The Civic Case for Liberal Education


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Building the civic case for liberal education.

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The Civic Case for Liberal Education

  1. 1. DRAFT Prepared for the Presidents’ Trust by Carol Schneider, Association of American College & Universities The Civic Case for Liberal Education
  2. 2. “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Quoting George Bernard Shaw
  3. 3. Overview 1. The Challenges We Face 2. Liberal Education and Civic Capacity 3. Liberal Education in Historical and Contemporary Perspective 4. Taking the Lead in Educating for Personal and Social Responsibility 5. But, We’re Only Half-Way There 6. What Next?
  4. 4. The Challenges We Face
  5. 5. The Challenges Americans Face Are Daunting Within Our Borders, And in the Global Community
  6. 6. Challenges Within Our Borders Cultures – Multiple and Multiplying Economy – In the Midst of Painful Dislocations and Volatility Society – Riven Over Immigration and Other “Social Questions” Politics – Contentious, Fractured, Declining Confidence in Public Sector
  7. 7. The Communications and Technology Revolutions...And Their Effects in All Sectors Education and Equity: Generations of Children Still Left Behind Social Mobility, the Environment, an Aging Population A Decaying Infrastructure...and More Within Our Borders...
  8. 8. Global Challenges  Poverty, War, Suffering... Sustenance and Human Dignity Illiteracy and Its Effects... Education and Opportunity Energy and the Environment... Research and Innovation Terrorism and Fear... Law, Justice, Democracy, Freedom
  9. 9. Global Challenges (Cont.) The United States’ Historic Role in Global Leadership And as a Voice and Force for Democratic Values and Democratic Self-Determination
  10. 10. The Issues at Home and Abroad Are Immense Rising to These Challenges Will Require Civic Will, Capacity, and Commitment – the Determination to Tackle Hard Questions – in All Their Complexity
  11. 11. While the Societal Challenges We Face Are Great... Higher Education Is Now Poised to Bring New Civic Capacity to Help Meet These Challenges
  12. 12. College 2010 and Beyond In Unprecedented Numbers, Americans of All Ages Are Flocking to College Including 70% of Recent High School Graduates And, It Is Now a National Goal for At Least 60% of All Americans to Complete a College Degree
  13. 13. Will We Seize This Opportunity to Build New Civic Capacity to Solve Societal Problems —Or Not? Our Civic Choices Will Shape Our Future
  14. 14. Fostering Civic Capacity Many Americans Think Citizenship Begins and Ends with Voting. But Voting—While Important—IS Only the Bare Minimum. A Vibrant Democracy Needs and Must Foster Broad Civic Capacity.
  15. 15. Ben Barber on Education and Citizenship “The fundamental task of education in a democracy is the apprenticeship of liberty— learning to be free... The literacy required to live in civil society, the competence to participate in democratic communities, the ability to think critically and act deliberately in a pluralistic world, the empathy that permits us to hear and thus accommodate others, all involve skills that must be acquired (emphasis added)...” An Aristocracy of Everyone, 1992
  16. 16. Ben Barber on Education and Citizenship “Democracy is not a natural form...; it is an extraordinary and rare contrivance of cultivated imagination... [E]ndow the uneducated with a right to make collective decisions and what results is not democracy but...the government of private prejudice and the tyranny of opinion...” An Aristocracy of Everyone, 1992
  17. 17. Civic Learning and the Schools “In recent years, the schools have stopped teaching [civics education]….Half the states no longer make it a requirement to get out of high school, if you can believe it. And it's -- it's really a remarkable withdrawal from the very purpose we had originally for public schools.” Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Interview on The News Hour, October 13, 2010
  18. 18. Civic Capacity Requires Critical Inquiry and Knowledge Commitment and Active Engagement Across Difference of Many Kinds Deliberative Dialogues and Collaborative Problem-Solving
  19. 19. Civic Capacity Also Requires A Developed Sense of Civic Identity The Recognition that WE Are Responsible – We the People The Determination and the Commitment to Stay the Course, Do the Hard Work – And, Together, to Create a Better Tomorrow
  20. 20. America’s Best Hope Civic Capacity is Developed Through Education – and Liberal Education is the Crucial Key Both to New Civic Capacity And to Meeting the Challenges We Face at Home and Abroad
  21. 21. Liberal Education and Civic Capacity
  22. 22. Traditionally and Today, the Only College Curriculum that Focuses on Nurturing Civic Capacity is Liberal Education
  23. 23. Liberal Education – By Design – Builds Both Capacity (rich knowledge, high level skills; social imagination) AND the Commitment (an examined sense of ethical and civic responsibility) To Create and Test Responsible Solutions – and to Learn with and for Others – Not Just Ourselves
