English, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2000


Published in Composition Studies, Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2000, pp. 79–94. Copyright © 2000 Composition Studies. Used by permission. http://www.compositionstudies.tcu.edu/http://www.compositionstudies.tcu.edu/


In this essay, we wish to examine more fully how service learning is being conceptualized by compositionists, particularly through the trope of community, to consider how it functions as a practice and topic in our discipline. Our interest in doing so stems from our interests in and experiences with service learning and our desire to more fully examine why the service learning movement has been so appealing to us—in terms of the social and cultural aspirations it embodies for us as teachers at our particular institution and as scholars within the discipline. We seek to explore some of the issues that Adler-Kassner, Crooks, and Watters identify as crucial for the discipline to consider, namely “How do we position ourselves and our students as practitioners of service-learning, and what is the relationship of that learning to the academic endeavor?” In doing so, we find it useful to examine the term community and what it implies as we go about conceptualizing the value of service learning projects in our classrooms. Our reading of composition literature about service learning suggests that despite invoking the need for reciprocity and empowerment for community members, arguments for the value of service learning are still primarily made to a professional audience of peers rather than to the public that these projects claim to serve. Current representations of service learning do not represent the learning of community participants or the impact of this learning on how we think about the value of service learning in our classrooms. The absence of these voices in our representations elides, both literally and symbolically, community participants’ roles in the service learning experience, and thereby limits our conceptions of “learning” for all participants.