Book Reviews

Book by: Deans, Thomas
Review by: Peter Pellegrin


Thomas Deans’ Writing Partnerships explores two educational philosophies-- John Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy and Paulo Freire’s revolutionary philosophy—and their relationship to composition and service learning.  His book is useful in demonstrating the philosophical underpinnings of service learning as a pedagogy and will be very useful to anyone genuinely interested in service learning, especially as it applies to composition and rhetoric courses.

Deans begins with an overview of service learning, examining its current popularity.  Chapter 2 is perhaps the most important chapter in the book and should be read carefully because he explains the Deweyan and Freirean educational philosophies  which inform the rest of his book.  Essentially, the Deweyan approach is pragmatic, and education prepares us for political participation; for Freire, education results in revolutionary action and is in itself political action. Deans then discusses three basic composition paradigms and how they fit the teachings of both men: writing for the community, writing about the community, and writing with the community.  Writing for the community usually involves pairing students with organizations such as the YMCA and producing a text for it, such as a  pamphlet or a flyer. He examines Laurie Gullion’s 1996 Writing in Sports management class as an example of this type. Deans then examines Bruce Herzberg’s composition courses as examples of writing about the community.  Deans notes its focus on traditional academic writing as a reason for the popularity of writing about the community among university professors.  For writing with the community, Deans examines the Community Literacy Center (CLC) in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon  and their synergistic approach to solving community issues such as the problem caused between marginalized youth affected by a teen curfew and the feelings of local police charged with enforcing that curfew. Lastly, Deans examines combinations of these three types and the future of service learning in academia.  A valuable component of this text is the appendices containing samples of materials and student samples (these are especially helpful), description of community writing courses and program descriptions around the country, and resources and contacts. 

Overall, Thomas Deans  has written a book which is valuable to advisors because it demonstrates how in-class learning can apply to the “real world” (always a selling point with students) and provides philosophical justification for the pedagogy (always a selling point with academics).  The book is highly readable and deserves the attention of composition instructors, advisors, and anyone interested in the why’s and how’s of service learning in general.



Writing Partnerships: Service-Learning in Composition. (2000). Book by Deans, Thomas. Review by Peter Pellegrin. Urbana, IL:NCTE. ISBN #  0-8141-5918-4


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