For Democracy’s Future – College for a Citizen Career

By Harry C. Boyte

At his re-election rally on November 7, President Obama said, “Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual.” He declared his intent to work with leaders from both parties “to meet the challenges we can only solve together.” These were eloquent words. But to make much progress on long run challenges of the nation will take civic revitalization.

We need active citizens who learn to work across differences in every corner of our nation if we are to see much change in the Washington culture – or build a successful 21st century democracy.  This will mean deepening the meaning of citizenship itself. We need to revitalize the American understanding of citizenship as expressed through many kinds of work.  And this will require building a movement to tie work preparation to every aspect of education.

From the very beginning Obama made citizenship a cause. In Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2007, announcing his first campaign for the presidency, he said, “This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose.” In his victory rally on November 7, he argued again that “the role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.”

On January 10th, at a White House event called “For Democracy’s Future,” hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Obama administration advanced the president’s civic vision.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that educational policy will include preparing young people for “citizenship,” as well as “college” and “career.” A new “road map,” Advancing Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement,  invites a broad public discussion.

Adding this C, for citizenship, to preparation for “college” and “career” has long been a goal of groups like  Campus Compact, the American Democracy Project, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Civic Mission of the Schools Coalition.

The White House meeting also launched the American Commonwealth Partnership, a coalition of educational and civic groups which works with the Department of Education in order to expand education’s civic mission beyond conventional understandings.  ACP incubates initiatives based on a citizen-centered view of democracy, aiming at making higher education “part of” the life of communities and regions, not simply “partners with.”

A crucial next step, we believe, is to integrate the “three C’s.” High schools and colleges need to prepare students through college for citizen careers.

A growing body of evidence reinforces the observation of UCLA educational theorist and researcher Mike Rose: “Young people who find little of interest in the traditional curriculum can be intrigued by the world of work.”   A handful of pioneers in combining academic study with work preparation have shown the power of this approach, especially for low income and minority young people.  In the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, a public school on a 78 acre farm in the Southwestern corner of the city, students learn math, science, English and writing through the processes of planting, harvesting, marketing, and selling vegetables.  Juniors and seniors enroll in a semester long class that focuses on the city’s flower garden show (they are the only high school involved in this event), learning horticulture, animal science, agricultural mechanics, economics, food science, communications and business. “Connecting work and academics makes a huge difference in terms of ways students look at education,” says Lucille Shaw, assistant principal. “Through all of their academic classes as well as technical studies students can blend and apply concepts. They learn to ask how and why it’s going to be beneficial. What is this going to do to better my life, and help someone else? It has to be real.”  With a student body more than 60% African American and Hispanic, the Ag School has won national attention for its success in college preparation and student achievement – 87 percent graduate and go to college. Fifty-nine percent meet or exceed the Prairie State Achievement exams which test for reading, English, math, science, and writing, compared to 28% in the Chicago district as a whole.

Such examples confound narrow definitions of intelligence and overly sharp divisions between kinds of knowledge, while responding to young people’s desires “to be somebody, to possess agency and competence, to have a grasp on the forces that affect them,” as Rose puts it.  They revitalize older traditions of “civic business” and “citizen professional” which I recently described.

But today, examples of education which combine work preparation, citizenship, and academics are rare in either high schools or college. They also face obstacles.

As Tom Ehrlich has described, schools such as Stanford University once educated students for “citizenship as a second calling,” turning out citizen teachers, citizen business owners and others.  Land grant colleges, called “democracy’s colleges,”   promoted public work in communities through cooperative extension.  Intellectuals like John Dewey and Jane Addams stressed the tie between work and citizenship

By the 1950s, “civic professionalism” had shifted to “disciplinary professionalism” in the phrase of historian Thomas Bender.

Today, most institutions distinguish between professional and workforce preparation, on the one hand, and liberal arts and sciences, on the other.  In the society, citizenship expressed through work has sharply eroded. Thus, the congressionally mandated National Conference on Citizenship, which assesses the civic health of communities, includes no indicators connected to work or the workplace.  The assumption is that citizenship is off-hours activity.

Yet in a time when “jobs” are widely discussed, recent theory and pedagogies begin to bring work back in.  Ideas like “citizen professionalism,” “education for civic agency” and “civic science” appear in curricula.    The Anchoring Institution Task Force, with more than 190 members, promotes schools as “anchoring institutions” in communities, where students, faculty, and staff work collaboratively with community partners. This holds potential to strengthen civic meanings of many jobs on and off campus.

Building on such developments, David Scobey, dean of the New School of Public Engagement, recently called for a new emphasis on work throughout higher education:

“We need to think about work as a key arena of reflective preparation, doing for work what we did for service learning.  We should enable all students to reflect on their work experience and be intentional about it.   We need a totally new model of where work fits into students’ growth, bringing together civic learning, work and student courses of study.”

ACP’s next stage is to answer this call. We need to integrate the three “C’s.”

Harry C. 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.

Citizenship Education for a Polarized Society

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.

Post-Event Discussion:”For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission.” We invite all to join us on facebook and twitter @DemocracyU and convene a local debate on the importance of higher education’s civic mission.

