Sunday, October 27, 2013

Talking Points #6: The Argument of Kahne & Westheimer's “In the Service of What?"

A) Kahne, Joseph; Westheimer, Joel. "In The Service Of What? The Politics of Service Learning." Phi Delta Kappan 1996: 1-15. Print.

    Kahne and Westheimer argue that service learning experiences contain underlying objectives, that of which can be separated into the categories of moral, political, and intellectual development. The authors address that the intentions behind service learning are not often explored, thus Kahne and Westheimer present these ideas in their text. "In the Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning" concludes with the idea that service learning possesses more political motives. A number of students and educators mentioned throughout the text appear to be either opposed to or in agreement with this stance on the subject, although Kahne and Westheimer also argue that moral, political, and intellectual goals often work hand-in-hand.
    The authors of this particular text present the idea that "controversial issues surrounding the means and ends of service learning" (Kahne and Westheimer 2) do exist. Service learning is meant to produce a beneficial impact on target communities. However, each experience differentiates. Kahne and Westheimer emphasize that these outcomes vary based upon the moral, political, and/or intellectual goals of the student participating in this form of service. Regardless of one's intentions (whether moral, political, and/or intellectual), all participants of service learning are involved in identifying an issue and working to come to a solution. This education is directly related to Allan G. Johnson's "Privilege, Power, and Difference," for Johnson also obtains this outlook regarding the issues of difference and privilege within society. Service learning experiences provide a greater look into the social problems of society, and both Kahne and Westheimer state that this service "[responds] to America's social problems" (Kahne and Westheimer 7).
  • EX: Case in point with the example of the middle school music classroom. The parents of the students participating in this service learning experience had false perceptions of the reality of the lives of the poor income elementary school children, thus creating warped imagery in the minds of their own children. When the middle school students developed relationships with this set of youth, and had undergone this hands-on experience, they came back with new mindsets based on the true reality.
                     Moral Goals
    The text argues that service learning is presently focused more so on charity, for it is often promoted over change. The moral purpose of service learning is to care and/or give back to a particular community. Students work to understand the strife that those less fortunate encounter on a daily basis, and attempt to promote change. What if society were to promote and integrate both charity and change? However, there is a distinct difference between efforts of "charity" and "change." Change permits students to consider the viewpoints of those faced with a specific struggle, whereas the outcome of charity does not always include this. The difference is based on the presence of the relationship between the student and the target community. Change promotes the development of respective relationships. Imagine if both charity and change were correlated?

                                                                    Political Goals
    In terms of the political outlooks regarding service learning, students work towards establishing a "strong democracy" (Kahne and Westheimer 6) and explore aspects of citizenship. Civic duty is emphasized.  The political element of some service learning experiences primarily centers on the issue of developing citizenship. It acts as a way in which to promote democracy in both society and target communities, enabling the influence of good citizenship and an impact on the rights of citizens. However, those like Benjamin Barber argue that the basis of service learning should rely solely on charity and empathy for others. Others claim that both citizenship and charity are interconnected, therefore providing an alternate stance on the subject. The text later stresses that citizenship is needed to enforce political action, and that charity alone cannot undertake this task. This is a bit of a perplexing issue. While this is valid in some cases, what about the instances when this notion does not ring true? Political motive is not always the intent for students participating in service learning.

        Intellectual Goals
    The intellectual goal of service learning seeks to promote rich learning experiences for students, as well as academic growth. Intellectual development always serves as a component of service learning, on behalf of both participants: the student and the respective community. However, the experience differentiates per student, resulting in "varying" levels of intellectual achievement. Community also impacts intellectual development, with the intent of benefitting both the student and community.

    At my Service Learning placement on Friday, I was working with a student on prewriting. His assignment was to write an essay based on a selection of prompts, and the prompt he chose was quite relative to some of the work that we've done in class (Issue in Society). When we developed main ideas based on this prompt, he wanted to write about how everyone wants to meet certain expectations, and that they are both a part of this issue as well as the solution. I thought that this was interesting because it goes back to Allan G. Johnson's text. The student also wanted to write about the political aspects of this issue.

Additional References: Johnson, Allan G. Privilege, Power, and Difference. McGraw-Hill; 2nd edition, 2005. Print.


  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog. I liked how you broke it into the different parts of moral, political, and intellectual goals. I also liked the pictures that you chose to put in your blog!

  2. Elizabeth,
    You are right, there were a lot of politics involved with this piece. It surprizes me too because service learning seems pretty straightforward as a great learning experience for good. The fact that schools question is reflection is a good idea is one of the political stances. You pointed out something that I believe I missed while reading it, which gives more light to the entire is service learning good question. When you said “emphasize that these outcomes vary based upon the moral, political, and/or intellectual goals of the student participating in this form of service” it reminds me that unless students want to do the work or care about the work, they are just going to be resentful of it. Another one of the bigger points of the text you also pointed out-that service learning promotes charity, not change. It’s like putting a band-aid over the problem, as Kozol points out in his article. With reflection, the students could figure out the change, no? Putting it into action is another part but at least the thinking is in motion with reflection for change.