The American Democracy Project is proud to join the American Commonwealth Partnership, a collaborative national effort to advance the civic mission of higher education. In the guest blog post below, longtime ADP partner and civic learning and democratic engagement advocate Harry Boyte describes the initial partners, goals and efforts of this partnership.
I encourage American Democracy Project students, faculty, staff and community partners to consider submitting short videos or ideas for guest blog posts for the social media campaign that Harry outlines below. I’d love to see ADP efforts spotlighted in this endeavor to ensure that higher education is preparing informed, engaged citizens for our democracy and embracing our role as stewards of place. Please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any materials you’d like me to pass on to the new DemocracyU website that will be launched next week as part of these collaborative efforts.
All my best,
Jen Domagal-Goldman, National Manager, American Democracy Project
American Commonwealth Partnership For Democracy’s Future: A Coordinated Effort to Reclaim the Civic Mission of Higher Education
By Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship
American colleges and universities attract millions of students from across the world. As Anthony Grafton writes in New York Review of Books (11/24/11), “at every level…dedicated professors are setting students on fire with enthusiasm for everything from the structure of crystals to the structure of poems.” Yet Grafton’s review of recent books with titles like Academically Adrift and Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given up on the Meaning of Life, also tells a sobering tale. These books detail declines in teaching, detachment from communities, and re-branding of higher education as a ticket to private wealth not public contribution. “The hordes of forgotten students who leave the university…uninspired by their courses, wounded in many cases by what they experience as their own failures, weighed down by their debts, need to be seen and heard.”
On January 10th, the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) will hear these students. 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.
The American Commonwealth Partnership, launched on September 7th in New York at a meeting hosted by Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, grows out of the American Democracy Project, as well as work with the National Conference on Citizenship, The Democracy Commitment among community colleges, Campus Compact, Imagining America, NERCHE, the Anchoring Institutions Task Force and other engagement efforts. It stresses the role of colleges and universities as stewards of place and anchoring institutions within diverse local ecologies of civic learning. ACP was organized over the past six months by Harry Boyte working with Cantor and other presidents, including Brian Murphy, President of De Anza College, M. Christopher Brown, President of Alcorn State University, Tom Ehrlich, President Emeritus of Indiana University, Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, Paul Pribbenow, President of Augsburg College, and Judith Ramaley, President of Winona State University. It is coordinated by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, a long time partner with ADP in its Civic Agency Initiative.
The launch will showcase “champions of change” across higher education and among P-12 partners, including leaders in Public Achievement, a youth civic empowerment initiative, from Western Kentucky University and Northern Arizona University. The launch will also release a report, Crucible Moment – Civic Learning and Democracy’s Future, which AAC&U and its advisors have prepared for the Department of Education. The report calls for civic learning to become a “pervasive ethos,” not a marginal activity. ACP activities will unfold in the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act which created land-grant institutions, once “democracy colleges.” ACP champions the democracy spirit for all of education. Three initiatives are already underway:
Social Media Campaign: Working with JumpStart Productions, producer of NOW on PBS, ACP is developing a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, beginning December 7th, with the DemocracyU website on CIRCLE, the youth civic research center. ACP will sponsor a national competition of student/faculty-produced short (5-min) videos, each profiling a civic initiative. Coaching for video teams will be provided using an interface on YouTube. Finalists will be chosen by a distinguished panel, and online voting will determine the winner. ACP will leverage connections made through the project to cultivate vigorous dialogue on its website and through social media platforms. The social media will also support the deliberative dialogue campaign.
National Deliberative Dialogues: ACP will organize deliberative dialogues in partnership with the National Issues Forums and the Kettering Foundation on higher education’s role in American society, building on research by Public Agenda, about public opinion on higher education. The deliberative process will include an easy to use toolkit; online and onsite training and work with schools and associations in advance; a designated time period in Spring 2012 for discussions, and many ways to report back the results to the nation.
Civic Science and STEM Education: Planning is underway with the Delta Center at the University of Iowa, Molly Jahn with the College of Life and Agricultural Sciences at U-WISC and former deputy undersecretary for education at USDA, and Joel Thierstein, Senior Advisor on STEM initiatives at DoED, for a Civic Science STEM initiative, promoting curricular and co-curricular reform that combines STEM and civic agency education.
For a more detailed description of the goals, aims and contexts of the American Commonwealth Partnership, take a look at this Word document: For Democracy’s Future Star Diagram.