Exploring the meaning of community, service, and learning in the work of Elsie Ripley Clapp and John Dewey
Sorohan, Bryan Patrick
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This study represents a contribution to the process of clarifying the philosophical and theoretical foundations of community service learning. The three main concepts of community, service, and learning were explored in order to help clarify their meaning. This examination focused on the philosophical work of John Dewey because Dewey’s ideas are widely identified in the community service learning literature as a foundation for the approach. In order to provide further clarification of Dewey’s ideas on the three concepts and test their meanings in practice, a historical case study was undertaken of the work of Elsie Ripley Clapp in two rural school systems during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Dewey’s ideas on community, service, and learning emphasize the interrelated nature of the concepts and highlight the importance of communication, relationships, ethics, and guided experience, among other considerations. In particular, Dewey’s concept of cooperative social inquiry seems to provide a useful and structured way of thinking about community service learning. The study of Clapp’s work provided insights into the practical implications of Dewey’s concepts, and revealed areas of convergence and divergence with Dewey’s ideas as Clapp applied them in the real-world situations she faced. The results of the study were used to develop new definitions of the concepts of community, service, and learning as they relate to the overall approach of community service learning. Some implications of these new ways of thinking about community, service, and learning for present-day community service learning practice are described. The implications of the cooperative social inquiry model are discussed as well.