Bringing Neohumanism to Life

with Matt Oppenheim, Ph.D

Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse    http://www.servicelearning.org/what-is-service-learning

Breaking it Down

  • Research and evaluation of service-learning demonstrates that students learn academic subjects more effectively, are more committed to graduating school, and are dedicated to a life of service through service-learning.
  • Service-learning is focused on a specific community need that is proven through research, outreach and collaboration with community organizations.
  • The service project integrates instruction in that it directly applies academic goals, standards and content through the process.
  • With reflection, students become more conscious about how the experience is affecting them, how it is impacting academic goals, how it affects skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork as well as how it is impacting the community.
  • Another goal is to teach civic responsibility, in demonstrating that students learn ways to advocate for needed changes, and take part in the civic process in their communities and at higher levels.
  • Finally, students strengthen community by helping others become more empowered, by drawing people together in collaboration, and engaging with community goals.

  • Neohumanism and Service-Learning

    Neohumanism spreads the sweet touch of universal love throughout the created universe. We bring this spirit to life when we build into our educational curriculum the means to make these relationships concrete through experiential learning tied to service. We actually can exist in mutual love through our actions. We address inequities, injustices and can restore our relationship with the environment in harmony with Neohumanistic love. Around the world, neohumanist schools are realizing this mission through a wide range of service-learning projects. More and more schools in more affluent countries are assisting schools and communities in countries that suffer from the lack of basic necessities. Most schools are realizing that their local communities, neighborhood, country and global communities are where they want to be engaged.

    For the past twelve years I have been immersed in service-learning through my role in universities, public school systems, and nonprofit organizations. I see students come to life by applying their academic skills to real life challenges. Students use their math skills in teaching accounting to recent immigrants. They work with neighborhoods in creating community gardens, bringing communities together in supplying their own food. They put on a play about their love of the earth and the protection of endangered animals for a community environmental protection program. They apply the social justice value of a leader like Martin Luther King, in addressing injustices such as basic healthcare and worker rights, the right to fair housing, and the right to fair treatment under the court system. Service-learning often begins with a short and easy to manage project. One of my own greatest joys is to watch students lead their own classes, as they form teams and organize their work together. Driven by a cause and sense of idealism and purpose, they are no longer driven to learn just to achieve academic goals.

    Service-Learning as well as nurturing Neohumanist values and principles; challenging geo-sentiment and socio-sentiment and expanding universal by service to our eco-systems, is also a Proutistic process. A great way to begin a service-learning campaign is to do a survey of local community needs and talents – P.R. Sarkar admonishes us to “get to know the people” and serve their needs. It is a way of building social and political power from the grassroots. Students realize that local problems are also global, as a country like the US depends on manufacturing from third world countries under extreme exploitation. They become aware of the impact of Genetically Modified Food (GMO’s) and advocate for changes in agriculture and against the power of huge mega-corporations. Of great importance as service-learning grows and expands over the years is the potential to develop regional economic, health and social development goals, and to unite with like-minded schools, communities and organizations. Service-learning also teaches appreciation of diverse peoples and languages as students become part of a variety of communities that they might not normally be exposed to.

    Service-learning programs often strive to create “Servant Leaders” – students who work selflessly as leaders with the sole goal of helping to transform communities as they transform their own lives. In other words, service-learning leadership leads to the creation of beginning “Sadvipras” – spiritual leaders who have a wide range of qualities and skills and can bring other people to act towards change on a number of levels.

    As students become impassioned about issues, they find ways to work with local council members or to mount a protest if needed. Often, they may hold a “teach-in” at their school, where they invite local activists and agencies to discuss common concerns. They may start a cooperative at their school to develop local economics.

    How to Carry Out a Service-Learning Project?

    (See Service-learning Ideas below)

    (1). A service-learning project starts by addressing a local issue or need. Often students may survey community members, go on a walkabout around the community to observe problems or issues.

    (2). The teacher helps students identify academic skills to use in the process. These projects usually help boost language and writing skills, but also involve math, science or social studies. A local history project is a great way to use language art skills and history at the same time.

    (3). When a project has been identified, then students find collaborators to work with them as partners. One school identified the need to have wheel-chair ramps for disabled students. A local architect helped students design the ramp using geometry, while construction workers helped them to construct several ramps.

    One of my favorite projects was to introduce the life and social change work of Cesar Chavez to a middle school in California. We created educational kits that included a DVD about his life; a biography; wall posters and campaign pins. Chavez led large strikes so farmworkers could obtain health care, affordable housing and education. Some students helped develop signs in Spanish at worksites. Others developed presentations about free healthcare, legal and workplace rights. This project culminated in a community-wide festival about Chavez. A local drama troupe created a play about his life; and a unique school garden started developing with an outdoor theatre, sculptures and mosaic murals and extensive organic food beds.

    (4). After a project is carried out, surveys and evaluations measure the success for the projects upon students learning, their appreciation of the world around them and their increasing commitment to education. An evaluation of partners and those served can inform students about how to effectively partner with both and how to achieve the goals of the service project.

    (5). Students reflect upon what they are learning and how they are developing throughout the whole project. This may be done by regular journal writing and group discussions. It may also be done through poetry or art. Students often change from the beginning to the end of the project.

