By Cindy Adams
Graduate Student, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
The Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines service as "contribution to the welfare of others." Service can also be defined as doing something voluntarily for someone else without expectation of receiving something in return.
The history of service is vast and varied. From the days of the underground railroads to escape slavery to those who helped the Commonwealth and their fellow neighbors in the creation of the original thirteen colonies, service has been an integral aspect of life in the United States. The types of service have evolved over the course of time often based on the needs and challenges that unfolded.
In The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism (Coles, 31-67), Robert Coles "divide[s] service into categories according to the kinds of motives [he has] seen in children and youths and older people [he has] come to know who have chosen to give their time to others" (33). The types of service identified by Coles are social and political struggle, community service, personal gestures and encounters, charity, religiously sanctioned action, government-sanctioned action (e.g., AmeriCorps and VISTA), and service to country. Coles has "left room for overlap, for a blend of motives and deeds that properly cautions us against airtight conclusions and formulations" (33). "No matter the kind of service rendered, the sponsorship, the age and the background of the person who is volunteering, and the nature (and location) of the work being done, the ultimate worth of the effort will depend a good deal on how a particular person manages to connect with those others being in some way taught or healed or advised or assisted: the chemistry of giving and receiving as it works back and forth between individuals in one or another situation" (64-5).
Service is essential to the betterment of civil society and the quality of life of people nationwide. Service gets things done that may never happen otherwise, as well as empowers people to make a positive difference in someone else's life and/or the community. Service is rooted in American culture and provides resources and support to various organizations and people. Service is also a vehicle by which citizens stay informed about their community and impact the community through their action and personal responsibility. In addition, service contributes to what is often called the common good. In Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World, "'the common good' refers to the well-being of the whole earth community-its safety, the integrity of basic institutions and practices, and the sustaining of the living systems of our planet home. The common good also suggests broadly shared goals toward which the members of the community strive-human flourishing, prosperity, and moral development" (Daloz et al, 16).
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Philanthropy is defined as "goodwill to fellowmen; esp.: active effort to promote human welfare" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). Robert Payton defines philanthropy as "voluntary action for the public good". Since service is about contributing to the welfare of others, service and philanthropy often go hand in hand. Payton writes, "Voluntary acts of compassion and acts of community are always needed, in all societies, and always will be" (Payton, 41). "There are two central ideas embraced by [philanthropy] in its present usage: compassion and community. Community relates to the things that bring us and hold us together. Compassion, then, has a strong emotional quality; it is not thoughtless, but it is not calculating, either" (44). According to Payton, "the most serious problem facing the sector is not its lack of compassion, but its lack of community" (69). Service and philanthropy add to the creation and the continued prosperity of community.
Ties to the K-12 Areas of Social Studies
Civics class may be the most natural in which to discuss concepts like civic virtue, moral development, and community. Service may naturally be taught in Civics class. More ideally it can be tied to curricular themes throughout a student's educational experience.
Key Related Areas
Motivation, giving, philanthropy, volunteer(ing), citizenship, social responsibility, activism, mentoring, altruism, calling, civil rights, community, idealism, service learning.
There is a growing trend towards service learning and this may be incorporated into the discussion of service. In "Service: Linking School to Life" by Ernest Boyer, Boyer suggests that "a service program begins with clearly stated educational objectives" and "should be carefully introduced and creatively promoted." "Service activity should be directed not just to the community but also toward the school itself [and] should be something more than preparation for a career. Students should not only go out to serve; they should also be asked to write about their experience and, if possible, to discuss with others the lessons they have learned" (Kendall, 102-3). "It's particularly important to build the service commitment and habit of young people. We cannot take for granted that it will happen. Many who have studied the generosity of Americans have warned and predicted that some day we will lose this tradition. Even in his admiring portrait of us more than a hundred years ago, de Tocqueville feared that we could not sustain our 'habits of the heart'" (O'Connell, 125).
Important People Related to the Topic
Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Robert Coles, Robert Bellah, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Harris Wofford, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton.
Important Related Non-Profit Organizations
United Way (can provide a list of area agencies), AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Red Cross, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, community foundations, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, YMCA, YWCA, religious organizations, service clubs, fraternal groups, Habitat for Humanity, Kiwanis Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Jaycees.
Bellah, Robert, et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: California, 1985.
Bremner, Robert H. American Philanthropy. Second Ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960.
Coles, Robert. The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism. Boston: Houghton, 1993.
—-. The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise A Moral Child. New York: Plume, 1997.
Daloz, Laurent A. Parks, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen, and Sharon Daloz Parks. Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
Delve, Cecilia, Suzanne D. Mintz, and Greig M. Stewart. "Community Service as Values Education." New Directions for Student Services 50 (1990).
Kendall, Jane C. and Associates. Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book For Community and Public Service. 3 vols. Raleigh: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education, 1990.
O'Connell, Brian. Voices from the Heart: In Celebration of America's Volunteers. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 1999.
Parsons, Cynthia. Serving to Learn, Learning to Serve: Civics and Service from A to Z. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, 1996.
Payton, Robert. Voluntary Action for the Public Good. New York: Macmillan, 1988.
Putnam, Robert. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital" Journal of Democracy 1995, 16 (1): 65-78.
Sommers, Christina and Fred, Eds. Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life. 4th Ed. New York: Harcourt, 1997. 577-585.
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