College and university students have consistently been at the forefront of the environmental movement, rallying and taking a stand for our planet. 2012 will be a critical year for the environment; as our climate and natural environment are rapidly changing, a host of major national elections occur, and the prominent Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development takes the world stage. Thus the time is now for universities to again lead the way in creating environmental change
As part of Earth Day Network’s global effort to Mobilize The Earth™, Earth Day University is activating college students to join the MobilizeU movement and enable their campus environmental initiatives to have a greater impact than ever before.
MobilizeU is an international competition between colleges and universities that calls upon students to mobilize their campus communities around four weeks of environmental activism surrounding Earth Day 2012 (March 29 – April 29). Over the month-long competition, students will organize activities such as campus clean-ups, new voter registration drives and Earth Day events, as well as amplify environmental initiatives they are already working on at their schools
Each of these activities will be broken down into a calculable number of “acts of green” – actions that either educate someone about the environment or reduce an individual’s carbon footprint. During each week of the competition, School Coordinators from each participating university will report the number of acts of green they generated and post a creative photo or video documenting their efforts to the MobilizeU Facebook hub. A central objective of MobilizeU is to build an international movement of student environmental activists. Student Regional Coordinators will be working to initiate an exchange of ideas as well as a sense of community between students across the world.
Every act of green generated during MobilizeU will contribute to Earth Day Network’s global A Billion Acts of Green® initiative which will be presented to world leaders at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development this June. MobilizeU provides a platform for college students to amplify their environmental initiatives on an international level have a significant influence on global environmental change.
Contact MobilizeU@earthday.org for more information.
By Cecilia M. Orphan
I am not qualified to write about science. My knowledge of the subject is limited to the occasional NPR interview with a scientist and articles in the New York Times that I have consumed. I have a political science degree and despite what some of my colleagues in the discipline would want you to believe, political science is not scientific.
In the last few decades, many political scientists have striven to be viewed as bona fide scientists, detached from the populations and systems that they study and able to offer unbiased, expert opinions based on hypotheses and statistical formulas. Because of my aversion to this yearning for values-neutral roles as scholars and not activists, I am now a Ph.D. student of higher education.
I am learning about how theories can not only improve our understanding of the academy but can also transform American universities to serve as engines for democracy. So what does this have to do with civic science, a signature initiative of the American Commonwealth Partnership, and why do I have anything to say about this topic?
I constantly hear politicians, educators, media representatives, business and community leaders bemoan the decrease in college students studying the sciences. They worriedly predict what this drop off in interest will mean for our economy and competitive posture in the world. They also rightly critique and interrogate the lack of diversity in the field and challenge educators to reduce barriers and make the disciplines more attractive to a wider array of students so that we can maintain our global position as a land of experts and inventors.
For a generation that will be – for the first time in American history – worse off economically than previous generations, these appeals do not appeal.
Millennials have accepted that they will not be as financially secure as their parents. They look to other measures of achievement to interpret their own value and contributions to society. They volunteer at higher rates than previous generations and many are eager to devise solutions to the public problems facing their neighborhoods, schools and communities.
As has been demonstrated, this generation sees its own success tied up with society’s ability to alleviate inequality and provide opportunities for all citizens to participate in creating their own shared futures. Millennials are also more global in their thinking and believe that the U.S. should form mutually beneficial partnerships with other countries and not compete against them. For these reasons, making the case for studying science based on global competitiveness and the health of the economy does not inspire this generation to put down Murakami and pick up a biology textbook.
While I don’t presume to be an oracle for my generation and I am well aware that there are many outliers to the generalizations I have made above, after having spent the last 10 years of my life working with college students I believe that my description on the whole is true. So why does science matter and why should it matter? And how can we inspire Millennials to pursue degrees in the STEM fields?
College students today work tirelessly to afford their education. Many hold multiple jobs and help support families while putting themselves through school. This is a group of young people that is more diverse economically, socially, culturally and ethnically than any other cohort of college students in American history.
