“Education,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Human society is at a crossroads. Political divisions, racial injustice, economic inequality, and religious warfare threaten the future of nation-states and local communities. Genetic modification and automation challenge what it means to be and produce as a human being. Perhaps most significantly, nuclear war and climate change have destructive potential beyond anything ever experienced by humanity. At this unique moment in history, it is impossible to deny the need for social change. Higher education, at its best, can contribute to the transformation of the world. This keynote lecture will consider the ways that Service Learning can provide students with a sense of responsibility to the world in which they live and encourage them to act as engaged citizens in their communities. It will use research undertaken as part of an international field school to explore how interactions with different communities, grounded in a curriculum intended to benefit both the students and the partner organization, changes students’ perceptions of the world and teaches them to engage in efforts to effect social change at home and abroad. Education, then, can have revolutionary potential; through pedagogical interventions like Service Learning, it can transform not only individuals but also the wider society.
Roberta Lexier is an Associate Professor in the Department of General Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her research and teaching focus on social movements, social activism, and social change. She trained as a historian and has studied student movements, feminism and women’s movements, Indigenous movements, economic movements, environmental movements, and the counterculture. She has published on Sixties student movements in English Canada and the intersections between social movements and political parties, especially the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). She also organizes and leads international field schools to Honduras and has developed a Community Service Learning course that seeks to connect universities with community organizations. She has published articles on the concept of Global Citizenship and the effects Service Learning experiences on students’ education and their personal development as responsible and engaged members of their communities.