Randy Stoecker has been “practicing” forms of community-engaged scholarship, including service learning, for thirty years now, and he readily admits, “Practice does not make perfect.” In his highly personal critique, Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement, the author worries about the contradictions, unrealized potential, and unrecognized urgency of the causes as well as the risks and rewards of this work.
Here, Stoecker questions the prioritization and theoretical/philosophical underpinnings of the core concepts of service learning: 1. learning, 2. service, 3. community, and 4. change. By “liberating” service learning, he suggests reversing the prioritization of the concepts, starting with change, then community, then service, and then learning. In doing so, he clarifies the benefits and purpose of this work, arguing that it will create greater pedagogical and community impact.
Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement challenges—and hopefully will change—our thinking about higher education community engagement.
"Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement is powerful and innovative. No one has addressed so deeply and so comprehensively the strengths and limitations of service learning and civic engagement. With political sensitivity and passion, Stoecker expands the scope, complexity and (we can only hope) the impact of previous critiques. He takes service learning to the pedagogical woodshed and spares no rod in exposing its weaknesses—fleshing out the ways in which service learning has failed on its own grounds to meet its own objectives. Stoecker argues strongly that service learning has not had anywhere near the pedagogical and community impact it has been promising and promoting."
—Corey Dolgon, Professor of Sociology and Director of Community-Based Learning at Stonehill College
" What is most enlightening about Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement , is Stoecker’s framing of the teaching strategy’s history. Drawing from his own experiences as a theoretician and practitioner, he boldly puts forward some of the contradictions that exist in the practice of service learning and the weaknesses of the type of institutionalization that has taken place. He presents an outlook of liberating service learning based on new forms of knowledge and engagement production with a raised consciousness where anger is transformed into grassroots power and policy change."
—Jose Calderón, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pitzer College
"Stoecker makes a strong argument that service learning and the rest of higher education civic engagement ('service learning' functions as a catch-all term) is in need of liberating so that it can be liberating.... Although Stoecker offers something to annoy everyone, I still recommend Liberating Service Learning for its challenging examination of the spirit of service learning, in its present state and as it might be in future."
"Stoecker does not shy away from asking the hard questions, including challenging widely celebrated dominant theories, practices, and even histories in institutionalized service learning. He challenges those in the field to reflect on the language we use, terms like reciprocity, partnership, and social justice, and to critically examine if our practice actually aligns with proclaimed theories and values.... Stoecker understands the deep complexity of service learning work, tapping into the conflicting feelings practitioners navigate as we offer soundbites or quotes for news articles, write letters of recommendation, apply for grants, and receive awards and accolades for our work with the community. He challenges the field to ask the hard questions of not only ourselves but also of our institutional leaders, and encourages us to reconsider our practice and take risks."
—Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement
"This book’s premise engaged me deeply. I found myself agreeing, disagreeing, comparing Stoecker’s community organizing and civic engagement perspectives with my own, wanting to believe his liberatory proposal, and then wondering if his intention is simply to agitate us, push our buttons, and challenge us to do better. After all, to many in the field of civic engagement, he symbolizes the voice that disturbs and creates discomfort. He certainly does this in Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement . For what Stoecker aims to do, this tone and stance is a must, even if he risks alienating some readers or seeming self-righteous."
—Teacher's College Record
"His critique is thoroughgoing, thoughtful, and necessary. His bibliography is a resource unto itself: throughout the book, Stoecker draws his arguments from a thoughtful dialogue with a wide range of scholars and practitioners, within and outside the field of service learning.... Stoecker’s critique rings true."