...And citizens under every tree: Case studies in service-learning and civic education

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Manfred Stanley


Citizens, Service learning, Civic education

Subject Categories

Education | Social Welfare


"Service-learning" is a term that can be used to identify a set of pedagogical practices that attempts to synthesize and connect service experiences to specific spheres of knowledge for the dual purposes of mastering that knowledge and developing citizen skills that support one's active participation in democratic processes. As colleges and universities across the United States partner with community-based organizations and promote the use of service-learning within classrooms, it becomes ever more of an imperative to better understand how service-learning impacts the learning and development of individual students.

Many theoretical assertions (Barber 1992; Astin 1995; Delve, Minz and Stewart 1990) and research findings (Astin and Sax 1996; Eyler, Giles and Braxton 1997) have been posited about the links between service-learning and the cultivation of a sense of "civic responsibility" in learners. The potential of a service-learning environment to become a setting in which the meaning of public life is deliberated and acted upon served as a central focus of this study. At stake are the validity of personal experiences in classroom settings, and the civic and public value of individual academic disciplines.

This study is comprised of in-depth case studies of eight college students who engaged in distinct connections of service experiences to academic courses. Rather than proving or disproving hypothesis about the overall affects of service-learning on student development and learning, the qualitative research design allows for the detailed descriptions of the learning process as it unfolded for each student over the course of the semester. By using their spoken and written narratives as data, themes and subtexts within the individual narratives, as well as across narratives, are evident.

The variety of ways in which the participants understood and formulated opinions about certain public policy issues and conceptions of "good citizenship" practices are addressed in the study. The manners in which the students synthesized their service experiences with specific academic disciplines is also examined. An understanding of "learning" as the conscious forging of relationships to and among physical settings, other people, past events, and theoretical conceptions is posited. Some of philosophical foundations of service-learning, found in the writings of Dewey, Freire and Lindeman, are discussed.


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