“In its rush to do good, she expected the University would overlook this process of interpretation and leap into action, attempting to fix problems it did not, in fact, understand.”
Keith Morton, in a reflective essay anticipating the Rhode Island Campus Compact 2015 Statewide Meeting, considers the integration of service and learning in higher education. Drawing upon his work with the Smith Hill and Providence College community to create shared space and revise social relationships, Keith explores such efforts as the Common Grounds Cafe, the Providence College/Smith Hill Annex, and Rec Night. These initiatives showcase the continued work of Jane Addams in building a settlement. Access the full article here.
“Reflection, Knowing and the Practice of Democracy in Service Learning,” by Keith Morton, Providence College
The Civic Purposes of Service Learning
When I think about the purposes of service learning, I find it useful to recall the following story, which I first came across in Louis Menand’s (2002) The Metaphysical Club. Alice Palmer, wife of a prominent member of the philosophy faculty, had invited Jane Addams to speak at a planning conference regarding the University of Chicago’s intention to create a settlement house, precursor to the present-day community center. Addams was invited because of the success of Hull House, a settlement she had co-founded in 1889, five years earlier. Addams would go on to serve on the government panel investigating the notorious Pullman Strike, co-invent the field of social work, the community center and youth work, and win a Nobel Prize for Peace. Her understanding of the relationship between experience and learning, and her work with university faculty and students would make her a “grandmother” of service learning (Morton and Saltmarsh, 1997).
Alice Palmer knew her, at this point, because of Hull House, and she assumed that Addams would be pleased to advise the startup of another settlement. John Dewey, also on the University’s philosophy faculty, and a long-time friend and colleague of Addams, was present at the exchange. He reported to his wife:
“ ‘There was no special aim’ [held by the settlements] Addams told the meeting, ‘because a settlement wasn’t a thing, but a way of living – hence had the same aims as life itself…Miss Addams hoped [the university’s] settlement wasn’t being started from…the desire to do good. Philanthropy had been identified with helping instead of with interpretation.’ ” (Menand, 2002, 312)
In other words, Addams believed that a settlement house was a way of knowing, a site for a process of interpretation. She and her friends had created Hull House as a place not for doing good, but for interpreting the new social situation created by urbanization, industrialization and immigration. In its rush to do good, she expected the University would overlook this process of interpretation and leap into action, attempting to fix problems it did not, in fact, understand. It would concentrate on addressing material conditions rather than on entering into and revising social relationships. The next day, Addams told Dewey she considered Palmer “a dangerous nuisance.”
I think of this story whenever I listen to or participate in a discussion on integrating service and learning in higher education. To rephrase Addams: colleges and universities have come to identify service learning with helping instead of with interpretation. And I want, here, to make a case for identifying service learning – and civic engagement – with interpretation rather than helping…” Read the full article here.
Special thanks to Stephanie Nunes, Samantha Bergbauer, Lauren Kelly, and Kiley Leduc, for their work as AmeriCorps*VISTAs in support of these projects.