The American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) is an alliance of community colleges, colleges and universities, P-12 schools and others dedicated to building “democracy colleges” throughout higher education. A Presidents’ Advisory Council, composed of distinguished college and university presidents who have long been leaders in engaged higher education movement, offers continuing counsel and wisdom (see list below).
Launched at the White House on January 10th, 2012, the start of the 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act which created land grant colleges, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, ACP uses the concept of democracy colleges from land grant and community college history. Democracy colleges convey the idea of colleges and universities deeply connected to their communities, which make education for citizenship a signature identity.
The work of building democracy colleges draws on a rich tradition, dating back to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency:
The White House meeting, “For Democracy’s Future – Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission”, marked a new stage of coordinated effort to bring about a commitment to civic education and education as a public good. It was organized in partnership with the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Department of Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of the Schools.
At the White House, the Department of Education released its Road Map and Call to Action on civic learning and democratic engagement, described in remarks by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement released A Crucible Moment, a report to the nation on the need for a shift in civic learning from “partial” to “pervasive.”
ACP highlighted institutions that have taken steps toward becoming democracy colleges, including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, state colleges and universities, and research institutions. ACP continues to consult with Undersecretary for Higher Education Martha Kanter and her Office of Postsecondary Education on policies to strengthen higher education’s public engagement and is also helping to organize state level policy initiatives on the topic.
The ACP coalition promotes several initiatives including:
The Deliberative Dialogue Initiative, in partnership with the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), is organizing a discussion on campuses and in communities on higher education’s role in America’s future. It is to be complemented by a communications effort to convey the potential of higher education in teaching skills, such as listening, deliberation, teamwork, negotiating different interests and views, to work across differences on public problems. Research by NIFI suggests that the public is largely unaware of higher education’s contributions to such skill development – seen as an urgent need by citizens of many views and backgrounds in order to turn around the growing divisiveness and polarization in America.
Citizen Alum Initiative, directed by Julie Ellison of the University of Michigan, aims to change the framework of alumni relations, partnering with alumni as “do-ers” as well as donors. Citizen Alum aims to find the hidden treasure—the creative, civic, intellectual, and social capital of alumni – especially recent “gap alums” and alums who opt out of conventional roles, supporting them as contributors to their home communities and as allies in education.
Student Organizing Initiative is a campaign to deepen the civic identity of college students, develop skills of deliberative public work, and strengthen the DemocracyU social media campaign and website as resources for students to share their stories and address their concerns for America’s democracy. This initiative is also exploring strategies for putting cross partisan citizen-centered politics back at the center of the highly polarized election campaign of 2012.
Pedagogies of Empowerment and Engagement Initiative is an organizing effort spearheaded by Blase Scarnati of Northern Arizona University. It will identity and collect the details of effective pedagogies of empowerment and engagement across the country that teach skills to work across differences. The group will also recruit new sites and partners.
Public Scholarship Initiative is organized by Scott Peters of Cornell University, Tim Eatman of Imagining America at Syracuse University, and John Saltmarsh of NERCHE (UMASS Boston). The team have began a participatory research project with various institutions on the work of building democracy colleges in the 21st century.
Campus-Community Civic Health Initiative, coordinated by the American Democracy Project in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship, is developing ways to assess the impact of colleges and universities on community and campus civic health.
Civic Science Initiative is organized by John Spencer at the University of Iowa, Scott Peters at Cornell University, Molly Jahn at the University of Wisconsin, Rom Coles at Northern Arizona University, and Harry Boyte at Augsburg College and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Civic science is a framework for understanding scientists as citizens, working with other citizens in ways that respect different ways of knowing, deepening collective wisdom on public questions, and developing civic agency.
ACP Policy Initiative, building on policy discussions with the Department of Education in 2011, focuses on state level policies strengthening engagement, and is consulting with the DOE on an ongoing basis about policies to strengthen engagement.
Presidents’ Advisory Council
Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Syracuse University
Brian Murphy, President, De Anza College
M. Christopher Brown, President, Alcorn State University
Thomas Ehrlich, President Emeritus, Indiana University
Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland Baltimore County
David Mathews, President Emeritus, University of Alabama
Paul Pribbenow, President, Augsburg College
Judith Ramaley, President, Winona State University
Inaugural Host Institution
Augsburg College, Minneapolis
Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship
For more information or to submit a blog, please email Karina Cherfas (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Karin Kamp (email@example.com).
