By William J. Doherty
We need a new crop of citizen professionals coming out of our colleges and universities. The term citizen professional emphasizes the role of professionals in rebuilding the civic life of communities in addition to their traditional role in providing specialized services to individuals. It moves beyond the late 20th century notion of the professional as a detached expert who informs other citizens but is not informed by them, who critiques social systems but does act to change these systems, and who sees patients, clients and communities in terms of their needs and not their capacities for individual and collective action.
Citizen professionalism is mainly an identity: seeing oneself first as a citizen with special expertise working alongside other citizens with their own special expertise in order to solve community problems that require everyone’s effort. This not just an idealistic self-image but comes from a grounded realization that the really big problems in health care, education, and social welfare—sometimes known as “wicked problems”– cannot be solved by professionals working alone, nor by government action alone. We will not make headway against the tide unless we all row together.
Here’s a short video describing the transformation of a student’s ideas about her future professional work after taking a course in Citizen Professional Work with Families and Communities.
William J. Doherty, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Family Social Science and director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota. He leads the Citizen Health Care and Families and Democracy Projects, which are developing the theory and practice of civic action by families and democratic public work by professionals. He and his colleagues currently have implemented 15 grass roots organizing projects among parents and other citizens around cultural, health, and community issues of importance to families. These projects range from the cultural discontents of middle class families (overscheduling, out-of-control birthday parties) to challenges of urban single fathers, from health care problems among American Indians to the enduring effects of war and trauma on an African immigrant community. For descriptions and publications, see www.citizenprofessional.org. Bill is also a practicing family therapist, does frequent media interviews to promote cultural change, and is past president of the National Council on Family Relations.
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.
If you’re interested in sharing your civic engagement work on our blog, contact Karina Cherfas (firstname.lastname@example.org). Blog posts should be a few hundred words and focused on civic work on and off campus.
These questions can serve as a guideline for the posts:
Briefly describe the type of civic initiatives you are working on:
- Why is this work important to you?
- What have you learned through the experience?
- Why is it important for students to be engaged in civic initiatives?
There is no right or wrong answer, we just want to hear from engaged citizens like you and the impact students’ participation in civic work has on Higher Education and our Democracy.
It is critical that we can bring your voice to the White House and to the Department of Education to show that fixing our democracy is something that young people care deeply about, and have much to contribute to.
DemocracyU is proud to be part of The American Commonwealth Partnership, a broad alliance of higher education, P-12 schools and educational groups, philanthropies, businesses and others, part of a coordinated effort with the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Department of Education, to begin a year of activity called, “For Democracy’s Future – Reclaiming Our Civic Mission.” It will kick off on the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, another year of crisis in the nation. The Morrill Act created colleges known for their commitment to democracy. As part of the initiative, the Department of Education is preparing a policy initiative to strengthen civic learning and democratic engagement in higher education and education broadly.
DemocracyU, together with ACP, are working to deepen the civic identity of educational institutions, moving engagement from activities to strong commitments to education as a public good.That’s because American students are making a difference. And in the process they’re beginning to co-create the kind of higher education they need and want for the 21st century.
Share your stories and ideas with us and inspire others.
Thank you in advance for your interest and we look forward to hearing from you.
By Katie Clark
In our society today, people have become so medicalized that we often forget that health is not about the absence of disease, but a place of belonging. Here at Augsburg College, our department has been focused on going back to what nursing was originally intended to be about, relationships. We have opened two drop-in centers focused on just that.
One of these drop-in centers is focused on working with people living on the streets of Minneapolis. We listen, we provide basic necessities, and we take the time to make sure people feel supported as well as feel as though they are part of a community. In our current medical world, few people would say that helping someone find housing is a role of a nurse. But to us, it is exactly that. It is about having heart-to-heart conversations. This center has been in existence for close to 20 years. Nurses engage with about 120 people each week.
Our other drop-in center, the Health Commons at Dar Ul-Quba, is a new innovation this year that is focused on immigrant health in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Our focus is similar to the other commons, but is carried out differently since many people have a place to call home. Our efforts here have been about trying to help people not only understand our health care system, but to help people realize how they can practice health and healing in similar ways that they did in their country of origin. Also, it is about helping people come together and create the desired change they want to see in their neighborhood.
