By Megan Fowler
I don’t know about you but I’ve never really paid much attention to hyphens; they come off as pretty small and insignificant, not to mention that English grammar and punctuation was never my favorite topic. My respect for and acknowledgement of the hyphen didn’t start until I served as a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant.
Like the definition states, hyphens function to show that two words are connected. These words become a unit that portrays a greater meaning than the separated words, and that’s the entire difference between hyphenated words and individual words – the separation. Let’s take a closer look at how you can start to appreciate the importance of the hyphen.
It may take a minute to notice, but once you do it’s hard not to see the clear difference between these two word pairs. With the first, Service and Learning are two distinct and separate words. In the second however, they flow together smoothly with no disconnect. Not only are these two formats visually different, but they have entirely different meanings; all of which is thanks to the hyphen.
Service-Learning uses the hyphen to signify the founding principle of the program; that coursework and service experiences are so closely integrated that you can’t have one without the other. The shape of the hyphen is also important because neither word is emphasized and they are both equally important. Service and learning both contribute to the value of this program and occur simultaneously. While participating in service, students are learning about the aspects that make up their communities and themselves; helping others is one of the best ways to test yourself and to find out how you handle situations. While attending class, students are reflecting on their service, realizing how meaningful their work is and why this program is so important to developing college students.
One of my favorite parts of the hyphen concept is that it doesn’t end after the semester ends. Once you are able to see the importance of the connection between service and learning, it becomes a part of your perspective in life. Whether you participate in another Service-Learning course or get involved in a service project, or even if you don’t, you’ll be able to connect the importance of what you are doing with the community or service or something greater than the activity alone.
This dash may seem like just a small little line, but if you start to realize how important the hyphen is, you will open up your mind to endless possibilities and see the connections that make the world much greater.