Collegiate Service-Learning may be an effective venue for facilitating life purpose development. This is the starting point of the multinational study led by Clark University on how Service-Learning influences life purpose, in which we collaborate.
Service-Learning includes both coursework and engagement with the community, with the intention to both learn and contribute. As a high impact learning experience that involves reaching out to others, it may be particularly valuable in promoting the beyond-the-self dimension of purpose, thereby affecting youths’ capacity to contribute to social problem solving. It affects dimensions of human life/development that are related to purpose, such as self-awareness, identity development, moral reasoning, social consciousness and responsibility, civic engagement, and vocational clarity.
Service-Learning helps to develop purposeful intentions by offering individuals the opportunity to interact with their context, and it connects the classroom with the community with the aim of helping students to think beyond themselves and increase their sense of social responsibility. Action, information, reflection and discussion involved in Service-Learning help students clarifying their values and defining who they are now, who they want to become, what is valuable to them and how to act according to those values
In this methodology, self awareness and pro-social commitment must be intrinsically related to ethics. The three dimensions of purpose (intention, action and pro-social commitment) do not add to it unless they are orchestrated ethics. Moral reasoning in S-L has to be linked with the concern about the consequences and effects of our own personal and professional actions with other people. That is why encouraging ethical concerns in the students must lead them to see the other as a legitimate other in coexistence with the self.
These are some of the reasons why students participating in this type of activities have to be encouraged to identify a purpose in life. For that, planned discussions that facilitate students´ awareness of long-term goals are necessary. These could be the basis for designing Service-Learning projects that help students to identify and pursue their goals. But also, teachers themselves should spend time reflecting on their own values, beliefs and purpose in life in order to be able to effectively lead students in doing the same.
We have presented this theoretical framework at the 41st Conference of the Association for Moral Education (AME), that has taken place in Santos (Brasil).