The room was surging with energy as members of Occupy Wall Street mingled with attendees at the town hall meeting. Harry Boyte and Dennis Donovan, organizers of the event and long time community organizers, invited students, colleagues, and all others interested in learning more about a variety of controversial social issues. This week’s topic: Occupy Wall Street.
The over-arching theme of all ‘Town Hall Meetings’ is the regular practice of democracy. It is assumed that all persons attending understand and respect the fundamental principle that guides the town hall meetings: with democracy comes a responsibility as citizens, to learn about what is going on in this country and to delve into discussion and debate, freely, as we decide for ourselves what we believe in. Free and open debate, unhindered by intimidation nor disrespect is critical to the success of the meetings. The clock struckseven o’clock and it was time for the meeting to begin.
Mr. Donovan directed the crowd to chairs positioned in a circle, an arrangement intended to facilitate open discussion. He began the meeting by emphasizing key points. “Democracy is argument,” he explained. He reminded the participants, “the freedom to express differing opinions and to debate high profile and controversial issues is a privilege that never should be taken for granted. SeveralOccupy Wall Street [OWS] members interrupted his remarks to suggest changes to previously established discussion guidelines. The OWS ideas were overruled respectfully, and the meeting resumed with the customary participant introductions. “We are the 99%… We are the 99%…” Attention was once again directed to a group of OWS members chanting in unison. As their voices swelled, the room seemed to fill with a sense of unease and tension. What was the reason for their behavior? Did the group misunderstand the purpose for and principles of the meeting? What were the motives? Whatever the reason, the tenacity of the group was evident as members indirectly intimidated other speakers, challenged Town Hall motives, and criticized the Town Hall image as detrimental to its cause.
Sam, a college aged participant, had observed and listened intently to the interaction between the OWS members and the other attendees. He was intrigued by the interaction and curious about how the OWS responded to several questions. Finally, he could hesitate no longer, boldly raised his hand and was invited to speak: “Currently, I am taking a history class designed to go over American history from 1945 to the present…with that said, it seems that your intentions are good, but it doesn’t seem like the OWS has clear goals and therefore, lacks in credibility. Also, the end goals they do have are not necessarily tangible.” He paused in anticipation of a response.
A response soon followed. Scott, a self-proclaimed ‘leader’ of OWS, spoke candidly and passionately about his work experience and observations of the movement. “My experience during my first day with OWS triggered a ‘what do YOU want’’ question and made me feel like there were forty people and forty different messages… a bit of a narcissistic movement”. Scott concluded by explaining that OWS had no other goal but to achieve active involvement. “We cannot all agree…the trouble is getting involved and the problem is the process”.
Harry Boyte, co-planner of the Town Hall Meetings and seasoned organizer, joined the discussion by acknowledging that the movement exposed very vividly the issue of inequality inAmerica. However, he warned the group about the inherent harm of fostering and furthering divisiveness. Boyte used the example of a woman at the meeting. He described her emotions by saying that she “felt hopeless, OWS gave her hope”. He cautioned, “You cannot go about dividing the world into good and bad and expect to gain momentum and ultimate success”.
The discussion intensified and emotions heightened. Respectfully, Oliver, a middle-aged gentleman, stood to respond to Boyte’s comment, “Polarization is incredibly dangerous. Yes. But OWS is bringing together a diverse group. Although, I do not see a middle ground, there is an awful lot of one-liners and rhetoric flying as the gap is widening, and I am seeing a deep fractioning of society”. Likewise, another participant addressed the divisive nature of the “99%” chant. “Why”, it was asked, do you eliminate the 1% from the discussion table? Isn’t it more productive to include the 100% in the conversation? You advocate for involvement, political change, and empowerment of the citizenry. Why would you exclude 1% of the population? It has the image of divisiveness and hypocrisy.” The OWS member responded, “The reason why we do not invite the 1% to the table is because they own the table.”
Several participants voiced their opinions regarding the tactics used by the OWS to attract public attention. Hate speech and vulgar actions, it was noted, would eventually destroy the OWS public image and the group’s message. The OWS member placed blame on media’s reporting of events and the tremendous emotional response that ensues when confronting established power. “False media interpretation”, he said, “It gets intense when people go up against power”. Many who sat in the circle of chairs may have considered the OWS GROUP ‘intruders’. Yet, despite this unexpected and uncomfortable intrusion, those in attendance learned much about both sides of the issue. Discussion became intense at times. Yet, the non-OWS participants had an opportunity to hear the issues of the OWS first hand, observe their passion, and gain a better understanding of their position.
The OWS, on the other hand, was the recipient of excellent advice. They learned that the public was confused by the inconsistency of the message, impatient with the polarizing strategies and tactics used, and saw hypocrisy in the group’s policies and beliefs. It became clear that if the OWS movement is to continue and earn public attention and respect, it must achieve a very clear and consistent message, redesign strategies, and invite the 100% to the table.
As a witness to this event, this writer learned a tremendous lesson about democracy. Some participants may have left the meeting feeling angry and disappointed. They may have thought that the meeting had failed in its purpose due to the unexpected conflict and intense dialogue. Some may be disappointed because the meeting did not ‘come off’ as planned. Others may get lost in determining who one or who lost. Many may be uncomfortable with the tenacity and persistence demonstrated by the participants. However, this observer believes the meeting was a great success and it fulfilled its intended purpose. Information was shared, opinions were discussed, and both sides were heard. All one has to do is review Mr. Donovan’s introductory comments:
“Democracy is argument. The freedom to express differing opinions and to debate high profile and controversial issues is a privilege that never should be taken for granted.”
By Megan Felz, Freshman, University of Minnesota
In our ever-changing society, we are constantly faced with the challenge of evolving and adapting to what the world and its situations demand from us. Along with that, I believe it is important to constantly challenge what we thought we previously knew and develop our beliefs in addition. I was given the ability to do just that when I attended a debate at Trinity Church. Trinity church, a recent addition to the Cedar-Riverside intersection, is located at what was once St. Martin’s Table, a restaurant where 85% percent of their profits were donated to charity. Though St. Martin’s Table is no longer in business, Trinity church does an excellent job at keeping its spirit and values of community alive.
One way they are doing that is by serving as a public forum for people to address and talk about issues that they are passionate or want to learn more about. This debate, moderated by Harry Boyte, was centered around Patriotism, and included a diverse group of individuals of different ages, socio-economic statuses, professions, and beliefs. Accompanying this diverse group of people, came a diverse group of opinions in regards to patriotism, both positive and negative. On a positive side, there were people who were intensely proud of their country and felt a deep connection to it. On the opposing end, others felt detached and under represented by the idea of patriotism. One person mentioned that they couldn’t identify with “the face” of patriotism, and therefore didn’t feel patriotic. Nonetheless, accepting and building off of these differing viewpoints is part of what makes a debate so exciting and inspirational. And it is through this wide range of people that I was able to get a better idea of what patriotism means to me.
The very idea of debating how we feel about patriotism is, in essence, patriotic. The spirit of democracy is highlighted in a passionate, fervent, and controversial debate. Being merely a presence at such an event, addresses the need to nurture and channel beliefs and opinions, as well as challenge others to do the same. Growing up, I never gave much thought to the idea of patriotism; honestly, prior to this debate, I hadn’t even thought much of it. I thought, since I am American, I was automatically patriotic; I thought I was entitled to carry the label of patriotism and everything that it stands for. I didn’t feel the need, or the urge, to earn the right to use it. Being patriotic is more than just a label; it is a sense of pride. It is a sense of pride in the values that your country stands for, and a pride that you are able to be a part of it. Having the freedom to share our opinions and the luxury of listening to those of others is one of the most fundamental values of America, and using these values to their utmost extent is just as important.
Another core value that I found in patriotism is taking an active involvement or interest in the well being of your country. I feel that it brings you closer to your country when you have a stake in its well-being. This promotes a sense of unity, responsibility and accountability, which further solidifies the bond of citizen and country. This also holds true on a smaller scale as well. Taking an active role in your community or a common area, such as Trinity Church, I feel is patriotic because it allows for growth as an individual, and the ability to identify with others, by being exposed to other people and experiences.
No matter the extent to which someone believes or identifies with the ideals of patriotism, I still believe that there is a constant need to challenge what society has deemed “patriotic”, and encourage people to form their own ideas in regards to the word. It is important to nurture and cultivate diversity and use these assets as a means of growing and maturing as individuals.
We need to stop harping on contradicting others and worry less about the need to prove ourselves right, and focus on growth. We need to grow as individuals, in order to help America grow as a country and to see the change that we talk so much about. It is easy to ridicule someone; it is hard to listen and to see the world from their perspective. If the overall goal is to achieve a united front, we first need to clear out the baggage that each person is individually predisposed towards. We need to figure out how to foster a sense of community; but before we ask how, we need to ask why. Why is it so important to create a sense of community? I personally believe that it is because we can get more accomplished together than we can alone. First, we need to foster cooperation in order to eventually establish it. We need to get everyone’s perspective on it, before we can understand our own, and work together on establishing a mutual and unanimous feeling towards accomplishing it. Once we are able to understand and establish a basis of what patriotism means to each of us, we can begin to mold the beliefs of individuals together and construct the role of patriotism in America.
Megan Felz is currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota. She is a student in the College of Liberal Arts, and at the moment, undecided in her major, with the intent of a Spanish minor.
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
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.
“For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission”- White House Event Reinforces The Need For Civic EducationPosted: January 12, 2012
At the White House yesterday, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,called on a gathering of civic education, government, business and philanthropy leaders to provide practical civic engagement opportunities for students from grade school to graduate school.
The group, along with other senior Obama Administration officials, were gathered to launch a national conversation “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission” focusing on the importance of educating students for informed and engaged citizenship.
“Our young people have an appetite, their committed, they want to be engaged … But somehow we’ve walked away from providing those opportunities,” Duncan said. He added that he sees education as more than ‘book’ knowledge and included teaching students to participate in a vibrant democracy.
“Hands on learning experiences that engage young people in the community and have them, at very early ages start to see the impact they can have, I think, is probably the best way to teach that,”Duncan said.
Skills young people gain through civic engagement –critical thinking, working in diverse teams and asking hard questions – are the same skills that they will need to be successful in the economy.
Duncan also said that when senior college students are surveyed, they feel they have had less opportunities to make a difference during their time in college than when they first entered college. “That passion is there, that desire is there but somehow we’re not meeting that need. So collectively we have to do something very, very different”.
The White House event also marked the release of “A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future,” a new report to the Department of Education from leading civic scholars and practitioners, as well as the Department’s own report, “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action.”
Event also introduced the new American Commonwealth Partnership, which aims to bring together thousands of universities, colleges, community colleges, schools and other civic partners to promote civic education,civic mission and civic identity throughout all of education in the United States.
Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett also spoke and reaffirmed President Obama’s commitment to education. “We hope that this provides us with a launching off point, a catalyst, the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing engagement.”
Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, talked about the importance of “democracy colleges”, which he said would reinvent citizenship for the 21st century. Boyte said moving the ACP (powered by DemocracyU) forward and developing these democracy colleges across the country is critical for the future of education and society in general.
“We see ourselves as responding to the call of the nation, to the crisis of the nation. There is a deep sense that we need to move from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture,” Boyte said.
A number of students and graduates also spoke on panels at the event. One, Nikki Cooley, of the Dinesh tribe also known as Navaho, who is a program coordinator at Northern Arizona University, recalled having trouble in math and science and not being interested in it in high school.
“I come from 17 million acres of land where 80 percent of the people don’t have electricity or running water, ” Cooley said. Her parents didn’t get electricity until 2011 (and are still waiting for running water). It was being connected to opportunities that were relevant to her background, she said, that led her to understand how and why math and science mattered to her future.
“I realized I had opportunities that were relevant to my background. That used my background as a Navaho woman … who is concerned about issues on the Navaho reservation and other native communities. Because that is who I am, first and foremost.”
Cooley described how cultivating these interests led her to complete a Master’s in forestry works, and work with climate scientists to learn more about climate change on the Colorado Plateau.
“If I [learned about] that in high school I would have been more inclined to be interested or stay awake in class,” she said. Cooley went on to urge the government and educators to consider relevant cultural educational opportunities when thinking about democracy in colleges and universities.
Bianca Brown, a student at Western Kentucky University and a senior coach at Public Achievement, spoke about the role of students and citizenship.
“It’s not enough to hang an American flag in front of your home and call yourself a citizen,” she said. Brown spoke to the importance of sharing knowledge and “empowering the un-empowered” through activity, and being engaged as a student.
She also said that her university professor, Paul Markham, gave her inspiration and the support she needed to find her voice. “I lived in the projects for ten years but I was always passionate. I always wanted to focus that passion,” Brown told DemocracyU.
It was the encouragement of collaborative work at university that showed her how to focus that passion, she added.
Watch the videos of all speakers at the event :
Read more on Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy at U.S. Dept of Ed: http://www.ed.gov/civic-learning
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.Posted: January 10, 2012
Reinventing Citizenship and the Role of EducationCitizenship 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?
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.
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.
- Reclaim and reinvest in the fundamental civic and democratic mission of schools and of all sectors within higher education
- Enlarge the current national narrative that erases civic aims and civic literacy as educational priorities contributing to social, intellectual, and economic capital
- 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
- 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
- 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 www.aacu.org/civic_learning/crucible for full report; see Chapter 3 for full set of recommendations.
 Adapted from the National Issues Forums Institute