Social Responsibility and Service Learning

Through my undergraduate studies I completed a research project concerning social justice and the responsibilities of teachers to instill a sense of social responsibility in our classrooms. Entering the tech era in education, I believe in service learning even more. Here is my research.

Students today are not entering maturity with a proper understanding of social responsibility or justice. Social responsibility is the understanding that you are part of a larger entity and in that, you have a responsibility to act as part of that entity in a positive manner. Owen (2000) speaks on the issue of low levels of young people’s social involvement by stating, “their feelings of patriotism and national pride are weaker than those among members of older cohorts” (Owen, pp. 639). She goes on to say “many socialization scholars and educators share concerns about young people’s low levels of knowledge, interest, and engagement in traditional political activities” (Owen, pp. 639). When service learning in the classroom is fully implemented, students will develop a sense of social responsibility. This paper will discuss the implementation of service learning in order to develop students’ social responsibility.

What is service learning

Service learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students are introduced to educational experiences in the community through outreach or community service. The students first identify a concern, map out the solution, and then fulfill their plans to ratify the concern while working in the community. They are then asked to reflect in the classroom and share experiences they had. Kahne and Westheimer (1996) state, “service learning makes students active participants in service projects that aim to respond to the needs of the community while furthering the academic goals of students” (page 593). They go on to discuss the differences between charity and change. According to Kahne and Westheimer (1996) charity helps promote the moral concept of giving and the political concept of civic duty, while change promotes the moral concept of caring and the political concept of social reconstruction. They continue by stating charity then leads to an educationally “additive experience” (Kahne & Westheimer, pp. 596) while the action of change helps lead to an educationally “transformative experience” (Kahne & Westheimer, pp. 596). While working through service learning, students are not participating in charity but affecting change. When students are presented with service learning opportunities, they not only acquire a heightened understanding of social responsibility but they also form positive social interactions with their classmates and community members.

Determining a concern    

In order for students to get the full benefit of service learning, they must follow a specific process. The first step is to be prompted to individually identify a problem or concern in their community. Once identified, the students work together to focus on one problem to address. This empowers the students to find an area of concern that is important to them. They should also use collaborative skills to narrow down the areas of concern to one. When students are working through this part of service learning, they are better understanding social involvement by rallying behind an idea they believe in. There are many different areas of concern the students may choose from. For example, Kahne and Westheimer (1996) speak of their yearlong study of twenty-four implemented service learning projects in K-12 classrooms in which one classroom chose homelessness in their community. The project ran by teacher Ms. Adams at Lexington Middle School, “began their work with a systematic and critical analysis of the causes of homelessness and of the strategies employed to prevent it” (Kahne & Westheimer, pp. 594).

Identify a solution

Once the class has decided on one area of concern to address, they now must collaborate to identify solutions. The students do this by mapping out the steps that they will take to address the concern. By having the class research solutions, the students are learning about the people that are leaders in programs that can be helpful in their acts of change. Students even learn about the process of writing to city representatives that can help. Most importantly, the students are gaining important information about how to identify a concern and make actual change.

Once the students have identified and mapped out the steps they are going to take to address the concern, they will be able to follow through with their plan. While community outreach and service learning are occurring, students are building the understanding that they have the ability to bring about change in their local community. The entire act of identifying a concern individually, working collaboratively to elect one concern for the classroom, mapping the steps to make a change, and following through in the plan is a process in which the students come to understand that they have a stake in their community.

Reflecting on work

It is important that once the community outreach section of the service learning is over, students are given the chance to reflect on what they have learned about the process of bringing about change. The students are asked to explain their views of their ability to make a change in the community before and after the service learning project. Through reflection the class is able to better understand the impact that they have made. This will lead to a boost of self-confidence in their ability to address community concerns. The service learning process leads students to the understanding of the process of change and allows them to see that when there is something that they think needs improvement, they can make that improvement.

Carpini and Keeter (2000) state that service learning “facilitates participation in public life that effectively connects one’s opinions with one’s actions. And it promotes greater support for democratic values such as tolerance” (page 637). During the process of mapping the steps of change, students will be introduced to members of the community that can help bring around change. Working with different community leaders will help the class understand how the community functions. They will write letters or meet with members of the community that cause positive change. Through this process the students identify the people and groups in communities that are positive resources for social involvement and social justice.


The social aspect of service learning is extremely beneficial. Students work together with their classmates on more than a research project. The journey leading up to the community outreach project helps bring the class together as one, working towards a common goal. When it is time for the community outreach part of the project, the students will be able to see the fruits of their labor. This will help to bring a sense of togetherness and belonging for the entire class. The new found sense of social involvement and civic responsibility will add commonality in the class will be able to be shared to other students in the future. According to Ohn and Wade (2009) civic education programs “helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others” (page 204). Above all, the students are able to learn together while working and spending quality time together.


Carpini, M., & Keeter, S. (2000). What should be learned through service learning?PS: Political Science & Politics, 33(03), 635-638.

Kahne, J., & Westheimer, J. (1996). In the service of what? The politics of servicelearning. Phi Delta Kappan, 77(9), 592-599

Ohn, J., & Wade, R. (2009). Community service-learning as a group inquiry project: Elementary and middle school civiconnections teachers’ practices of integrating historical inquiry in community service-learning. The Social Studies, 100(5), 200-211.

Owen, D. (2000). Service learning and political socialization. PS: Political Science and Politics, 33(3), 638-640.

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