Service-learning in composition and public and private learning: A dual study of "participation"

Bradley Cole Bennett

Abstract

How might the verbal performances produced within a particular service-learning course design--particularly students' ethnographic fieldnotes, written responses to text, classroom conversations, interviews, and observed dialogue at the point of server/served interface--inform the notions of public and private spaces? Further, to what extent do such performances transfer to larger composition pedagogical milieux? This manuscript relates the account of a qualitative exploration of service-learning and positionality within public and private spheres that sought to answer these questions. Its intent is to draw parallels between participatory learning generated within university-sponsored service and the positionality inherent in writing theories and pedagogies. Using qualitative methods of research, I investigated two composition classes, identical in conception, pedagogical stance, and syllabus, conducted at a private college and a public university (William Carey College, a small, private, Baptist college and the University of Southern Mississippi, a large, state institution). Interpretation of the data gathered from both institutions critically evaluates and refines service-learning models within composition, problematizes the terms "public" and "private" in useful ways, especially as they relate to public and private educational institutions, and informs larger issues of composition as a discipline of theory. My initial findings indicated that the students at the private college employed a rubric interpretive framework--essentially private--while the state university students employed a heuristic framework, which is essentially public. However, a deeper analysis through the theoretical lens of Lave and Wenger's Legitimate Peripheral Participation shows that both private and public interpretations manifested in both student populations under study. I situate my text within two current topics in modern composition discussions (1) the pedagogy of service-learning, a proven teaching method ripe for critical interrogation and undergoing a tremendous shift at the moment and (2) the ongoing journal conversations of Composition's relationship to the notions of "public" and "private" (in various manifestations of those terms), a dialogue beginning with classical rhetoricians' debate over the role of invention, and appearing in the 20th century as debates about striking the proper balance between writing theory and practice.