To us, being citizen nurses means that we are working to strengthen our communities in ways that avoid the expert model. We see people as collaborators and co-creators. Our Augsburg nursing students are able to have experiences at these drop-in centers and are changing their world view in ways that are benefiting our society. Our hope is to continue to work in communities locally as well as abroad to help create a more accepting and loving world.
Freshmen at Stanford University in the late 1920s and ‘30s, were required to take a year-long course called “Problems of Citizenship.” The course was one-fourth of the normal first-year undergraduate curriculum, and was rooted in the judgments of the University’s founders, Jane and Leland Stanford, that education for civic leadership should be a primary goal of an undergraduate education. In the words of Mrs. Stanford, “While the instruction offered must be such as will qualify the students for personal success and direct usefulness in life, they should understand that it is offered in the hope and trust that they will become thereby of greater service to the public.”
In the opening lecture in 1928, the first year the course was offered, Professor Edgar Eugene Robinson told students that “citizenship is the second calling of every man and woman. You will observe as we go forward that our constant endeavor will be to relate what we do and say to the facts of the world from which you came and in which all of you will live, and to correlate the various aspects of the modern scene, so that it will appear that citizenship is not a thing apart, something to be though of only occasionally or left to the energies of a minority of our people, but that its proper understanding is at the very root of our daily life.”
Robinson reported that some 60 other colleges and universities had developed similar courses, and he expected that many others would follow.
So what happened? Why did education for civic leadership, the subject of this course, disappear from the curricula of Stanford, and other American colleges and universities?
In essence, I think the answer is that in the immediate post WW II years, disinterested, disengaged analysis became the dominant mode of academic inquiry, and quantitative methods became the primary tools of that analysis. What was previously called government or politics became political science, with a stress on positivism. Students were no longer encouraged to become engaged politically engaged. They were to be observers, not participants. And this disengaged perspective had a powerful effect not just on college students, but on the teaching of what had been called civics in secondary schools. The primary aim of high-school civics courses in the era before WW II had been to prepare young students to be actively engaged, responsible civic leaders in their communities, involved in politics at every level. The new trend drained the civics courses of their activist aims. They substituted learning about government rather than participating in it.
Fortunately, a movement is now going forward under the broad umbrella of DemocacyU to engage students as active participants in democracy on local, state, and national levels. Students are not alone responsible for fixing the messes that have been created by past inattention to the need for civic engagement. But unless they are prepared to engage in democracy—and not simply sit on the sidelines—the mess can only get worse—much worse. Colleges and universities, key places of transition for students, are ideal places for students to gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to be civically engaged.
Thomas Ehrlich is a Visiting Professor at the Stanford University School of Education. He has previously served as president of Indiana University, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and dean of Stanford Law School. He was also the first president of the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC, and the first director of the International Development Cooperation Agency, reporting to President Carter. After his tenure at Indiana University, he was a Distinguished University Scholar at California State University and taught regularly at San Francisco State University. From 2000 to 2010 he was a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is author, co-author, or editor of 13 books including Reconnecting Education and Foundations: Turning Good Intentions into Educational Capital (2007); Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Lives of Responsible Political Engagement (2007); and Preparing Undergraduates for Business: Liberal Learning for Professional Education (2011). He is now working on a book about how and why young people should be engaged in public service. He is a trustee of Mills College, and has been a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and Bennett College. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and holds five honorary degrees.
By Kevin Bott, Associate Director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life at Syracuse University
The large-scale, collaborative effort of the American Commonwealth Partnership turns my thinking to the organizing that’s required to foster a “movement” to reclaim higher education’s civic purposes. Last September, participants at Imagining America’s national conference in the Twin Cities were asked to consider their own role within higher education’s civic engagement movement. But while some considered, others questioned: Is this really a movement? Is there anyone besides the people at this conference who think of what we’re doing as a movement, or is it more likely people think of this as a passing fad?