Many, like me, will be the first member of their family to enroll in higher education. And while many will enter the academy, fewer will leave having achieved that precious and invaluable accomplishment: a college degree. These students want to believe that in the face of immense difficulty, decreasing financial aid and growing societal skepticism over the role and purpose of their American higher education that they are working not only to better themselves, but to better their families, communities and the world. For these young people, science becomes relevant when it is tied to real-world problems and civic work.
I am reminded of the Stewardship of Public Lands initiative that I worked with while I was national manager of the American Democracy Project. To me, this initiative demonstrates the power and potential of civic science. It also helps us understand a different kind of political science that asks policy makers and community leaders to partner with scientists and neighborhoods to create solutions that will address controversies over the use and management of public lands. It is this type of civic science that asks us to study the world with a view to democracy and understand the connections between the scientific and political dimensions of our realities. And I believe that it is this real-world, applied view of science that would inspire my generation to pursue higher learning in scientific realms.
I was struck by a story told by one of the Millennial speakers at Tuesday’s White House event. Nikki Cooley, a member of the Navaho tribe, became passionate about science when she understood how it impacted her culture. Nikki saw first-hand how climate scientists and tribe leaders worked together to provide her family and community with electricity, and then discovered a passion for learning more about a subject she previously had little interest in. She saw how science could positively shape her community’s future. Science became civic, and Nikki became inspired.
If we want to lead the world as innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, adventurers and, most importantly, democratic citizens, we must call on higher education to awaken the civic impulses of scientific studies. I firmly believe that this awakening will lead to more majors in genetics, mathematics, engineering and other vital fields. Of greater significance, these college graduates will be filled with a public spirit and will work to apply their scientific and civic expertise to improve American democracy.
Cecilia Orphan is a Ph.D. Student in the Higher Education Division of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to Penn, Ms. Orphan directed the American Democracy Project, an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities focused on higher education’s role in preparing informed, engaged citizens for our democracy. Ms. Orphan serves on the Steering Committee for the American Commonwealth Partnership and on the Board of The Democracy Imperative. She is an Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellow and a New England Research Center for Higher Education Next Generation Engagement Fellow.
January 10, 2012
This is a great day and an important moment for education leaders who want to take civic learning to greater heights and expand its impact. And it is an important day for all of us who care about nurturing a vibrant democracy. As we’re nearing the end of our conference, I’ll try to keep my remarks relatively brief. But I hope this meeting will be the start of something big for the civic learning movement, which has failed to receive the attention it richly deserves.
My hope is that this meeting will serve as a call to action–to make civic learning and democratic engagement a staple of every American’s education, from elementary school to college and to careers. The publications of A Crucible Moment and the Guardian Of Democracy reports, the formation of the American Commonwealth Partnership, and the release of our own roadmap today for advancing civic learning and democratic engagement, are an auspicious beginning.
Unfortunately, we know that civic learning and democratic engagement are not staples of every American’s education today. In too many schools and on too many college campuses, civic learning and democratic engagement are add-ons, rather than an essential part of the core academic mission.
Too many elementary and secondary schools are pushing civics and service-learning to the sidelines, mistakenly treating education for citizenship as a distraction from preparing students for college-level mathematics, English, Science, and other core subjects.
And most institutions of higher education now offer civic learning as an elective, not as a critical component of preparing students to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy.
This shunting to the sidelines of civic education, service learning, political participation, and community service is counterproductive. Preparing all students for informed, engaged participation in civic and democratic life is not just essential–it is entirely consistent with the goals of increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps.
It is consistent with preparing students for 21st century careers. And it is consistent with President Obama’s goal to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. As Tony Wagner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education says, there is a “happy convergence between the skills most needed in the global knowledge economy and those most needed to keep our democracy safe and vibrant.”
