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Building Community: Service Learning in the Academic Disciplines


In my eight years of teaching classes with a service dimension, I was struck by its absence in any literature department I had encountered. One might expect literary study to be an especially apt partner to service learning. Service brings the social context of the text a major emphasis of contemporary literary criticism into the classroom with gripping immediacy. The direct experience with people and problems otherwise inaccessible seems to inspire in students a questioning attentiveness to the subtleties of literary texts and the complex explorations of cultural forces and personal interactions those narratives can offer. Conversely, students who are originally drawn to literature for the unusual understanding and compassion it evokes can find service a gratifyingly substantive way to act on newly awakened concerns.