SHAPING OUR FUTURE: Dialogues on the Purposes of Higher Education
Shaping Our Future citizen dialogue on the purposes of higher education was launched at the National Press Club on September 4, 2012. The dialogues, organized by local groups and promoted by the American Commonwealth Partnership and the National Issues Forums, will take place in communities across America in 2012-13. The DemocracyU Video Project brings the stories and experiences of the citizen dialogues into a national conversation through social media.
We invite you to participate!
Here are the details:
- Each video is no more than 3 minutes
- Use any recording device (cell phone, camcorder, cameras etc.)
- Introduce yourself and make a short statement (e.g. “We have just had a Shaping Our Future Forum with citizens from Winona, Minnesota. I am interviewing Laura Lake.”)
- For best quality, find a quiet area and hold the recording device close enough that your subject’s head nearly fills the frame, and her/his voice records clearly. Use the highest quality setting on your device.
Use these questions to guide the interview:
- Who are you (e.g. a student, community member, faculty, etc.)? Then ask at least one of these:
- Is there a story from the forum that shows the importance of this conversation?
- Is there a story that shows why it’s important to have the community involved?
- Is there a plan or a project that comes next?
Include a one line to two line description of the video, including any relevant links to websites. The DemocracyU YouTube site will become a mosaic of voices in dialogue about the purposes of higher education. The video collection will be promoted on social media and will complement and enlarge the Shaping Our Future dialogues. For questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Originally posted on Huffington Post.
By Harry Boyte
In the Republican convention last week, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice struck a discordant note. As New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, “She put less emphasis on commerce and more on citizenship…The powerful words in her speech were not ‘I’ and ‘me’ [but] ‘we’ and us’ – citizens who emerge out of and exist as participants in a great national project.”
In a culture of polarized politics, quick fixes, and success defined as making money, how might citizenship become an ethos across the aisle, not an exception?
We need “a different kind of citizenship education,” more about creating civic identities as agents and architects of democracy than about knowing the branches of government or volunteering now and then.
To spread such education, we need colleges and universities to rejoin our shared civic life, to become “part of” communities, not “partners with” communities.
In recent years, a chorus of political and civic leaders have called for strengthened citizenship education. But their view is limited. In most efforts, reflected in new legislation strengthening high school “civics” in Florida and elsewhere, the main citizen role is voting, with a nod to voluntarism. Democracy is largely the work of government.
A different view of citizenship education for today’s polarized society emerges from Dorothy Cotton’s new book, If Your Back’s Not Bent, whose publication on September 4th Bill Muse and I noted in a recent posting. In the book, Cotton tells “the unknown story of the civil rights movement.”
Dorothy Cotton directed the Citizenship Education Program for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. An African American battling the terrible legacy of slavery, Cotton nonetheless shared the view of citizens as the foundational agents of a democratic society voiced by Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner as well as author of the Declaration of Independence. As Jefferson put it, “I know of no safe repository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”
Benjamin Barber made the point succinctly, summing up arguments we both made, January 14, 1995,advising Bill Clinton on his State of the Union, in a Camp David meeting: “Democracy can survive inept governments. It can’t survive inept citizens.”
In a compelling mix of personal narrative, little known stories of the civil rights movement, and political philosophy, Cotton gives living testimony to the idea of everyday citizens as transformative agents of change. She tells how more than 8,000 people from the South, by and large African Americans with a handful of poor white, were trained, mainly at SCLC’s “Dorchester Center” in McIntosh Georgia, from 1960 to 1968. Participants came to think of themselves as active citizens, not victims.
They returned home to their communities and trained tens of thousands more, who in turn transformed southern communities, impacting the nation and the world.
The curriculum mixed skills of community organizing and consciousness-raising. “Once people accepted that they did not have to live as victims – the goal of CEP training – they changed how they saw and felt about themselves,” writes Cotton. She quotes Mrs. Topsy Eubanks, who described the transformation with vernacular eloquence: “The cobwebs commenced a-moving from my brain.”
People developed a view of government as “ours,” not “theirs.” And they developed a sense of new collective efficacy. “We moved away from thinking of ourselves as isolated and alone, and instead went out into the wider community with our work. Ultimately we were able to envision ‘community’ as including people very different from ourselves.”
The communities which sustained this spirit became sustaining local cultures of empowerment. We need such cultures today on a large scale. But for higher education to contribute at this crucial point in American history, is a challenge.