Now, it is sometimes said that civic learning is old school education. In an era of texts and tweets, and the instant democracy of the Web, civic education can seem antiquated.
And it is absolutely the case that much needs to be done to reinvigorate and elevate the quality of civic learning in America. Yet even the most casual glimpse around the globe today shows that civic learning and democracy very much matter in 2012.
From the uprisings in the Arab Spring to the tragic shootings a year ago in Tucson at a Congress on the Corner event, Americans have been reminded again that freedom matters—and that democracy is its embodiment.
The advent of a knowledge-based, global economy opens up unprecedented opportunities, but it creates unprecedented global challenges as well. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore—or anywhere else in America.
The United States can no longer meet global challenges like developing sustainable sources of energy, reducing poverty and disease, or curbing air pollution and global warming, without collaborating with other countries. And the U.S. cannot meet those global challenges, both here in our local communities or abroad, without dramatically improving the quality and breadth of civic learning and democratic engagement.
These new global and communal challenges will require U.S. students to develop better critical thinking skills and cross-cultural understanding. Fortunately, high-quality civic learning equips students with the very skills they need to succeed in the 21st century—the ability to communicate effectively, to work collectively, to ask critical questions, and to thrive in diverse workplaces.
It’s also worth remembering, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says, that civic knowledge is not inherited “through the gene pool.” It is not passed on in mother’s milk. It is learned—at school, and at the dinner table. Schools matter.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the landmark law which created our nation’s land-grant universities, and subsequently our nation’s Historic Black Colleges and Universities.
Since our founding, America’s leaders have recognized that one of the most important purposes of educating the nation’s citizens is to protect and strengthen democracy.
Many Americans are aware that the founders stressed the importance of civic learning and participation in K-12 education. But fewer people realize that civic learning has played a longstanding leading role in higher education as well.
That is one reason why I am so encouraged by the new report that our Department commissioned from an independent, blue-ribbon task force of educators, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future.
It presents a smart and thorough analysis of civic learning and democratic engagement in higher education. And I absolutely share the task force’s sense of urgency about the need to bolster civic learning and engagement on our nation’s campuses and in our communities.
One of the most troubling findings of the task force report is that the longer students stay in college, the wider the gap becomes between “their endorsement of social responsibility as a goal of college and their assessment of whether the institution is providing opportunities for growth in this area.”
Surveys find that only about one in four college seniors report that their understanding of the problems facing their community and their knowledge of people from different races and cultures were much stronger at the end of college than at its start.
These findings make plain that our institutions of higher education—and their elementary and secondary school partners—need to expand and transform their approach to civic learning and democratic engagement.
This is not a time for tinkering, for incremental change around the margins. At no school or college should students graduate with less civic literacy and engagement than when they arrived. More and better is the challenge before us–and that is why your leadership is critical if we are to take this work to another level.
As the task force report also makes clear, the quality of civic learning is not a new concern. Our founders believed that informed citizens were a bulwark against tyranny and vital to a functioning democracy.
Recall that Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Benjamin Franklin also believed college should not be reserved for the elite, but should instead cultivate “an inclination joined with the ability to serve mankind, one’s country, friends, and family.” And President Lincoln, who signed the Morrill Act in the midst of the Civil War, declared that education was the “most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”
This deep-seated commitment to civic learning and engagement peaked in higher education after World War II, when millions of G.I.’s headed to colleges and universities on the G.I. Bill.
In 1947, President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education released a landmark report that called for states to create a system of community colleges to help accommodate the vast number of returning veterans enrolling in higher education.
It is telling that the commission did not present its recommendations simply as an economic imperative. In fact, it argued that “the first and foremost charge upon higher education is that at all levels and in all its fields of specialization, it shall be the carrier of democratic values, ideals, and process.”
Today, 65 years later, I am absolutely convinced that this is the moment to advance civic learning and democratic engagement, once again. The time is ripe for reform because the state of civic knowledge and engagement among Americans is poor–even as the interest in civic learning and engagement among students, teachers, and faculty is growing.
