections on their experiences are rich, nuanced, and also practical. Each chapter begins with a description of the course and its context and then discusses the dilemmas faced by the faculty members and the students.

In part 1, "Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning," the first chapter by Donohue provides an overview of the issues inherent in teaching academic content through various forms of community engagement. Chapter 2 by Bercaw deliberates how to handle clashing perspectives when a student chooses to advocate banning a book as his service-learning project. Heldman's chapter 3 explores [End Page 336] how unexamined privilege can reinforce students' stereotypes during a service trip to post-Katrina New Orleans.

Part 2 addresses designing service-learning courses for democratic outcomes. In chapter 4, Cress highlights pedagogical and epistemological approaches in connecting academic content to community service. Chapters 5, 6, and 7, respectively, Sylvester recounts a teachable moment that occurred when a student objected to service-learning; Guenther offers advice on dealing with cynical, disheartened service learners; and Stokamer describes how she uses her students' 1-minute reflection papers to make midcourse adjustments in her teaching about democratic citizenship.

The chapters in part 3 offer diverse perspectives on creating democratic learning communities. Chapter 8, by Cress, provides insight into coaching students to balance "the talents and imagination of I with the expertise and vision of We" (p. 74). In chapter 9 Liu strategizes about cultivating relationships between community organizations and universities. In chapter 11, Renner, Axlund, Topete, and Fleming reflect on how facilitating a 15-day service-learning experience in Mexico requires helping students to take "baby steps to cultural competence" (p. 92).

The focus of part 4 is...


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pp. 336-338
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