At Imagining America, our response is of course, “yes, it is a movement!” Granted, within the great landscape of higher education, it’s a relatively small one. And although the idea of education serving an important function in a healthy democracy has been part of American rhetoric since colonial days, what many now think of as a “movement” to reclaim the civic and democratic purposes of higher education is also relatively young. Depending on which lineage one traces, we can find advances and new forms of an “engaged” scholarship springing up in the United States for at least 150 years: with the passing of the Morrill Acts in 1862 and 1890; during the 1960s, a period that saw the expansion of both whom entered the university, and who and what was studied in it; and from the 1980s through the present, when in addition to Imagining America organizations like the AAC&U, AASCU, America Democracy Project, Campus Compact, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, Project Pericles, and the Bonner Foundation continue to push for richer, more critical, and more ethical praxes to address real-world issues.
(It is also worth noting that many Imagining America consortium members identify with artistic, cultural, and humanistic movements to expand democratic engagement that are wholly separate from higher education. Much of our focus for the past several years has sought to bring those many strands of knowledge together – but that’s a topic for another blog!)
So this movement is afoot – of indeterminate size and maturity – and it aims to transform colleges and universities in such a way that it expands our notions of higher education’s role in democratic society. It is a collaborative movement that includes many other prominent national higher education, policy, government, community-based, and funding agencies.
Yet, no movement can reach its potential without an organizing strategy to connect a large and overarching vision and values to the day-to-day concerns of the movement’s stakeholders (us). With that in mind, here are some questions exploring what it means to organize within this movement:
- How can organizing help leverage the local knowledge that’s generated in campus-community partnerships to address real-world issues so it can serve to advance a broad, national, and perhaps international agenda?
- Does organizing suggest the development of one or more campaigns around particular issues so that we are not organizing for something so broad (“the transformation of higher education” or “civic engagement”) that our efforts gain no traction by dint of being disconnected from specific, concrete concerns?
- How can we organize around particular issues in a way that is resonant with all the movement’s stakeholders?
- How can we forge greater alliances with other higher education and community-based organizations who share similar values?
- Are there allies to the movement that we are inadvertently overlooking? And how can we listen to the perspectives of those who might oppose our aims?
It seems this blog is an apt forum for thinking through the questions about campus organizing in the context of the many different types of higher education institutions that often have very different aims. I’m looking forward to the ongoing discourse!
Kevin Bott is associate director of Syracuse University-based Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, the national consortium of 90 colleges and universities dedicated to advancing the public and civic purposes of humanities, arts, and design. Bott holds a PhD in educational theater from New York University, and has led numerous community-based and applied theater projects in the U.S. and abroad. He currently directs The D.R.E.A.(M.)3 Freedom Revival, a campus-community performance project designed to encourage active democratic participation in Syracuse and Greater Central New York.
By David Mathews, President of The Kettering Foundation
At signal points in their history, American colleges and universities have encountered an aroused polity — a citizenry that would rule itself. These encounters have given the institutions a political sense of mission. This happened around the time of the American Revolution. Colonial colleges taught piety and the classics until politically sensitive presidents like Ezra Stiles of Yale encouraged students to debate the issues of independence. It happened in Jefferson’s time, when state legislatures began to charter universities to prepare leaders for the new nation. It happened in the late nineteenth century, when land-grant institutions were created to serve America’s working citizens—its farmers and mechanics. The mandates for historically black institutions and community colleges emerged from similar encounters.
In higher education, significant changes have come from linkages with political and social movements outside the academy. As colleges and universities have responded to democracy’s claims, the institutions have enriched their missions. And they have been reminded that they are part of the greater causes of liberty and self-rule rather than just businesslike organizations to be judged only by their efficiency.
Are academic institutions today in touch with the citizenry that is angry about being shut out of the political system? Is there any connection between the quest for more “engaged” universities and the efforts at public engagement going on in government agencies, schools, and civic organizations? Maybe there should be.
David Mathews is President of the Kettering Foundation, a leading center for partnership partnerships which explore how democracy can work.