A new generation of innovative, entrepreneurial organizations is promoting civic learning and engagement at many schools and college campuses. Some are government-led initiatives like AmeriCorps and our Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
But there are so many outstanding public, non-profit, and private initiatives, like the Campus Compact, Ashoka U, the Interfaith Youth Core, Justice O’Connor’s iCivics online initiative–and many other service-learning programs, social entrepreneurship, and civil discourse programs that have blossomed in the last two decades.
Unlike traditional civic education, civic learning and democratic engagement 2.0 is more ambitious and participatory than in the past. To paraphrase Justice O’Connor, the new generation of civic education initiatives move beyond your “grandmother’s civics” to what has been labeled “action civics.”
The goals of traditional civic education–to increase civic knowledge, voter participation, and volunteerism–are all still fundamental. But the new generation of civic learning puts students at the center. It includes both learning and practice—not just rote memorization of names, dates, and processes. And more and more, civic educators are harnessing the power of technology and social networking to engage students across place and time.
How do I know that the new generation of civic learning can be both engaging and exacting? I was lucky enough to have the opportunity both to promote and witness the impact of high-quality civic learning firsthand when I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.
I see that Brian Brady from the Mikva Challenge in Chicago is here today. So is my friend, Marc Shulman, and a number of students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. That was one of my favorite high schools.
They have produced hundreds of civic learners who have done some amazing projects in their communities. Brian helped those students to organize and run an advisory council for me. And their insights on how policy decisions impacted students’ lives were profound and invaluable to me and my team.
The Mikva Challenge has also done an incredible job of recruiting and training high school seniors and juniors to serve as election judges in Chicago. Now, anyone who knows Chicago politics, knows that is not an easy job!
But literally, even before they can vote, high school juniors in Chicago are now signing up to be election judges. The Mikva Challenge recruits and trains 2,500 high school students in Chicago for each election cycle. And those students account for nearly 20 percent of election judges in Chicago. Could Brian, Marc, and the students here today stand to be recognized?
Finally, I want to encourage everyone here today to read the Road Map and Call to Action that our Department is releasing today to advance civic learning and engagement in democracy.
It outlines our agency’s role in civic learning. And it lists nine steps we will take as we strive to serve as a constructive catalyst for change.
I want to especially thank Undersecretary Martha Kanter, Assistant Secretary Eduardo Ochoa, Phil Martin, and Taylor Stanek for their leadership in putting together today’s Call to Action.
They intuitively understand the profound and enduring value of civic learning, and they have been tireless advocates for civic learning and engagement efforts. I know they are grateful to the Steering Committee, which has been instrumental in preparing today’s program and bringing all of us together.
I won’t take the time now to run through the nine steps in our Call to Action in detail. But it’s important to recognize that our Department is already doing a lot to support civic learning and democratic engagement–and that we have a special opportunity now to enhance those efforts.
The Federal Work-Study program currently mandates that institutions of higher education use at least seven percent of the total amount of funds awarded to provide community service jobs for students.
In the 2009-10 award year, $222 million was used to fund community service jobs—and that sum doesn’t include a much larger pot of non-federal matching funds.
To cite another example, our Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is working with the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service to oversee the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
Several hundred colleges and universities have signed onto the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. To date, more than 270 colleges and universities have committed to a year of interfaith and community service programming on their campuses.
College students participating in the Challenge select one service priority for their interfaith initiative, in areas such as poverty and education, health services, and support programs for veterans and military families.
Our team is convinced that there is much more that we can do to further enhance civic learning and democratic engagement.
We can convene, catalyze, and recognize K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions that are committed to high-quality civic learning.
We can encourage states, schools and postsecondary institutions to conduct civic audits and publish their plans and outcomes for educating students for informed engagement in civic life.
We can identify additional civic indicators.