  24. 24. The Aims & Outcomes of Liberal Education 1. Rich Knowledge – of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural Worlds  Knowledge that can be applied to big societal, scientific, and global challenges; knowledge of the diverse peoples who must work together to solve our problems of health, human dignity, and sustainable communities 1. Intellectual and Practical Skills  Especially the capacity to deliberate and reason together, across differences of many kinds  Testing solutions, and discovering “what works”
  25. 25. The Aims & Outcomes of Liberal Education (cont.) 3. Personal and Social Responsibility  Ethical reasoning and action  Intercultural knowledge and engagement  Perspective taking and the capacity to work with people and communities different from one’s own  Democratic values – including a strong respect for human dignity and active citizenship 3. Integrative and Applied Learning  The demonstrated ability to apply knowledge, skills, AND a developed sense of responsibility to complex problems and new challenges
  26. 26. But in Higher Education Today, Not Every Student Actually Gets a Liberal Education Many Are Steered to Narrow, Technical Training, Largely Devoid of the Studies—in the Sciences, the Humanities, the Social Sciences and the Arts—that Build Civic Vision, Understanding, Creativity, and Leadership
  27. 27. First-Generation Students Frequently Miss Out on Liberal Education First-generation students take fewer courses than others in mathematics, science, social studies, humanities, history, foreign languages, or computer science. From National Center for Education Statistics, First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Look at Their College Transcripts. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2005).
  28. 28. First-Generation Students Are Over-Represented in So-Called “Career and Technical Programs” and in For-Profit Institutions that Never Were Designed to Foster Either Broad Knowledge or Civic Capacity
  29. 29. Prominent Policy Leaders Are Vigorously Promoting Short-Term Technical Certificates for First-Generation Students – Faster, Less Costly, Directly Attuned to Workforce Priorities Such programs typically include NO studies in the humanities or social sciences
  30. 30. Is It Possible to Be Civically and Globally Prepared Without Any Study of: World histories? Global cultures? Political, economic, and social systems and challenges? The ideas and institutions that support constitutional democracy? The great religious and philosophical traditions?
  31. 31. What We Need – Today – from the Higher Education Community, Is the Civic Commitment to Ensure that Every Student Gets a Liberal Education While in College We Have Made that Commitment at X Institution, and We Are Proud to Be a Leader in Making Civic and Democratic Learning—at Home and Abroad—a Top Priority for Our Students, Our Faculty, Our Staff—and through Their Efforts—an Important Resource for Our Community
  32. 32. Here Is What Our Campus Is Doing Mission Learning Outcomes Signature Programs Community Partnerships
  33. 33. Liberal Education in Historical Perspective
  34. 34. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Historical Perspective In connecting “liberal education to citizenship, we are...drawing on Socrates’ concept of the ‘examined life,’ on Aristotle’s notions of reflective citizenship, and above all on Greek and Roman Stoic notions of an education that is ‘liberal’ in that it liberates the mind from bondage of habit and custom, producing people who can function with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the whole world.” Martha Nussbaum Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education, 1998
  35. 35. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Historical Perspective (cont.) “Liber” = Latin for “Free Person” Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionary leaders saw the close ties between liberal education and the sustainability of our republic.
  36. 36. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Historical Perspective (cont.) “Those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and ... they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance.” Thomas Jefferson, 1779 (emphasis added)
  37. 37. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Historical Perspective (cont.) “Knowledge is, in every country, the surest basis of public happiness.” George Washington, 1790 “A flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation.” George Washington, 1796
  38. 38. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Historical Perspective (cont.) The Purpose of the Land Grant Colleges: “ promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” The Morrill Act of 1862
  39. 39. The Report of the Truman Commission on Higher Education – 1947, Vol. 1 The “principal goals” of higher education are “to bring to all the people of the Nation: Education for a fuller realization of democracy in every phase of living; Education directly and explicitly for international understanding and cooperation Education for the application of creative imagination and trained intelligence to the solution of social problems. ...”
