We really see this as positioning the foundations as well as the future of service learning and community engagement. What we really wanted to do with the book is put together a foundation of what service learning and community engagement has been for the last thirty years and even before that in many ways …we’ve tried to go beyond, back to settlement houses, back to historically black colleges and universities, back to labor schools and some of those works to really help us think about new ways for the foundations of community engaged practice that we have really benefitted from in our work now.
But then also to look at the future – the last section of the book is called “critical voices” and we try to highlight some of the areas where our practice hasn’t always lived up to its promise and what we can do to better position ourselves in the future to bring about the change that we say that we desire through the work that we do.
In the middle we take a look at best practices in the work and we really tried to bring in a lot of alternative models of best practices. We look at university without borders, for example, as one way of partnering with community agencies and providing some different ways of thinking about social justice education and service learning and community engagement as models of that.
Question: What do the foundations in our past tell us about where we are headed in the future?
We could pay more attention to our history. Our practice has been what I would consider to be very progressive and then has flowed back into a more institutionalized, acceptable practice. There’s been this move between what would be considered a radical positioning of community engaged – we have a series of stories from folks who I think we would consider pioneers in the field.
In Nadine [Cruz] piece, she talks about using higher education as a place to do radical politics. We have regressed from that positioning of our work into something that can be widely acceptable and widely reached and in many ways depoliticized.
What was really powerful me in reading the foundations pieces was the recognition of how relevant this history is to what we are trying to do now. What would be different if we had continued to build on those traditions as opposed to turning from them and trying to reinvent the wheel in new ways? We don’t often look at the labor schools. We don’t often look at settlement houses. We don’t often look at the community engaged work that historical black colleges and universities were doing since their founding as foundation to our practice today. I think if we spent a little bit more time exploring that, and if we had been continuous in our exploration of that, as we have built as a field, our practice might look really different today.