We can spotlight promising practices–and encourage further research to learn what works. We can leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships.
We can–and we will–encourage public service careers, especially to help in the outreach, recruitment, and hiring of more than 1.6 million great teachers that our nation will need over the next decade. And we will continue to support civic learning as part of a well-rounded K-12 curriculum.
I also ask you to challenge us with how we can be most helpful. And, while we are passionate and committed, we are absolutely clear that we cannot begin to do this work alone. To succeed, this great effort to advance civic learning and engagement in democracy needs visionary leaders.
It needs higher education faculty and deans, and teachers and principals from our K-12 schools.
It needs creative non-profits, foundations, dedicated entrepreneurs, business leaders, jurists, artists, actors, and lawmakers.
And it needs federal, state, and local leaders to promote high-quality civic learning and establish innovative public-private partnerships.
That is why I am so inspired by the quality of commitments from the education community announced earlier today. It is why I am so encouraged to see the extraordinary coalition that has joined hands in the American Commonwealth Partnership to promote high-quality civic learning and new forms of engagement and scholarship.
With your courage and your commitment, I believe we will begin to restore civic learning and democratic engagement to its rightful place in our nation’s schools and colleges.
Thank you—and thanks to everyone for their participation in today’s meeting. Together, let’s get to work.
By Cornelius D. Harris
I travel the world working in music and entertainment. A few days before returning to the University of Michigan for fall classes in 2005, I was in Japan, watching Hurricane Katrina laying waste to several gulf states. The real disaster was on the human side, the governmental side.
As a U.S. citizen, watching from abroad, I felt estranged not only from my own country, but from reality. The actions (or lack of) did not represent any country I was a part of. So I returned to what felt a bit like a foreign country, feeling like a bit of a stranger, disappointed with this place and feeling angry over what I felt was an open betrayal against Americans. I returned to a class by Professor Julie Ellison that asked what it meant to be a citizen.
Part of my healing process took place in that class and the work with the artist/educator Sekou Sundiata also played a role. His work is around the notion of the American Dream, and it helped to drive home the idea that while things are NOT necessarily the way we would like them to be, our dreams and our sense of who we are, are how citizenship becomes personal and history is made.
The experience had me reconsider history and culture in the context of citizenry and this in turn colored my conversations with others about music, culture, and southeastern Michigan, specifically Detroit. I view myself as a global citizen yet that global citizenry informs my own local citizenry too. Seeing the world of possibilities elsewhere inspires me in my work here.
This past summer I worked with the city of Highland Park, Michigan, an economically depressed city in the center of Detroit, to program a music festival. We connected with the University of Michigan’s school of Art and Design via Nick Tobier, who brought a mix of experimental presentations involving technology and design to the event. In the same way that my exposure to different ideas and concepts while traveling inspired me, I wanted to offer others different ways of thinking and viewing the world from within their own city. I also think Teach For America does a good job linking students to the larger world, albeit post graduation. I’ve also done some work with Indiana University and the Archive of African American Music there because I think they are also places where there is a direct link between higher education and the ‘realy world.’
Unfortunately, this exchange is not the norm. Many community project based courses amount to not much more than glorified safaris and detract from the work being done by the organizations they use to offset “suburban guilt” or some other misguided idea. What makes things worse is the outdated notion that higher education equals a good job and a lot of money. That standard model of education doesn’t do enough to prepare students for life and how to get more out of it, politically, socially, financially, and creatively. But more than that, it starts to feels like there’s a hustle going on.
This extends to alumni support of student recruitment. I was one of many who would contact prospective students and talk about some of the great things the university had to offer in hopes of having them choose the Univeristy of Michigan for their education. I gladly did this for about two years. But I began wondering about the effectiveness of the campaign, so I asked if I could find out how many students I contacted actually chose my alma mater. The response was that it was impossible to get that information. Of course, I could get access to the student directory and find out if those students were there or not. I was being told that this most basic piece of information was “impossible.”
