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  • Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning: Curricular Strategies for Success by Christine M. Cress, David M Donahue
  • Mark Ward
Christine M. Cress and David M. Donahue and Associates. Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning: Curricular Strategies for Success
Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2011, 202 pages.

Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning: Curricular Strategies for Success provides several rich, informative case studies from the leading scholars in service-learning education that examine the adversity that comes from teaching service learning as well as different strategies to overcome challenges and provide the students with a meaningful learning experience. The scope of this book is surprising with 24 chapters and over 20 authors. The book, divided into six sections, focuses on diverse themes such as: service-learning course design, the democratic process within a service-learning context, and creating democratic learning communities both inside and outside the classroom.

The first section, “Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning,” outlines the challenges and opportunities that are inherent in teaching course content through community engagement. In chapter 1, David M. Donahue defines the explicit and implicit value conflicts that emerge in any teaching endeavor that can become even more challenging when the venue for learning involves the community outside the classroom. Additionally, he describes the [End Page 149] various inherent political aspects of teaching and the dilemmas that exist for educators. Donahue outlines the types of dilemmas that develop in service-learning practice, including: dilemmas about the kind of service, dilemmas about discourse on political issues, dilemmas about making decisions, and dilemmas about course content.

In chapter 2, Lynne A. Bercaw examines real-life democratic dilemmas of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice. The author outlines her struggle with a student’s competing values expression through an end-of-the-year community project and her own open-ended course content approach. The project forced the author to reframe her expectations until both the student and the instructor felt that their perspectives were honored.

Caroline Heldman examines how student service in post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans challenges students’ sense of individual identity as citizens and how service can reinforce elitist stereotypes. The author outlines her struggles to teach her students to set aside their insensitive privileged perspective of providing charity work to those in need and to adopt a more inclusive perspective of solidarity with the community. Consequently, the case study provides a prime example of a larger problem that exists in service-learning pedagogy, the inherently exploitative situations where students benefit more from the life-changing experience than the community benefits from unskilled labor.

The second section, “Designing Service-Learning Courses for Democratic Outcomes,” offers the reader strategies for service-learning course structure and design that addresses democratic conflict. In chapter 4, Christine M. Cress offers a step-by-step approach for designing course syllabi to help ensure academic connections to civic engagement. She begins by outlining the importance of service-learning integration opposed to service learning as an add on to an existing course, explaining that faculty who simply tack on service hours and requirements usually find themselves frustrated because there are fewer hours to spend on content. Cress continues to explain the importance of clear course objectives and learning outcomes, which are written in a service-learning course to highlight the students’ feelings, attitudes, and motivations. In the final two strategies of service-learning course structure, Cress identifies class activities related to the service-learning experience and the importance of the various epistemologies of learning that each student possesses. It is through intentional course design such as this that the student can have a transformative experience through service learning.

In chapter 5, Dari E. Sylvester provides useful strategies for overcoming student resistance to service learning. The author describes an occasion where the students were resistant to service learning, feeling as if they could not make a substantial difference. Sylvester provides an explanation of the instructional process that was used to combat the students’ resistance, which was to elicit [End Page 150] voluntary explanations from the students that have participated in service learning in the past. Through this process, the students that were...