A Live Event at the White House: The American Commonwealth Partnership and The Department of Education Join To Launch a Year of Citizenship and Civic EducationPosted: January 6, 2012
On January 10th 2012, at the White House, a group of higher education and civic leaders with government officials will launch a year of activities to revitalize the democratic purposes and civic mission of American education.
The event is called: “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission.” The Department of Education and the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) have joined with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose major report to the nation, “A Crucible Moment: Civic Learning and Democracy’s Future”, will also be released on that date.
The year will include a coordinated series of activities – local dialogues, forums, town meetings, and projects fostering civic identity. The goal is to strengthen the role of colleges, schools and other educational groups in educating students to be citizens; in connecting to local communities; and in engaging with the urgent problems of the nation. The year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, which created land grant colleges across America.
“For Democracy’s Future seeks to change the long term dynamic that has led to an ‘ivory tower’ culture in many colleges and universities,” said Harry Boyte, chair of the ACP and Director of the Center for Democracy and citizenship at Augsburg College. “In a time of mounting challenges, the nation, and our local communities, cannot afford to have higher education on the sidelines. It needs to be back in the middle of problem solving and helping to lead a rebirth of citizenship,” he said.
The January 10th event will be streamed live at the White House ( http://www.whitehouse.gov/live. ) Viewers are invited to host their own discussions during the afternoon breakout sessions. More information and a discussion guide will be posted on our site soon.
About the ACP and DemocracyU
The American Commonwealth Partnership is a cross-partisan campaign which is 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. The American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) was formed last year and brings together colleges, universities, community colleges, schools and other civic partners to create a strong “civic identity” in families, schools, professions, colleges and universities.
We are honored to be participating in this national effort to promote higher education’s civic mission.
For more information, please contact Karina Cherfas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freshmen at Stanford University in the late 1920s and ‘30s, were required to take a year-long course called “Problems of Citizenship.” The course was one-fourth of the normal first-year undergraduate curriculum, and was rooted in the judgments of the University’s founders, Jane and Leland Stanford, that education for civic leadership should be a primary goal of an undergraduate education. In the words of Mrs. Stanford, “While the instruction offered must be such as will qualify the students for personal success and direct usefulness in life, they should understand that it is offered in the hope and trust that they will become thereby of greater service to the public.”
In the opening lecture in 1928, the first year the course was offered, Professor Edgar Eugene Robinson told students that “citizenship is the second calling of every man and woman. You will observe as we go forward that our constant endeavor will be to relate what we do and say to the facts of the world from which you came and in which all of you will live, and to correlate the various aspects of the modern scene, so that it will appear that citizenship is not a thing apart, something to be though of only occasionally or left to the energies of a minority of our people, but that its proper understanding is at the very root of our daily life.”
Robinson reported that some 60 other colleges and universities had developed similar courses, and he expected that many others would follow.
So what happened? Why did education for civic leadership, the subject of this course, disappear from the curricula of Stanford, and other American colleges and universities?
In essence, I think the answer is that in the immediate post WW II years, disinterested, disengaged analysis became the dominant mode of academic inquiry, and quantitative methods became the primary tools of that analysis. What was previously called government or politics became political science, with a stress on positivism. Students were no longer encouraged to become engaged politically engaged. They were to be observers, not participants. And this disengaged perspective had a powerful effect not just on college students, but on the teaching of what had been called civics in secondary schools. The primary aim of high-school civics courses in the era before WW II had been to prepare young students to be actively engaged, responsible civic leaders in their communities, involved in politics at every level. The new trend drained the civics courses of their activist aims. They substituted learning about government rather than participating in it.
Fortunately, a movement is now going forward under the broad umbrella of DemocacyU to engage students as active participants in democracy on local, state, and national levels. Students are not alone responsible for fixing the messes that have been created by past inattention to the need for civic engagement. But unless they are prepared to engage in democracy—and not simply sit on the sidelines—the mess can only get worse—much worse. Colleges and universities, key places of transition for students, are ideal places for students to gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to be civically engaged.
Thomas Ehrlich is a Visiting Professor at the Stanford University School of Education. He has previously served as president of Indiana University, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and dean of Stanford Law School. He was also the first president of the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC, and the first director of the International Development Cooperation Agency, reporting to President Carter. After his tenure at Indiana University, he was a Distinguished University Scholar at California State University and taught regularly at San Francisco State University. From 2000 to 2010 he was a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is author, co-author, or editor of 13 books including Reconnecting Education and Foundations: Turning Good Intentions into Educational Capital (2007); Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Lives of Responsible Political Engagement (2007); and Preparing Undergraduates for Business: Liberal Learning for Professional Education (2011). He is now working on a book about how and why young people should be engaged in public service. He is a trustee of Mills College, and has been a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and Bennett College. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and holds five honorary degrees.