    (6). The final step is to present and share the project to the wider community, the school and to their families, so that they can appreciate and understand the power and purpose of service-learning.

    Students become life-long service organizers and get involved in other community change efforts. They often have a stronger sense of purpose and commitment in finishing school, and also report that they know much better how to carry out their own projects for the benefit of communities. They form lifelong contacts and relationships.

    To Color a Warrior – A Service-Learning Novel

    My own experience brought me to writing a book, To Color a Warrior, an adventure book about a young man awakening to spirituality and social change. He had a penchant for art, and sat and drew what he was feeling and thinking. On other days he rode into the Australian bush on his motorcycle. After befriending a group of activist economists, they started an imaginative community garden, with sculptures, music and a small pond with an Asian bridge. Their main crop was pumpkins, but neighbors came to plant a wide variety of vegetables. After being shut down by police, the community created its own food cooperative. One of John’s friends then went to Ananda Nagar in India - a project that was developing a self-sufficient region throughout fifty-five villages. Later John came to visit and became best friends with an Orangutan that had escaped from a French circus. Projects at Ananda Nagar included biogas and solar energy, all levels of schooling, extensive water projects and countless cooperatives, animal sanctuaries and experimental agriculture. Back in Australia, facing a large depression, John and his friends created a community movement, developing local cooperatives, an economic democracy movement, planting a wide variety of seeds, and befriending local Aborigines.

    This book can be purchased directly by going online to ProutResearchInst.org, and then press the Paypal button near the icon for the cover of the book. The book costs $13.50, which also covers postage and handling. I would be delighted to assist the development of service-learning at schools, projects and with communities around the world. I can email The Prout Research Institute Service-LearningToolkit to you as a beginning. To contact me directly, email: oppenm@earthlink.net or phone at 505 888 2828. Wherever your journey takes you in service-learning, chances are that you will make selfless service an active part of your life; it may become a career goal, or you may use your blossoming skills in music, art, science, math or history in developing projects for your community or for the world. Chances are that you will find many people who are excited to work with you in changing the world.


    Service-Learning Ideas

    From The Prout Research Institute Service-learning Toolkit

    1. Sparking Ideas & Meeting Needs

    Issues Wall: Students post newspaper articles, graphics, drawings, essays and internet searches on a wall in the classroom about passionate issues. Then they discuss priority areas to develop a project.

    Teach-in: Students identify community partners and local experts to offer dialogues and presentations across the campus on priority issues. Students meet together in setting goals for a service-learning process.

    2. Planning

    A bus tour allows you to see alley ways that need clean-up; rivers that need reforestation; areas of dilapidated buildings; as well as inspiring sites such as a great community center, an organic farm, a great sports facility, etc.

    3. Addressing Academic & Other Competencies

    4. Partner Collaboration

    Portfolios: Each student in collaboration with the teacher compiles a portfolio that may contain:
    1. Journal writing reflecting on all aspects of the project.
    2. Planning notes and charts
    3. Photographs of projects
    4. Letters from those served
    5. Research notes or print-outs
    6. Evaluations and Observations
    7. Final Presentations

    Partner Informed Process:
    1. Observations of teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills
    2. Feedback from clients and co-workers
    3. Evaluation of project from the point of view of partner

    5. Reflection in Service-Learning.

    Reflection can occur through free form writing for students who learn best without structure or directed writing with prompts and questions about the service-learning experience for students who thrive with structure. Students reflect in groups along with teacher and partner groups or can paint murals, dance or develop a drama.

    I learned what it meant to look at an issue and break it down, to see the inter-connectedness and the complexity of an issue such as homelessness, to brainstorm and initiate strategies that addressed root causes and to avoid slapping a “Band-Aid” on symptoms. - College Student

    6. The stages of civic engagement & social justice about toxic waste

  • Students used their science skills to investigate toxic waste at a public dump.
  • Students surveyed the community to understand the impact of the site on human health.
  • Students developed a presentation on their findings to the local community and the city council.
  • The city council agreed to investigate the site.
  • The increased awareness of the project in the community led to protests to close down the site.
  • Student presentations led to a study of the correlation between lower income sites and the larger issue of toxic waste, lack of tree cover, park space, and open space across communities.

  • 7. Evaluation: Student Service-Learning Survey

    Questions will help students think about their service learning experience, and if it made a difference in their life and in the lives of others. So it assists planning for the next service-learning project and convinces supporters of the benefits.

    Students, please circle the most accurate response.
      4= Very much  3=Some  2=not much  1=Not at all

    1. I provided a needed service to the community.

            1        2        3        4

    2. Now I think and care more about other people.

            1        2        3        4

    3. I got to know the underlying causes and problems behind the issue that we addressed.

            1        2        3        4

    4. I feel more positive about others.

            1        2        3        4

    5. My writing and reading skills improved in the process.

            1        2        3        4

    6. I know how to work with and help people who are different from me.

            1        2        3        4

    8. Celebration and Presentation

  • Presentations & Celebrations are a demonstration of what was learned in the service-learning project. They may include reflections, photos of the project, letters from program participants, or digital films.
  • Presentations & Celebrations may represent advocacy for a needed civic engagement project and can be held in a public place, or presented at a local city council meeting or at a conference. They may also be combined with a community festival.