Realizing the Democratic Mission of Higher Education to Help Realize the Democratic Promise of America for All AmericansPosted: January 3, 2012
By Ira Harkavy
Benjamin Franklin, when proposing the curriculum and goals for the college he founded, the University of Pennsylvania, emphatically declared that service was “the great aim and end of all learning.” Fulfilling America’s democratic promise was the founding purpose of land-grant universities. The defined urban-serving mission for higher education dates from the late 19th century, notably the founding of Johns Hopkins University, the first modern university, in 1876. Community colleges and regional colleges and universities were also founded for democratic purposes, embracing access and inclusion as core to their mission and goals.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a re-emergence of engaged scholarship, with leading academics and heads of colleges, universities and community colleges making the intellectual case. The argument is that higher educational institutions would better fulfill their core civic and academic functions, including advancing knowledge and learning, if they focused on improving conditions in their cities and local communities.
It is more important than ever that higher educational institutions function as genuinely democratic, engaged civic institutions dedicated to advancing learning and knowledge to advance human welfare. A radical democratic transformation of colleges and universities is crucial to the democratic transformation of America into a genuinely democratic society.
Higher educational institutions possess enormous resources (most significantly human resources), play a leading role in developing and transmitting new discoveries and educating societal leaders, and basically shape the schooling system. As it currently operates, the American higher educational system does not contribute to the development of democratic communities and schools.
Among other deficiencies, American universities in particular significantly contribute to a schooling system that is elitist and hierarchical. As John Dewey emphasized, participatory democratic schooling is mandatory for a participatory democratic society. Simply put, unless the schooling system from pre-K through 20 is transformed into a participatory democratic schooling system, America will continue to fall far short of functioning as a decent, just, participatory democracy. The transformation of higher education is crucial to the transformation of the entire schooling system and the education of creative, caring, contributing democratic citizens.
By Andrea Morisette Grazzini
While debate echoes in Congress and conference rooms about democracy, kids are achieving it via basketball in cul-de-sacs and YMCAs.
Lest I’m thumped from this scholarly forum for over-simplifying, I’ll add: Coordinating a multi-faceted movement to transform the United States is not child’s play. We can’t succeed without the wisdom of age and experience. In fact, I’d say our civic situation requires all people get off the sidelines and get moving.
Still, consider the lessons of a recent student-led democracy-in-action narrative:
Three adolescents joined three elementary school kids, animatedly debating how to divvy up teams for pick-up basketball on a local court. In seconds a flash mob swarmed—all colors and ages of both-gendered students, from preschool to post-secondary. Simple rules and rights were negotiated: let all play and none get hurt.
Alternately arguing and laughing while stampeding from net to net, the players navigated diverse abilities in the shared space. Unknowingly creating an example of collective choice in collaborative action. By satisfying self-interests and common good, complete with “adaptive governance.”
A Dad and I played, too, orienting and adjudicating their “model” as hybrid referee/coaches.
Others gathered, stunned—among them sweaty jocks. A Muslim mom noted the pro-social skills children were teaching adults. Another, a Hispanic whose daughter organized younger players recruited a nearby parent to help encourage the high-schooler’s leadership in after-school work.
What do this fledgling leader and her co-players offer movements like DemocracyU?
The lived-experience lessons their contagious play provides are catalyzing their emergent civic agency —and alert adults impressed by their expedient, effective methods are learning, too. Their “practical imperatives first” way inspires my deliberative discourse work, including DynamicShift a trans-partisan, cross-sector effort.
And Paha Sapa: Play it Forward, facilitated by researchers from University of Minnesota’s Citizen Professional Center. It engages government and business to follow citizen’s lead for grassroots reform. To achieve health and connection through physical play activities in local parks and other public places, which echo the students’ practice of inclusive spontaneity.
A recent event drew hundreds of people, all types, dodge-balling, ducking tackles and dancing—among them Elizabeth Kautz.
Which reminded me of conversations she and I shared when Kautz, our Mayor, was president of the US Council of Mayors.
Civic engagement is serious work, advised Kautz. It requires initiative, cooperation and sustained cross-sector efforts from all: students to senior leaders.
Still, participatory democracy parallels aspects of pick-up games. Including, says Kautz, because it’s “fun!”
Andrea Morisette Grazzini is a leadership innovations consultant and participatory researcher. She founded the trans-partisan initiative DynamicShift (www.dynamicshift.org) in 2009. Her work has influenced numerous regional, national and global conversations on co-productive change. Including We the People, the national movement by Center for Democracy and Citizenship, American Democracy Project, American Association of State Colleges and Universities and The White House Office for Public Engagement.Essays and dialogues by Andrea can be found at the DynamicShift Blog and via numerous forums, including online TEDTalks.