Tom Ehrlich, former president of Indiana University, a key leader in the movement for higher education to reclaim its public purposes, tells a story of Stanford University that illustrates the obstacles.
In the late 1920s and ’30s, Stanford freshman were required to take a year-long course called “Problems of Citizenship,” one-fourth of the first-year curriculum. It was based on the view that education for civic leadership should be a primary goal.
In 1928, Professor Edgar 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 thought 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 some 60 other institutions had developed similar courses. He hoped that many others would follow.
So why did such education for civic leadership disappear from Stanford and elsewhere?
Ehrlich argues that after WW II, “disinterested, disengaged analysis became the dominant mode of academic inquiry, and quantitative methods became the primary tools of that analysis. Students were no longer encouraged to become politically engaged. They were to be observers, not participants.”
The culture of detachment has spread far beyond the walls of colleges and universities in ways that show the hidden power of higher education. Kettering Foundation research has shown that institutions such as local schools and nonprofits have lost their community roots, with an increasing focus on “client base” and “service delivery.”
In the nonpartisan “Reinventing Citizenship” project which I directed with the White House Domestic Policy Council from 1993 to 1995, prelude to our Camp David meeting, we analyzed the causes of the growing gap between lay citizens and government, and found that hostility to government can be traced in important ways to a parallel loss of civic roots. Abraham Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the people,” grounded in the life of communities, has given way to customer service. People have come to see government as “them,” not “us.” And citizenship has come to focus on knowledge of government or episodic good deeds, not identity and a way of life.
It will take far ranging change to turn around these dynamics. But resources for more transformative citizenship education are emerging in communities and colleges as earlier described. And the American Commonwealth Partnership, the new coalition of colleges and others committed to the public purposes of higher education and citizen-centered democracy, is developing strategies for integrating colleges and universities into the life of communities through initiatives such as “civic science.”
We need a new kind of transformative citizenship education for the polarized, quick fix society of the 21st century. This means, also recalling the great insight of Martin Luther King:
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
Harry Boyte is National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
This article was originally published on huffington post.
By Harry Boyte and Bill Muse
By coincidence, September 4th marks two events. They seem unrelated, but both signal an enduring pattern of American history: Significant advances toward “a more perfect union” takes the work of the whole people, not simply the efforts of political leaders, experts, or famous personalities.
A concept of the late political theorist Hannah Arendt, the common table which both unites and separates us, helps to explain why.
September 4th is the release date for If Your Back’s Not Bent (Atria/Simon & Schuster), the long awaited history of the Citizenship Education Program (CEP) of the civil rights movement, written by Dorothy Cotton, its chief architect and director. Cotton was the only woman on the executive committee of Martin Luther King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The book is named for a talk by King at the end of a CEP training program which concluded, “If your back’s not bent, nobody can ride on it.”
In it, Cotton tells the story of the movement’s “best kept secret.” The grassroots adult citizen education program, largely ignored by mainstream media and standard histories which focus on marches, demonstrations, politicians, and famous leaders, transformed legions of men and women across the South from victims to active citizens, agents of change. In turn, they had lasting impact. They made their communities and the nation places of greater freedom and more inclusive justice for all.
September 4th is also the launch of “Shaping Our Future — How Should Higher Education Help Us Create the Society We Want,” dialogues in at least three hundred communities over the coming year about the public purposes of higher education.
Shaping Our Future is organized by the new American Commonwealth Partnership, a coalition with hundreds of colleges, universities and other groups promoting higher education as a public good, and the National Issues Forums, a non-partisan institute promoting public discussions. Martha Kanter, Undersecretary of Education, will participate in the launch, along with Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, Scott Peters, Co-director of Imagining America, a consortium of schools involving artists and scholars in public life, Kaylesh Ramu, president of the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Bernie Ronan, chair of The Democracy Commitment and others.
The launch, held at the National Press Club, will be live-streamed here.
Shaping Our Future dialogues will explore questions such as how higher education can best prepare a highly skilled workforce, provide opportunities for all Americans to attend college, strengthen values such as responsibility, integrity, and respect for others, and develop skills of citizenship in which students and others learn to work across differences to make needed change.
Early experiments show discussions can bring people together across partisan and other differences. “Seeing the different levels of a university present in one group with community members truly provided unique input,” said Laura Lake, a student at Winona State University who moderated an early discussion. “Seeing the differences between the views was extremely interesting. What was more exciting was seeing the areas they agreed upon — that higher education does indeed help us create the society we want.”
A concept in political theory helps to illuminate the dynamic described by Laura.
