Civic Engagement as an Outcome of Jewish Modern Orthodox Middle School Community Service/Service-Learning Programs
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Service-learning is a classroom-based pedagogy that combines curricular goals with community service to facilitate reciprocal benefit. It works best when there is adequate preparation, student voice in designing projects, systematic formative and summative reflection, and is mentored by well-trained and impassioned faculty. As student service in the community is implemented in diverse ways, this study uses "community service/service-learning" to designate such service. It investigated how 375 graduating eighth graders in eight modern Orthodox middle schools (four high-use and four low-use) viewed their service in relation to the following: civic attitudes (regarding the intrinsic value of civic engagement and other community members), civic skills (critical thinking, leadership), connection with political processes, gender, school subject preference, overarching goals (philanthropic in the here and now and/or promoting political or social change), preferred terminology to designate service, and the extent to which service emanated from and involved the students in Jewish and/or American values and venues. Results indicated that students in both high-use and low-use schools expressed agreement that their service enhanced their civic attitudes, with students in high-use schools that allowed students greater voice in choosing their projects and females achieving higher scores in several variables. Favored school subject had no impact. The results were similar with regard to civic skills but here gender had no impact. With regard to the 2 subcategory of political process, the scores were lower in general, with students in high-use schools that allowed greater student voice achieving higher scores in several variables. Neither gender nor favored school subject had impact. Furthermore, service was more directly related to ethical behavior than to action designed to bring about systemic political or social change. Use of the Hebrew word chesed far exceeded the use of civic-based terminology in English. Students indicated Jewish identity as having far greater impact than American identity and their facts on the ground experience reflected greater involvement in the Jewish than the non-Jewish world. These results suggest a strong commitment to chesed in the schools studied, but question whether more can be done to connect student service to American civic life designed to promote political/social change.