Let’s Stop Awarding Credits For Service Learning

From the National Association of Scholars’ 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education 


Many popular proposals to improve higher education would
actually weaken it. Faculty are letting academic standards slip–in the name of
academic enrichment–and increasingly giving students academic credit for
activities that are “academic” in only a lax sense. Not everything taught or
learned is academic.

“Service learning” is a major example of such slippage.

Service learning claims to combine service and learning
objectives: students participate in active education while addressing the
concerns, needs, and hopes of their community. While communities are
strengthened, proponents argue, students learn civic responsibility. However,
service learning typically lacks academic rigor and faculty oversight, and is
based on the student’s idiosyncratic, self-generated experience.

While I support performing community service (and performed
service when I was in college), especially at a time when students are often
highly self-absorbed, giving academic credit for volunteerism waters down
standards and erodes the line between academic and nonacademic.

Also, under service learning students are not volunteers in
any real sense. While not remunerated for their service, they are paid in easy
grades and course credits. And the lesson they learn is not to be willing to
help others freely, but to expect academic credit for everything and anything
they do.


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