Hannah Arendt developed the idea of a “table” which acknowledges differences while also offering the possibility of discovering areas of commonality. “Interests constitute something which inter-est, which lies between people and therefore can relate and bind them together,” she argued in her classic work, The Human Condition.
The common table is connected to “world-building,” which allows people to shift focus from feelings about each other to common tasks. As the feminist theorist Linda Zirelli puts it, “Foregrounded in Arendt’s account is something less about the subject than about the world… the human artifact, the fabrication of human hands, as well as affairs which go on among those who inhabit the man-made world together.”
Half a century ago, the civil rights movement served as a common table. It captured the nation’s imagination with images of everyday citizens risking lives and livelihoods to transform the culture of racial bigotry and structures of discrimination. Demonstrations and speeches were visible manifestations, but these channeled vast grassroots energies, cultivated in everyday experiences like the Citizenship Education Program.
The common table focused the attention of millions of Americans on the task of promoting “liberty and justice for all.” The table of change also evolved, taking up other areas of discrimination against women and minorities, in addition to African Americans, like Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities.
It also energized all of American society.
Today, we face new and daunting challenges. Public opinion research by the Kettering Foundation shows that Americans are deeply worried about long term problems which neither government nor markets, by themselves, can solve. The U.S. economy struggles with challenges in a tough global environment. We’ve become an increasingly divided nation, dramatized by this hyperpolarized election. Values like responsibility, integrity, and quality in work seem to be fading. Too many, from Washington to Main Street, are unable to work together to solve problems. The country sees growing economic disparities. Many who work hard and play by the rules are slipping out of the middle class.
These are complex and multifaceted problems. Families, schools, religious groups, non-profits as well as government and business will need to be at “the table of change” if we are to address them. But as shown in the ongoing Huffington Post blog which recounts stories of colleges as agents and architects of change, higher education has far more to contribute to the work of building a more perfect union than is commonly realized.
Shaping Our Future will acquaint large numbers of Americans with stories and methods of colleges and universities that act as agents and architects of change. The discussions will also invite the whole people, not only those in higher education, to be change agents. Strengthening higher education’s contributions to solving problems, building healthy and prosperous communities, and creating a sustainable democracy is important to all of us.
We believe such conversations and the civic work that flows from them can help to create a common table. Though public opinion research shows higher education’s public contributions have slipped from view of most people — who see college only as a ticket for higher paying jobs — Americans overwhelmingly recognize higher education’s importance. Nearly nine out of 10 people say Americans are better off going to college.
One of the objectives, indeed, of the National Issues Forum is to help participants find common ground, a path they can travel together. We need a common table, a way to find common ground, more than ever if we are to recall King’s words in Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
Harry C. Boyte, National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, worked as a field secretary for SCLC as a college student.
Coalition of Colleges and Nonprofits to Conduct Hundreds of Community Forums During the Next Year
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A yearlong, nationwide series of deliberative forums dialogues on how higher education could do more, or operate differently, to strengthen America’s economy, culture, and civic participation will be launched by a coalition of nonprofit and educational leaders on September 4 at 9 a.m. at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The project, Shaping Our Future: How Should Higher Education Help Us Create the Society We Want, is being led by the American Commonwealth Partnership and National Issues Forums Institute, both nonprofit, nonpartisan groups.
While there is heated discussion among education, political, and business leaders about how to address the many challenges facing higher education, this initiative will help students, faculty, and other citizens weigh different approaches to problems and seek common ground for action. The deliberative dialogues—to be held in at least 300 communities—will explore questions such as how higher education can best work to insure a highly skilled workforce to maintain the nation’s economic strength and competitiveness, promote equity by providing opportunities for all Americans, and strengthen values such as responsibility, integrity, and respect for others, as well as develop skills to seek common ground or work through differences in a civil manner.
The September 4 panel launching this initiative will include: Martha Kanter, U.S. Under Secretary of Education; Bill Muse, president of the National Issues Forums Institute; Harry Boyte, national coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership; NancyCantor, chancellor of Syracuse University; Muriel Howard, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; Bernie Ronan, chair, The Democracy Commitment; Kaylesh Ramu, president, Student Government Association, University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Scott Peters, co-director, Imagining America.
“Preparing all students for informed, engaged participation in the civic life of our communities is notjust essential, it is entirely consistent with the goals of increasing student achievement, closing achievement gaps and preparing citizens to understand their role and responsibility in our democracy,” Martha Kanter, U.S. Under Secretary of Education, said.
