Service Learning: Linking Theory to Practice

Students in Dr. Rekha Nath’s philosophy classes posed a difficult question: How do the theories they study apply in the real world?

Those enrolled in Nath’s service-learning course, PHL 231 Social Justice in Practice, are finding answers. By working with local nonprofit agencies, students are able to observe for themselves the inherent difficulties and real-life applications of political philosophy as they surface.

For example, Ben McCormick, an aspiring doctor, finds a connection between philosophy and his intended career. “I think social justice is a really relevant topic to doctors on the whole,” he said.

McCormick’s participation in the Temporary Emergency Services program has taught him to be more compassionate, he says, which is important for any good doctor. Through his work preparing food for families hit hard by the recent tornados, McCormick has come to believe that programs for those in need should be government funded.

Alex Harris, who works with the Druid City Community Garden Project, said that while working with impoverished elementary school students, she has begun to question how the lives of the underprivileged might improve.

“This being a social justice course, it definitely comes up,” Harris said, “that this is a low-income area.” She said she has learned to provide education on economic sustainability and nutrition to the students, and earned for herself a deeper appreciation for philosophy, “a field [she is] passionate about.”

McCormick and Harris agree with classmate Rebecca Kerley, who volunteers at Tuscaloosa One Place, a family resource center. “A lot of times philosophy can be kind of impractical,” Kerley said. “It’s nice to have a very practical application of the theories we’re studying.”