“For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission”- White House Event Reinforces The Need For Civic EducationPosted: January 12, 2012
At the White House yesterday, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,called on a gathering of civic education, government, business and philanthropy leaders to provide practical civic engagement opportunities for students from grade school to graduate school.
The group, along with other senior Obama Administration officials, were gathered to launch a national conversation “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission” focusing on the importance of educating students for informed and engaged citizenship.
“Our young people have an appetite, their committed, they want to be engaged … But somehow we’ve walked away from providing those opportunities,” Duncan said. He added that he sees education as more than ‘book’ knowledge and included teaching students to participate in a vibrant democracy.
“Hands on learning experiences that engage young people in the community and have them, at very early ages start to see the impact they can have, I think, is probably the best way to teach that,”Duncan said.
Skills young people gain through civic engagement –critical thinking, working in diverse teams and asking hard questions – are the same skills that they will need to be successful in the economy.
Duncan also said that when senior college students are surveyed, they feel they have had less opportunities to make a difference during their time in college than when they first entered college. “That passion is there, that desire is there but somehow we’re not meeting that need. So collectively we have to do something very, very different”.
The White House event also marked the release of “A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future,” a new report to the Department of Education from leading civic scholars and practitioners, as well as the Department’s own report, “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action.”
Event also introduced the new American Commonwealth Partnership, which aims to bring together thousands of universities, colleges, community colleges, schools and other civic partners to promote civic education,civic mission and civic identity throughout all of education in the United States.
Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett also spoke and reaffirmed President Obama’s commitment to education. “We hope that this provides us with a launching off point, a catalyst, the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing engagement.”
Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, talked about the importance of “democracy colleges”, which he said would reinvent citizenship for the 21st century. Boyte said moving the ACP (powered by DemocracyU) forward and developing these democracy colleges across the country is critical for the future of education and society in general.
“We see ourselves as responding to the call of the nation, to the crisis of the nation. There is a deep sense that we need to move from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture,” Boyte said.
A number of students and graduates also spoke on panels at the event. One, Nikki Cooley, of the Dinesh tribe also known as Navaho, who is a program coordinator at Northern Arizona University, recalled having trouble in math and science and not being interested in it in high school.
“I come from 17 million acres of land where 80 percent of the people don’t have electricity or running water, ” Cooley said. Her parents didn’t get electricity until 2011 (and are still waiting for running water). It was being connected to opportunities that were relevant to her background, she said, that led her to understand how and why math and science mattered to her future.
“I realized I had opportunities that were relevant to my background. That used my background as a Navaho woman … who is concerned about issues on the Navaho reservation and other native communities. Because that is who I am, first and foremost.”
Cooley described how cultivating these interests led her to complete a Master’s in forestry works, and work with climate scientists to learn more about climate change on the Colorado Plateau.
“If I [learned about] that in high school I would have been more inclined to be interested or stay awake in class,” she said. Cooley went on to urge the government and educators to consider relevant cultural educational opportunities when thinking about democracy in colleges and universities.
Bianca Brown, a student at Western Kentucky University and a senior coach at Public Achievement, spoke about the role of students and citizenship.
“It’s not enough to hang an American flag in front of your home and call yourself a citizen,” she said. Brown spoke to the importance of sharing knowledge and “empowering the un-empowered” through activity, and being engaged as a student.
She also said that her university professor, Paul Markham, gave her inspiration and the support she needed to find her voice. “I lived in the projects for ten years but I was always passionate. I always wanted to focus that passion,” Brown told DemocracyU.
It was the encouragement of collaborative work at university that showed her how to focus that passion, she added.
Watch the videos of all speakers at the event :
Read more on Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy at U.S. Dept of Ed: