On April 19, 2012, Winona State University hosted the inaugural civic summit on the National Issues Forum and American Commonwealth Project Deliberative Dialogue Initiative on Shaping Our Future: How Should Higher Education Help Us Create The Society We Want? The first national conversation using this issue guide was held in honor of WSU’s retiring president, Judith Ramaley, who is a tireless advocate for higher education and its civic mission. President Ramaley serves as a member of the President’s Council for the American Commonwealth Partnership.
Over 110 participants attended the Civic Summit at Winona State University. Individuals came as high school and college students, university faculty and staff, community members, higher education experts, media editors and journalists, local law enforcement, and business people. It was quite the range of participants and they were mixed in groups with WSU students as trained moderators through the Minnesota Campus Compact moderator training series.
When organizing the Civic Summit, we immediately determined the event should be student led, as moderators, participants and organizers. This stems from our rich experience in student organizing and mobilizing efforts. It also reflects our experience with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship’s training led by Harry Boyte and Dennis Donovan in the “We the People” series held with the Minnesota Campus Compact in Spring 2011. For many of the fifteen plus students who became moderators, this was a new experience. Despite its unfamiliarity, the students rose to the challenge, prepared their notes, and were comfortable enough to welcome others to their tables. Each group of approximately 10-12 guests had two students—one as moderator and one as recorder. Each group was designed to have a variety of individuals from different backgrounds, however the structure was very minimal to encourage open and honest discussion. With little formality, students forged ahead, were indeed taken seriously by others, and extolled confidence and credibility to members of their groups.
“Seeing the different levels of a university present in one group with community members truly provided unique input regarding the different approaches. Seeing the differences between the views of students, professors, and members of the administration was extremely interesting, however, what was more exciting, was seeing the areas they agreed upon – that higher education does indeed help us create the society we want…” Laura Lake
One particular group that was indicative of the principles behind the NIF process included a local and well-respected business person from the Winona community. Known for his conservative underpinnings and his large contributions (nearly a quarter of a million annually to local grants and scholarships for students and community members), this community member began with strong support of American exceptionalism and Approach One. It was evident of the potential generation gap experienced within the group as the local businessman began the discussion by voicing his stereotype that young people were lazy, took out too many loans, and used the money to go on vacation. As one student shared his personal experience in joining the army (ROTC) to fund his education and his education at MCTC and transferring to WSU, without adequate financial aid and the lack of family support to co-sign loans, group members visibly recall the local businessman becoming more favorable and open to thinking about other ideas and other perspectives, with genuine respect towards the student advocating for and needing more student and financial aid. It became clear the businessman had changed his mind after he heard the student’s personal experience and was open to seeing the other side as the group’s discussion continued. In the end for the local businessperson, Approach II received support to train responsibility through community service. While there was not an overall consensus regarding one approach over the other in this group and many others, this particular experience in the Winona Civic Summit: NIF Forum demonstrated a student and a businessman taking each other seriously and respecting their differences on the shared purpose of higher education.
One aspect of the Civic Summit that makes it so exceptional is that people of all walks of life participate in the democratic process together. Having such a diverse group of individuals discussing a public issue or good can cause participants to feel hesitant about what the outcomes of the dialogue will be. Student-moderator Courtney Juelich, had first-hand experience with this principle within her democracy pod:
“At first many of the students, both college and high school, were apprehensive about talking openly with adults. They were not quick to answer the posed questions and often looked to myself or to the three older members of the group after a question was stated. After introductions and finding common ground on themes and experiences, communication was fluid and respectful between all members in my democracy pods.” Courtney Juelich
Even though participants came from all sorts of backgrounds but with a shared interest and common purpose, in the end the differences we previously used to distinguish ourselves were less important and noticeable than the sense of community, which was established over the shared principles of mutual respect and open discussion. Student-moderators thoroughly enjoyed the process and felt empowered to be taken seriously and welcomed in a group of diverse generations and members. We feel very fortunate to have launched this national conversation on the role of higher education in communities such as ours. We also want to thank all of the participants for thoughtfully contributing to the health and well-being of democracy and deliberative dialogue in Winona. Special thanks are extended to the Kettering Foundation, the National Issues Forum, and the American Commonwealth Partnership for granting us permission to pioneer this dialogue. We wish President Ramaley the best in her retirement from Winona State University and appreciatively recognize and celebrate her support of the civic mission and the civic responsibility of the university with Winona and beyond.
Courtney L. Juelich is a junior at Winona State University and a major in Political Science and Public Administration with a minor in Economics. She was one of the student organizers of the Civic Summit. Her hometown is Chanhassen, Minnesota. She was the creator and writer of the 2012 Warrior Grant named “The Green Grant”, which after winning the student referendum vote will create a self-sufficient composting system for the Winona State campus to collect organic food scraps as well as to educate the student body on the process of composting and how it is beneficial to the environment.
Laura A. Lake is a junior at Winona State University and a major in Political Science and Public Administration with a Music minor. She is involved in Pi Sigma Alpha, Political Science Association, Student Senate, and National Residence Hall Honorary, and is currently a Resident Assistant, and will be an Assistant Hall director in the following year. Laura was the lead organizer of the Civic Summit. Her hometown is Hillsboro, Oregon.
Kara Lindaman serves as the American Democracy Project Coordinator at Winona State University, where she is an associate professor of political science and public administration. She also serves on the Steering Committee of the American Commonwealth Partnership and enjoys collaborating with civically minded and passionately motivated students such as these.
The American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) is an alliance of community colleges, colleges and universities, P-12 schools and others dedicated to building “democracy colleges” throughout higher education. A Presidents’ Advisory Council, composed of distinguished college and university presidents who have long been leaders in engaged higher education movement, offers continuing counsel and wisdom (see list below).
Launched at the White House on January 10th, 2012, the start of the 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act which created land grant colleges, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, ACP uses the concept of democracy colleges from land grant and community college history. Democracy colleges convey the idea of colleges and universities deeply connected to their communities, which make education for citizenship a signature identity.
The work of building democracy colleges draws on a rich tradition, dating back to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency:
The White House meeting, “For Democracy’s Future – Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission”, marked a new stage of coordinated effort to bring about a commitment to civic education and education as a public good. It was organized in partnership with the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Department of Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of the Schools.
At the White House, the Department of Education released its Road Map and Call to Action on civic learning and democratic engagement, described in remarks by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement released A Crucible Moment, a report to the nation on the need for a shift in civic learning from “partial” to “pervasive.”
ACP highlighted institutions that have taken steps toward becoming democracy colleges, including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, state colleges and universities, and research institutions. ACP continues to consult with Undersecretary for Higher Education Martha Kanter and her Office of Postsecondary Education on policies to strengthen higher education’s public engagement and is also helping to organize state level policy initiatives on the topic.
The ACP coalition promotes several initiatives including:
The Deliberative Dialogue Initiative, in partnership with the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), is organizing a discussion on campuses and in communities on higher education’s role in America’s future. It is to be complemented by a communications effort to convey the potential of higher education in teaching skills, such as listening, deliberation, teamwork, negotiating different interests and views, to work across differences on public problems. Research by NIFI suggests that the public is largely unaware of higher education’s contributions to such skill development – seen as an urgent need by citizens of many views and backgrounds in order to turn around the growing divisiveness and polarization in America.
Citizen Alum Initiative, directed by Julie Ellison of the University of Michigan, aims to change the framework of alumni relations, partnering with alumni as “do-ers” as well as donors. Citizen Alum aims to find the hidden treasure—the creative, civic, intellectual, and social capital of alumni – especially recent “gap alums” and alums who opt out of conventional roles, supporting them as contributors to their home communities and as allies in education.
Student Organizing Initiative is a campaign to deepen the civic identity of college students, develop skills of deliberative public work, and strengthen the DemocracyU social media campaign and website as resources for students to share their stories and address their concerns for America’s democracy. This initiative is also exploring strategies for putting cross partisan citizen-centered politics back at the center of the highly polarized election campaign of 2012.
Pedagogies of Empowerment and Engagement Initiative is an organizing effort spearheaded by Blase Scarnati of Northern Arizona University. It will identity and collect the details of effective pedagogies of empowerment and engagement across the country that teach skills to work across differences. The group will also recruit new sites and partners.
Public Scholarship Initiative is organized by Scott Peters of Cornell University, Tim Eatman of Imagining America at Syracuse University, and John Saltmarsh of NERCHE (UMASS Boston). The team have began a participatory research project with various institutions on the work of building democracy colleges in the 21st century.
Campus-Community Civic Health Initiative, coordinated by the American Democracy Project in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship, is developing ways to assess the impact of colleges and universities on community and campus civic health.
Civic Science Initiative is organized by John Spencer at the University of Iowa, Scott Peters at Cornell University, Molly Jahn at the University of Wisconsin, Rom Coles at Northern Arizona University, and Harry Boyte at Augsburg College and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Civic science is a framework for understanding scientists as citizens, working with other citizens in ways that respect different ways of knowing, deepening collective wisdom on public questions, and developing civic agency.
ACP Policy Initiative, building on policy discussions with the Department of Education in 2011, focuses on state level policies strengthening engagement, and is consulting with the DOE on an ongoing basis about policies to strengthen engagement.
Presidents’ Advisory Council
Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Syracuse University
Brian Murphy, President, De Anza College
M. Christopher Brown, President, Alcorn State University
Thomas Ehrlich, President Emeritus, Indiana University
Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland Baltimore County
David Mathews, President Emeritus, University of Alabama
Paul Pribbenow, President, Augsburg College
Judith Ramaley, President, Winona State University
Inaugural Host Institution
Augsburg College, Minneapolis
Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship
For more information or to submit a blog, please email Karina Cherfas (email@example.com) or Karin Kamp (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Sam Niesen
I first met Dennis Donavon during my freshman year of college; he came into a leadership group I was in and gave a crash course on community organizing.
Dennis talked about a class he taught and encouraged me to take it as it would delve into topics around organizing, really getting into the skills needed to become an agent of change. I was fascinated. I met with him again and really started to realize that these were skills that would truly allow me to make change and do something meaningful with my life. This semester I took Dennis’s class called “Organizing for the Public Good” at the University of Minnesota. I have learned so much and am starting to realize how to use my passion and skills to create change.
From Saul Alinski and Grace Lee Boggs, to Stephan N. Smith and Harry Boyte, we have read several different selections on making an impact. Smith talks about truly knowing oneself, being sure of oneself, and then using that knowledge to discover one’s self-interest. These ideas have really resonated with me, challenging me to use that self- interest and apply myself in ways that really make me tick. These ideas are tough to grasp and to discover the answers takes tough questions. For me it has been difficult to start even asking these questions, but they are questions I need to ask, and slowly start to answer. They are about my self-interest, why I am interested in doing what I want to do, and how to achieve my goals.
The class, in the way it makes me think deeply about myself, is helping me get a sense of my future. It has made me realize that I do want to be a change agent. Working with Dennis through class has given me both the confidence to discover these things and the skills to really make change happen. It is all about self-discovery, then applying that discovery to the world.
I look forward to seeing where this road takes me now that I have this tool belt of power, including one to ones (Face to face meetings that are critical to building power and motivating people for action.); power mapping (A tool used in organizing to identify stakeholders.) and public narrative (How our story connects to a particular group). I now feel that I am steps ahead of others that also want to make change as I hold tangible things to go out, take action, and be a change agent.
Sam Niesen is a sophomore currently studying history and Spanish at the University of Minnesota. Sam became very interested in organizing and empowering others during his time at the U and hopes to use these skills in the future.
The whole of a Cornell college is infused with the importance of civic engagement.
As America moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the small towns in between needed educated people to serve their communities,” said Jim Brown, special assistant to the president. “They needed teachers, they needed ministers, and they needed doctors and lawyers and bankers.”
“Part of the goal of any successful college or university is graduating thoughtful, purpose-driven leaders who are committed to making a difference and solving some of the world’s problems,” said Cornell President Jonathan Brand. A liberal arts education helps that go even further, he said, because students learn skills, and they also learn the value—both intrinsic and extrinsic—of life. That means not only are they prepared to change the world, they understand why that drive to make things better is important.
“It’s more than just volunteering, or going into the Peace Corps,” he said. “Civic engagement is an approach to the world, and we need to think of it in an expansive way.”
Starting this fall Cornell is offering an academic minor in civic engagement. The minor—and a commitment to service—is part of the college’s long history of turning out graduates who want to have an impact on the wider world. The faculty committee that recommended the civic engagement minor defined it this way: “Civic engagement means involvement as citizens and leaders in all social spheres beyond the family, including local, state, national, and international communities.”
In addition to the doctors, lawyers, and teachers who still come from Cornell, many students and alumni find themselves involved in civic engagement in a variety of ways. They are advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons, they are philanthropists, they are elected officials.
Even before they graduate, Cornell students are involved in the world. Last year, 700 Cornell students performed some kind of community service through the college’s Civic Engagement Office, according to Kara Trebil, director of civic engagement. Service is encouraged from the beginning—literally—of their time at Cornell. Each year during New Student Orientation, students head out to various places around Eastern Iowa to perform community service. This year they helped out at Mount Vernon and Lisbon parks, Lake Macbride, Tanager Place, the Matthew 25 Urban Garden in Cedar Rapids, and more.
Direct service like this isn’t really the purpose of the Civic Engagement Office. The goal, Trebil said, is to get students to think about the many ways they can serve their communities, and to think about the problems they see and how they can be part of a solution. But exposing new students to service—and to the variety of opportunities that are out there—early in their Cornell careers is important, because service is a habit.
It takes time to acquire the habits of service, and that’s why the college provides opportunities.
And students today are more committed to service than ever before. Nearly all new students enter Cornell having completed some kind of community service requirement in high school, and they continue that dedication in college. Last year, seven students participated in the Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program (ICAP), where each of them committed to performing 300 hours of community service.
One student committed to service and civic engagement is Chelsea DeLarm, a sophomore from Indiana. DeLarm, who was named volunteer of the year by the Student Activities Office, lived on a Connect Floor (a floor for first-year students dedicated to a particular goal, in her case, service) last year, and spent time with her floormates building a community based around service to others. She was also involved in ICAP.
And, she said, some of her classes, particularly her education classes, focused not just on ways to get involved, but looked at problems and help find solutions.
There are, of course, opportunities for those students who can’t put in 300 or more hours of service, and that’s part of what Trebil’s office handles. There are direct-service opportunities, yes, but the goal is to push beyond that, to find out what a student is interested in and figure out how to get that student involved.
“We want them to think about what role they play in the solution,” Trebil said.
Helping students understand why service matters and how they can get involved with the world at large is part of the rationale for the
civic engagement minor, said Joe Dieker, dean of the college. The larger goal is to bridge the gap between academics and students’ lives: to put what they learn in line with what they do. A civic engagement minor is rare in the United States, though many other liberal arts schools do have an academic component to their service programs. Cornell’s minor requires six courses—ethics, anthropology or sociology, politics, research methods or critical thinking, a course on addressing societal issues, and a course in applied civic engagement—along with at least 25 hours of service over two semesters.
The minor and indeed the idea of academic courses on service and civic engagement are relatively new, but the idea that Cornellians should serve is not new at all, the Rev. Richard Thomas, college historian and emeritus history professor, wrote in a 2000 paper.
“As far as I can determine, at least through the mid-20th century, the college never had an academic course on leadership and service,” Thomas wrote. “I believe this is true for several reasons. First, that was the purpose of the entire college curriculum—something you acquired by being part of the entire enterprise, not a course to be taken and forgotten. Second, the faculty was expected to model not only the values of leadership and service but through interaction with students to help them become better practitioners of democratic leadership.”
And, indeed, it sometimes seems like the entirety of a Cornell education is preparing people not just to work, but to lead and serve in their communities.
That’s been the experience of trustee Bob McLennan ’65.
McLennan, a Chicago-area businessman, has been involved with service for years, and he credits the liberal arts education he got at Cornell as the impetus behind that. He and his wife, Becky Martin McLennan ’64, are founding members of an international organization called L3, which stands for Life, Leadership, and Legacy. The goal of the organization is to bring together people who want to have an impact on the world and help them find ways to make a difference.
McLennan, who decided at age 50 to give half his time away, also spent 19 years on the board of Advocate Healthcare, and served as a village trustee in Glenview, Ill. He was asked to be a trustee because of his background in real estate development, he said, and he wanted to give back to the place where he and Becky raised their family.
It was his liberal arts education that opened his mind to the different possibilities for service, he said. “When you’re aware of the world around you,” he said “there will be things that tug at you. You think, ‘I’ve got something, maybe I could contribute.’”
From a young age, Mary Morse ’69 had the sense that she had a responsibility to give back. Her father was a professor and consumer advocate, and her mother was a county commissioner. While at Cornell, she was part of a group that tutored students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a turbulent time, she said, with the Vietnam War and the civil rights and women’s rights movements. During her senior year, she and some others decided to teach Cornell women about birth control—a move that did not endear her to some in the administration. Morse spent time working with Planned Parenthood and the YWCA, and she now volunteers as a mediator with the Center for Conflict Resolution, in addition to grassroots organizing and philanthropy.
She said her Cornell education taught her the analytical skills she needed to succeed, but the sense of community taught her something, as well. Because of the small size of Cornell, she dealt with and respected people with views different from her own.
“You had to talk with people with different opinions,” she said. “You couldn’t demonize people who disagreed.”
Ron Corbett ’83 also credits Cornell for a share of his success in the public sphere. Corbett ran for the Iowa House shortly after graduation, where he served for 13 years, the last five as the youngest Speaker of the House in state history. He attributed his election to his willingness to go door-to-door talking to voters. And his ability to do that, he said, came from Cornell. Because of One Course At A Time, students had to interact with each other during the extended class periods, he said, and that got him comfortable talking to many different people.
In 2009, after a decade out of elected office, Corbett was elected mayor of Cedar Rapids. He ran, he said, because he thought the June 2008 flood paralyzed some city leaders, and things weren’t getting accomplished. “As someone who cared about the community, I felt like I had to get involved again,” he said.
For Tina Effner DuBois ’99, a Cornell education helped start her on the path to where she is now: executive director of the North Liberty Community Pantry. While at Cornell, the elementary education and psychology major had a practicum at Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids. She got a job there after graduation, and then pursued a master’s degree in social work. For her master’s practicum, she worked at the community pantry. Then she got the job there, and helped turn it into a model pantry for the region and the nation. But beyond the connections she made at Cornell, the things she learned—adaptability and flexibility from One Course At A Time, a sense of the importance of service and education from her course work—have helped her tremendously, she said. As the pantry’s only employee (everyone else is a volunteer), she does everything from advocate for public policy changes to helping get food to families.
Derek Johnson ’04 said Cornell helped him realize his ambition to change the world. Classes and co-curricular activities taught him how to interact with people, solve problems, and make lasting, positive change. Now the chief of staff at Global Zero, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide, he works with young people and heads of state to try and further his organization’s mission.
“Global Zero is civic engagement at its finest,” said Johnson, an attorney who serves on Cornell’s Alumni Board. “We’re facing humanity’s single greatest challenge and asking world leaders to set aside the most powerful, devastating weapons known to mankind. We have a truly historic opportunity to rid the world of nuclear weapons and change the course of human events, and we’re mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people, from heads-of-state to high school students, to seize that moment before it passes by. Having even a small part to play in the pursuit of that vision is incredibly exciting. And looking back, I’m convinced that my decision to attend Cornell College is what led me here.”
After graduation Brittany Atchison ’10 went to Nigeria through the Iowa-Nigeria Partnership, sponsored by the United Methodist Church. She helped to start EmpowHER, a micro-finance initiative designed to give women the chance to start their own business. Within six months of starting, the project had 40 groups and 400 entrepreneurs. When she left Nigeria this spring the repayment rate for the loans was 100 percent, and she estimated EmpowHER had an impact on more than 20,000 people.
And it was her time at Cornell that sparked her interest and gave her the chance to learn about the causes of and solutions to poverty. She had internships and courses in Africa and South America, and she founded Students Together Eradicating Poverty on campus.
“It’s more than a slogan,” Atchison said. “Civic engagement is a lifestyle. It’s a commitment to something greater than yourself.”
The article originally appeared on http://www.collegenews.org
By Harry C. Boyte, American Commonwealth Partnership National Coordinator
At the forefront of change will be a monthly online newsletter about activities and developments in the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP). ACP is an alliance of colleges and universities, schools and others dedicated to the democracy college ideal for all higher education. Democracy colleges have a signature identity of strong connection to their communities, where students learn skills of working across differences on public problems and discover the democratic possibilities of America.
I’ve just come back from San Antonio. Blase Scarnati, director of the First Year Seminar at Northern Arizona University, and I did a featured session on the American Commonwealth Partnership at the Academic Affairs meeting of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). This biannual meeting once simply involved provosts, but in the last several years larger teams have come to help facilitate change in their institutions.
We had intense conversations about ACP, within our session as well as before and after. Overall, the weekend underlined both challenges and opportunities for the sustained work of “building democracy colleges.”
We reported on results from field testing and focus groups organized by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), ACP’s partner in launching a national discussion on higher education’s role in America’s future. The discussions in communities and on campuses will begin in April and continue through the year. The Department of Education has suggested several ways in which they might help.
Research last year on public views toward higher education and the first tests of the framework to be used in the discussions have generated important findings.
The draft framework presents several alternative roles for people to consider and discuss: higher education as an engine of economic growth; as a path to the middle class for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and as a contributor to communities and the democracy. People want to integrate all three, not choose among them.
But most people also seem unaware of ways in which colleges and universities can play this third role. Since the last two decades have seen significant civic engagement work in higher education, this finding suggests a communications challenge, also highlighted by sympathetic participants from outside of higher education at the White House gathering, who commented that phrases commonly used to describe engagement – civic mission, civic engagement, and others – would not be easily understood by broader publics.
When the third option is illustrated with examples of higher education’s helping students and faculty learn skills and habits of collaborative work across differences on public problems, it generates surprise and animated discussions. Few people are aware that colleges or universities can play any role in teaching such skills. But across many differences, Americans are worried that “we are less and less able to work across differences to get anything done,” and fear for the future of the nation. Citizens are alarmed by Congress, but see polarization, inflammatory rhetoric and gridlock extending to every level of society and to all sorts of issues, from local zoning changes to reconstruction of the nation’s electrical grid.
Powerful forces feed the polarizing dynamic, including the formula, with roots in 1970s activism, which dominates most civic and political campaigns: identify an enemy; define issues as good versus bad; and use inflammatory language to shut down critical thought. Talk radio, cable news and the internet are potent operationalizing tools.
At San Antonio, there were strong examples of developing capacities for collaborative work that push back against such polarization. Blase Scarnati described the curricular innovations at NAU which involve hundreds of students in interdisciplinary Action Research Teams as part of the First Year Seminar. Students undertake public work projects on issues – immigration, weatherization, school bullying and others – in ways designed to teach such skills and build public relationships with diverse groups, connected to interdisciplinary learning. Over supper one evening I heard a rich account from Dayna Seelig, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Morehead State University in Kentucky, about her own work over many years in teaching such skills and habits to students, faculty and staff of the university.
But such stories are rarely told in describing engagement efforts, and I believe that most examples of teaching and learning collaborative public work remain invisible. There is a need to shine a spotlight on education for such efforts. There are also strong institutional incentives for doing so in a time of public alarm about the fraying of American society and ebbing public support for higher education. The initiatives of ACP (deliberative dialogues, student organizing, Citizen Alum, civic science, pedagogies of engagement, community civic health, public scholarship, and policy) all help to foster education for collaborative public problem solving. But it will take sustained effort to make such teaching and learning central to institutional identity.
What might a “Democracy College Morrill Class” look like dedicated to this task? We suggested the possibility of a cohort of colleges and universities that make an explicit commitment for sustained collaborative learning to deepen curricular and co-curricular engagement in civic work. It is now only the seed of an idea, but even without detail there was considerable interest. Several administrators said that their institutions would definitely like to be involved.
Find more information about ACP here
At Syracuse University, there is a focused effort to embody democratic education through teaching, research, and engaged praxis. The rhetoric of publicly engaged scholarship is communicated through our vision, Scholarship in Action, and we purposefully enact the civic mission of higher education through hiringand admission practices, funded initiatives and within the scope of graduate education and research. Graduate education is an important site for the articulation and development of higher education’s role in participatory democracy because graduate students are the next generation of university professorate, administrators, and community partners.
Last October, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled, Syracuse’ Slide where, among other things, Syracuse University’s commitment to publicly engaged scholarship was criticized as playing a role in lowering standards and reducing the national prestige of our university. This article mobilized graduate students from across campus, galvanizing us to speak back, across disciplinary boundaries, to the unfair depiction of our commitment to the university as a public good. The article deepened our level of solidarity as graduate students, stimulating an urgency about declaring the value of publicly engaged scholarship. Far from a slide, partnering with community stakeholders for the robust and dynamic production of knowledge is indicative of Syracuse’s Rise.
In my role as director for Imagining America: Artist and Scholars in Public Life’s Central New York, Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE), I e-mailed a copy of the article to PAGE members and suggested we write a collective letter to the editor. The response was overwhelming. Eighty-seven people identifying as “Syracuse’s Engaged Grads” answered the call offering to either help draft or sign the letter. The most remarkable feature of this response was the refusal of members of the Syracuse University graduate community to allow our University’s leadership in the new epistemology of reciprocal knowledge making to be mislabeled as anything but the most rigorous of scholarship. Using our own democratic practices as the foundation of our letter, we argued that:
• The building of knowledge is inseparable from practice;
• The inclusion of traditionally underrepresented students generates increased scholarly rigor by expanding perspectives;
• The dichotomous thinking that separates university and community knowledge is anachronistic;
• Community members are our partners and lived space is our laboratory and
• Engaged practice informs collective understandings and helps to create coalitions for civic action.
I am only one of the people who contributed to Syracuse’s Rise; it was a truly organic collaborative response to a gross mischaracterization facilitated by a far-reaching vehicle. I am proud to be a graduate student at an institution where our leadership, our professorate, and our student body are working to expand the paradigm of knowledge making to center the public good. When we consider our democracy in the United States today, there is no space for arguing if the University should engaged with the public; the time has passed for this question. Rather, it is for us, graduate students, to explore and develop new ways that our learning can cross disciplines and, quite literally, cross the street to respond to the problems and questions of the communities we rise up in. We believe that the strongest, richest, and most impactful knowledge making requires an honored place along the
continuum of scholarship for the acknowledgement of diverse scholarly forms and deep engagement.
A. Wendy Nastasi is a third year doctoral student in the Cultural Foundations of EducationDepartment in the School of Education at Syracuse University. Wendy is director of ImagingAmerica’s CNY PAGE program, and a member of IA’s Publicly Engaged Scholars study researchteam. As an instructor for SU’s Intergroup Dialogue Program, Wendy co-facilitates SOC/WGS 230:Intergroup Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity. Wendy’s research engages youth participatory actionresearch (YPAR) as a praxis for mobilizing urban high school students’ civic agency while centering youth’s voices and epistemic contributions. You can contact Wendy at either email@example.com or at cnypage.syr.edu.
The New York Times salutes the American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment — two of our leading partners — in it’s edition on February 5, 2012. The New York Times Knowledge Network, the educational division of The Times and co-founder of ADP, is publishing an insert on education.
The full back page of the insert recognizes the American Democracy Project and its community college sister organization, The Democracy Commitment. For more see: The New York Times Knowledge Network
Both organizations focus on preparing college students to be informed, engaged citizens for America’s democracy. The American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment are two of the founding organizations behind The American Commonwealth Partnership (which we gave life to via DemocracyU).
ACP is 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.” ACP’s role is to “deepen the civic identity” of educational institutions, moving engagement from activities to strong commitments to education as a public good.
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.