First, Do No Harm: Student Ownership and Service-Learning


  • William Morgan Indiana University


Higher Education, Service Learning, Student Engagement


America prides itself on being a civically engaged democracy, but we have seen a continuing rise in citizen apathy and a decline in citizen participation. This trend is worst among our nation's youth. Not only have students become less interested in politics, but their educational performance has weakened as well. Many have suggested service-learning as an answer to both problems. However, research on service-learning has been mixed, with some large-scale research studies yielding modest results, while studies of exemplary programs produced sizable changes. We argue that when students participate in service-learning projects in which they have ownership, they become more engaged in the classroom and also build an appreciation for civic values. However, when all the programs are examined together, there are virtually no effects. This occurs because programs that gave students little ownership actually produce negative effects on the students' civic orientations. The policy implications are sizable, and our caution is that educators should strive to ''first, do no harm."