Reinventing Citizenship and the Role of Education

Citizenship has different meanings. For some citizenship means voting. Some see it as a legal status, or obeying the law, or being a good person and a role model. To others it means respecting those of different views and backgrounds.  “Productive citizenship” means making a public contribution through work, paid or unpaid – one can be a citizen teacher, a citizen business owner, or a citizen homemaker.There is no single “right answer” to the question, “what is a citizen?”People also have different views on where education for citizenship takes place. Some see families as the main “school for citizenship.” Other stress schools, colleges, universities or religious congregations. Many see all these playing important though differing roles.
This discussion is intended to begin an ongoing national conversation on the topic of what is citizenship, what role does civic education and engagement play in being a citizen and how do we educate for it?

Some questions to get you started:

  • If you were explaining the responsibilities that come with being an American citizen to a visitor from another country, what would you say?
  • As citizens, what do you think we owe to future generations?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of different groups (e.g. families, schools, colleges or universities) in educating citizens?
  • What are your ideas for how we can learn to listen to each other and work together across partisan and other divides?
  • What are the skills and values of 21st century citizenship? Do we have new or additional responsibilities that we didn’t have in the past?
  • Do you think it’s important for students to get involved in civic work on campus and in their communities at large?
  • How can civic engagement benefit our democracy as a whole?
Suggested reading materials and resources:
A Crucible Moment: Civic Learning and America’s Future
DemocracyU- American Commonwealth Partnership’s website.
Center for Democracy and Citizenship The Center for Democracy and Citizenship collaborates with a variety of partners to promote active citizenship and public work by people of all ages. The center’s work is grounded in the belief that a healthy democracy requires everyone’s participation, and that each of us has something to contribute.
National Issues Forums InstituteNational Issues Forums (NIF) is a network of civic, educational, and other organizations, and individuals, whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America. It has grown to include thousands of civic clubs, religious organizations, libraries, schools, and many other groups that meet to discuss critical public issues. Forum participants range from teenagers to retirees, prison inmates to community leaders, and literacy students to university students.NIF does not advocate specific solutions or points of view but provides citizens the opportunity to consider a broad range of choices, weigh the pros and cons of those choices, and meet with each other in a public dialogue to identify the concerns they hold in common.

Highlights From

A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future

A report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement

In response to widespread concern about the nation’s anemic civic health, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future calls for investing in higher education’s capacity to make civic learning and democratic engagement widely shared national priorities.  The report calls on higher education and many partners in education, government, and public life to advance a 21st century conception of civic learning and democratic engagement as an expected part of every student’s college education.

 A New Vision for Civic Learning in Higher Education

An earlier definition of civic education stressed familiarity with the various branches of government and acquaintance with basic information about U.S. history.  This is still essential but no longer nearly enough.  Americans still need to understand how their political system works and how to influence it.  But they also need to understand the cultural and global contexts in which democracy is both deeply valued and deeply contested.  Moreover, the competencies basic to democracy  cannot be learned only by studying books; democratic knowledge and capabilities are honed through hands-on, face-to-face, active engagement in the midst of differing perspectives about how to address common problems that affect the well-being of the nation and the world.

Civic learning that includes knowledge, skills, values, and the capacity to work with others on civic and societal challenges can help increase the number of informed, thoughtful, and public-minded citizens well  prepared to contribute in the context of the diverse, dynamic, globally connected United States.  Civic learning should prepare students with knowledge and for action in our communities.

Components of 21st century civic learning should include:

  • Knowledge of U.S. history, political structures, and core democratic principles and founding documents; and debates—US and global—about their meaning and application;
  • Knowledge of the political systems that frame constitutional democracies and of political levers for affecting change;
  • Knowledge of diverse cultures and religions in the US and around the world;
  • Critical inquiry and reasoning capacities;
  • Deliberation and bridge-building across differences;
  • Collaborative decision-making skills;
  • Open-mindedness and capacity to engage different points of view and cultures;
  • Civic problem-solving skills and experience
  • Civility, ethical integrity, and mutual respect.
To advance this vision, The National Task Force urges Americans to:
  1. Reclaim and reinvest in the fundamental civic and democratic mission of schools and of all sectors within higher education
  2. Enlarge the current national narrative that erases civic aims and civic literacy as educational priorities contributing to social, intellectual, and economic capital
  3. Advance a contemporary, comprehensive framework for civic learning—embracing US and global interdependence—that includes historic and modern understandings of democratic values, capacities to engage diverse perspectives and people, and commitment to collective civic problem-solving
  4. Capitalize upon the interdependent responsibilities of K-12 and higher education to foster progressively higher levels of civic knowledge, skills, examined values, and action as expectations for every student
  5. Expand the number of robust, generative civic partnerships and alliances locally, nationally, and globally to address common problems, empower people to act, strengthen communities and nations, and generate new frontiers of knowledge

A Crucible Moment provides specific campus examples illustrating how to move from “partial transformation to pervasive civic and democratic learning and practices.”

See for full report; see Chapter 3 for full set of recommendations.

[1] Adapted from the National Issues Forums Institute