Social Learning – Service Learning
In recent years, community service has been rediscovered as a field for learning activities under the rubrics Compassion or Service Learning (see chapter 3.1). Service Learning has the aim of firmly embedding young people’s social commitment in the everyday context of their school classes or youth projects while encouraging reflection on content specific to the helping situation. Selected charitable activities allow young people to meet people from social groups in need of assistance (the elderly, people with special needs, homeless, et al.) with whom they may normally have little or no contact. They become acquainted with the rewards of getting involved for the good of the community as well as with social and democratic competencies including solidarity, cooperation, and communication. They are able to convey the practical knowledge and experience they gain to others through classroom and group work. School and youth work become more pragmatic and action-oriented (cf. www. lernen-durch-engagement.de).
Social commitment is particularly important for teenagers. Because adolescents are in a stage of life when their identities and worldviews are developing, their experiences have a particularly sustained and lasting influence. Reinders (2005, p. 51) analysed the connection between volunteering in the community and the development of values and discovered:
• Although it is decisive whether and how often young people become involved, it is more important that, in pursuing their chosen activities, young people experience being able to accomplish and change something. The quality of the activity is more important than the frequency.
• If self-perceptions and attitudes change due to the charitable work, the young people also demonstrate greater willingness to participate in politics. Their altered self-perceptions are associated with higher valuation of fairness and placing limits on consumption.
Because not all forms of active social commitment contribute in the same manner to identity formation, it is important to find specific activities that allow the relevant experiences to be gained. These can include joint activities with people with special needs, commitment with refugees or contact with minority groups.