WHAT: Shaping Our Future How Should Higher Education Help Us Create the Society We Want
WHERE:National Press Club, Holeman Lounge, Washington, D.C.
To RSVP, please contact Phil Lurie, at email@example.com or 202-393-4478. For additional information about Shaping Our Future, visit http://www.nifi.org/issue_books/detail.aspx?catID=6&itemID=21640.
By Angela Bonfiglio
For a number of years, I have found a variety of sources of inspiration to see why it is important to be an active citizen in the world and for me personally to take action and participate in what is most important. This inspiration has come from sources such as my faith, inspirational leaders, people who believed in me, and being struck by some of the deepest issues that face our society, such as racism, poverty and inequality in schools. It is an imbalance in equity and fairness that is at the core of many of these issues.
As humans we are always changing. This is especially true in college where opportunities continue to arise as learning takes place inside and outside the classroom. If the person I was, knew the person I am today, we would not recognize each other.
At the end of my sophomore year at Augsburg, I became involved in Redeemer Lutheran Church, located on the North Side of Minneapolis. Redeemer is a different kind of church. It is focused on the immediate community around them, but utilizes the agency of its diverse membership to be “a beacon of hope” for the neighborhood and for the world. Between the church and the non-profit, Redeemer is involved in projects including housing, food sustainability, youth, anti-racism, and employment. In North Minneapolis there has been disinvestment for a number of years, which is reflected in high unemployment rates, poor schools and a population exodus.
As a part of a scholarship from Augsburg, I was supported to work at Redeemer, and was asked to be the Program Coordinator for the Redeemer Afterschool Program (R.A.P.), which was being reworked into a weekly outreach program focusing on arts and music as a tool for building youth leadership and community. I was very excited about this opportunity and said “yes” without really knowing what I was getting myself into.
I had the opportunity to take on a leadership position and figure out more about what it means to work with others. Along the way the children we worked with provided inspiration and helped us understand how the program should be run based on their needs.
My latest source of inspiration has come from my experience studying abroad in Namibia. I was there for a six week summer program with the Center for Global Education at Augsburg for a class on development and an internship with the Namibian Women’s Health Network. I was exposed to a number of people who are working in their communities to make a difference and create change around huge problems that the country faces, such as having one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. I was also inspired by people who served their time and energy with such a sense of care and joy. It was beautiful to watch a small community at work, building on each others’ activities. I was constantly thinking of my Redeemer community and ways that I could bring back lessons from this experience. I was given so much more than I ever gave over those six weeks.
Now as I continue my role at Redeemer, these sources of inspiration provide fuel for the work that I do. Our goal for R.A.P. is to build a beloved community where kids feel a sense of safety and belonging. My experience in Namibia definitely helps me in thinking about what the beloved community means in my own spaces and places here in America.
Angela Bonfiglio is an undergraduate student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota majoring in sociology and minoring in youth and family ministry. She works at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis as the afterschool program coordinator. She recently spent time studying abroad in Namibia with the Center for Global Education and interning with the Namibian Women’s Health Network.
We sat in his office in the State Capitol. He laughed that he had “survived the session, and can look back at it with some humor.”
“The question, ‘what is the purpose of higher education?’ is profound. Higher education needs to be so much more than getting a credential. As a society we place an amazing emphasis on getting credentials. In many corporate settings the higher education degree is used as a sorting device in employee selection. Obviously we all know the degree is important but it should not be the sole determination of whether or not an individual will be a good employee or a good citizen.
“In the end, I believe the most important role of higher education is to prepare people to be life-long learners, to be immersed in life experiences, and to give back.
“I spoke to 300 young women at Girls’ State the other day. They were all high achievers. I’m sure most will be going to college. They will make A’s and so forth. I asked them, ‘What do you want your life to be remembered for? What do you want your legacy to be?’ These are questions that are not often asked. In many cases young people probably have not had the life experiences to think about the meaning of ‘success’ beyond academic success.
“When I think back on my high school class, the high achievers in academic terms weren’t necessarily those who achieved financial success or who gave back to their communities. A focus on achievement is good. Getting good grades is good, but not at the risk of producing individuals who may think in narrow terms. A cancer researcher maybe brilliant in terms of his or her ability to understand the workings of a living cell but may be less able in terms of human interaction and problem solving.
“We need to have a discussion in the legislature about the purpose of higher education.”
Harry Boyte is a National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP)
The article originally appeared on the National Issues Forums Institute’s website.