Service-Learning as a Tool to Cultivate Democratically Minded Students: A Conceptual Framework

Hannah Lebovits, Del M. N. Bharath


The field of public administration is intrinsically linked to a substantive experience of democracy and the development of a democratic community. This article employs John Dewey’s constructivist pedagogical approach to make the case that service-learning can be a vehicle to cultivate students’ understanding of democracy as a movement toward a common good. We use the term “real democracy” to describe the ways that substantive practices of Dewey’s communal democracy materialize in today’s public sector. We highlight the concerns “real democracy” presents for public administrators before arguing that Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs are a particularly suitable setting to cultivate Dewey’s constructivist approach to democratic education given that the spirit of the approach is already well-aligned with MPA core competencies. Finally, we present public administration educators with a democratic service-learning conceptual framework that ties together pedagogical goals, service-learning design and outcomes, and Dewey’s constructivist, democratic student experience.


Public Administration; Democracy; Service-Learning; Social Justice

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