The upshot of this was that we were volunteering for work that might be completely ineffective, and the response to queries was dismissal. So I stopped. How could I be expected to advocate for an organization that would refuse to give me feedback? Mixed in with my mail requesting me to continue my involvement in the recruitment program were requests for money. I have yet to pay back money owed for this education, I’m volunteering to bring in more students, AND Im being asked to pay to support my “cherished memories.”
Sadly, recruitment isn’t about encouraging young people to get a great education, but about getting more money from as many young people as possible. New dorms have been built to accommodate more students, yet are there that many more faculty being hired to educate them? Will any of these students be able to get jobs after graduation? Will any of them be able to pay back the thousands spent to have the golden opportunity of future debt? I walked away from the recruitment program with more appreciation for what I got out of my time at university and more disgust with the grindhouse nature of what most will experience. I believe that post K-12 education can serve to open one’ss mind to incredible possibilities and position you to be a leader. However it can also be an expensive lesson in gambling on your future.
As I stated earlier, I consider myself a global citizen, but also a U.S. citizen. A country is only as strong as its people. If the people are poor, ill, undereducated, then so is your country. I don’t want to be from a loser country. Yet, if the educational misfires and inequalities continue, that will be the result. Again, I’m not certain what will change this, but I’ve got some ideas; plenty, to be honest, but that conversation is for a longer essay.
But it is the very conversation that we need to be having as a nation.
By Harry C. Boyte
In the summer of 1963, my father, Harry George Boyte, went on staff of King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At his urging I hitch-hiked across the country, arriving in Washington the day before, August 27, 1963, on my way to Duke as a freshman in the fall. I lay in a sleeping bag on the floor of his hotel room. Early in the morning, I heard King’s booming voice in a nearby room, practicing “I Have a Dream.”
It was an electric moment. The message took on added depth and power throughout the march. King’s speech that day struck notes of what he called the “marvelous militancy” infusing the movement. “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” King combined his edgy challenge to “business as usual”with a spirit of discipline and redemption. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” he declared. The march’s program notes, issued in the name of march leaders but most likely written by march organizer Bayard Rustin, conveyed a similar message, calling people to rise to a larger citizenship, despite whatever justifiable anger many might feel. “In a neighborhood dispute there may be stunts, rough words, and even hot insults. But when a whole people speaks to its government, the dialogue and the action must be on a level reflecting the worth of that people and the responsibility of that government.”
Public histories tend to portray the movement as great mobilizations. But as Charles Euchner describes in Nobody Turn Me Around, subtitled a “people’s history of the 1963 March on Washington,” the leaders’ civic messages channeled a movement culture which had incubated for years in “schools of citizenship” in local communities. In college campuses and beauty parlors, church basements and nonviolent training workshops, sermons, songs, and a myriad of other practices, people developed the sobriety of citizens, the ability to put aside immediate impulses for the larger work, to keep long range goals in clear view, to “keep our eyes on the prize” in the words of the freedom song. I saw this process again and again as I worked in the Citizenship Education Program of SCLC over the next two years. All this added up to a vast process of citizenship education that spread beyond the movement, which helped to wake up the nation after the somnolent, consumerist, privatized 1950s.
Today, we need a similar re-awakening. The bitter divisions along lines of partisanship, income, race, religion and geography are fed by devaluation of the talents and intelligence of people without credentials and celebrity status. Private pursuits have taken the place of public ones. What one owns is too often the measure of one’s value. Our citizenship declines while we are entertained as spectators, pacified as clients and pandered to as customers. We need again to call forth America’s democratic genius of a self-reliant, productive, future-oriented citizenry. And the American Commonwealth Partnership, growing democracy colleges as new schools of citizenship for the 21st century, aims to respond to the need.
Harry C. Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership.
“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: http://www.ed.gov/civic-learning