The Service Learning Program at San José City College is an educational support program. Its mission is to create a lasting partnership between the college and the community that fosters continuing discussion between both parties so that the Project is directly responsive to and shaped by the community. The Program is a bridge between global and local, theory and practice, teaching and administration, and teaching and research. What we seek to develop in the student is a new understanding of these relationships and how they transform the individual activities or domains they encompass and how they reframe our understanding of the relationship between the college and the community.
Experiential learning is a pedagogical tool available to instructors to further their classroom goals. Current learning theory indicates that all students do not learn in the same way. Some learn best through observation or discussion first, while others prefer action first. Sensitive instructors teach using multiple modalities to effect better learning by their diverse learners. Service learning is a powerful tool for effective learning by many students. When instructors offer such an option, they also empower students to be responsible for choosing how they learn best.
In many respects, experiential education resembles community service. We do send students out into the community to work with agencies in the service of often neglected people, in schools, and in other community programs. While we use experiential education to develop skills and abilities, we also use service learning to foster a paradigm shift in the minds of the students, the result of which is significantly altered world views. Our purpose is to provide students with personal experiences quite different from their own so that their perceptions of the world will expand and become more accurate.
Participants go into the community as students. They go to listen and explore, question and wonder, observe, feel and experience. That is why their work is not adequately described as community service. So they will have sufficient time for these activities, we place them in agencies that do not rely on them for survival, and we have them work in an unstructured capacity -- because they are there primarily to learn. As volunteers, we are in a position of giving to the community, a position of strength. But as students, we relinquish the role of "giving."
Students must wrestle with questions that are not necessarily within the purview of the volunteer. Rigorous analysis and investigation into what causes and supports homelessness, bigotry, homophobia, sexism and racism, inequities in pay between men and women, and a whole host of other ills that affect our society, are the appropriate domain of the student. Students are challenged to intellectually evaluate the structures of our society to see how well they respond to the needs of all humankind. That is why we send them into the community, and that is what makes this an intellectual enterprise.
Every placement is designed in such a manner that each of the students develops a personal, one-to-one relationship with a person in one of our target populations. This personal interaction initiates a chain of events and experiences that challenges, sometimes dramatically, the ideas, attitudes and backgrounds often cherished by the students. In the process, students will frequently perceive a role reversal, realizing that the person they have come to "help" has become their guide to a larger, more accurate and complex orientation to reality and opens them up to the full range of human experiences.