  40. 40. The Truman Commission Report (cont.)  “Present college programs are not contributing adequately to….students’ adult lives either as workers or as citizens. This is…because the unity of liberal education has been splintered…. General education undertakes to redefine liberal education in terms of life’s problems… [and] the service of democracy. It extends to all men the benefits of an education that liberates.” (emphasis added)
  41. 41. Liberal Education in Contemporary Perspective
  42. 42. In earlier eras, only a few people went to college, and the task of building civic knowledge and commitment was assigned primarily to the public schools.
  43. 43. Liberal Education and Citizenship in Contemporary Perspective Today, with college becoming expected rather than optional, we have a new opportunity to turn Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy” of the very few into what democracy scholar Benjamin Barber calls: An Aristocracy of Everyone (New York, 1992)
  44. 44. “The object of education is the freedom of mind which can only be achieved through the path of freedom – though freedom has its risk and responsibility as life itself has.” Rabindranath Tagore, “My School”
  45. 45. AAC&U on Preparing Students for a Diverse Democracy “Today, the United States is in a new period of societal negotiation... This period...begs for elucidation, for intelligent dialogue, for historical perspective, for willingness to hear all parts of our communities as we consider the American future. Where better to set and model higher standards for these explorations than our campuses, communities dedicated by mission to the quest of knowledge, wisdom, and the expansion of human capacity?” Frank Wong et al. The Drama of Diversity and Democracy, (AAC&U,1995)
  46. 46. Diversity and Democracy “...[F]or this society actually to achieve its full potential ...we need to make citizenship matter. We need to move beyond mere tolerance to joint action. The thing to celebrate is not diversity per se, but what we do with diversity…. Public education, national service and other shared civic experiences matter because they enable diverse Americans to work side by side, step into each other’s shoes, develop a capacity for empathy, and create deeper a basis for common national identity.” Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer The True Patriot, 2007
  47. 47. Taking the Lead in Educating for Personal and Social Responsibility
  48. 48. Today, Higher Education Is Poised and Ready to Provide New National Leadership in Educating Citizens for the Challenges We Face, at Home and Abroad
  49. 49. National Initiatives to Connect College Learning & Civic Challenges Campus Compact The American Democracy Project AAC&U’s LEAP Initiative including the Shared Futures and Core Commitments projects Bringing Theory to Practice Project Pericles And Many Others...
  50. 50. Today, Hundreds of Colleges and Universities Are Placing New Emphasis Both on the Broad Aims of Liberal Education AND on Developing Students’ Personal and Social Responsibility – Their Civic Capacities.
  51. 51. AAC&U Member Institutions’ Learning Outcomes for All Students Outcomes that Build Civic Knowledge and Capacity Humanities 92% Global/World Cultures 87% Diversity in the United States 73% United States History 49% Sustainability 24% Critical Thinking 95% Intercultural Skills 79% Ethical Reasoning 75% Civic Engagement 68% Application of Learning 66% Note: Nearly 80% of AAC&U member institutions surveyed reported that they had a common set of learning outcomes for all students. Percentages cited are the percentage of those with campus-wide goals reporting that this outcome is one of their learning goals for all students. For a full list of outcomes, see and Learning and Assessment: Trends in Undergraduate Education (AAC&U and Hart Research Associates, 2009)
  52. 52. Faculty Members Are Placing New Emphasis on the Personal and Social Responsibility Outcomes that Build Students’ Civic Capacity and Engagement
  53. 53. HERI/CIRP 2007-08 Faculty Survey Findings Faculty Goals for Undergraduate Education 2004-05 2007-08 % Change Teach tolerance/respect for different beliefs 82.5 Enhance students’ knowledge of and appreciation for other racial/ethnic groups 57.6 75.2 17.6 Engage students in civil discourse around controversial issues 72.4 Enhance students’ self-understanding 58.4 71.8 13.4 Develop moral character 57.1 70.2 13.1 Help students develop personal values 50.8 66.1 15.3 Instill a commitment to community service 36.4 55.5 19.1 Percentage of Faculty saying that this outcome is “very important” or “essential”
  54. 54. Collectively, Faculty Members Have Created New Educational Practices that Move Civic Questions and Problem- Solving to the Center
  55. 55. Educational Practices that Build Civic Capacity  First-Year Seminars and Experiences – widely adopted across the country, these courses often focus on societal questions and intercultural learning  Learning Communities – feature topically linked sets of courses that examine problems like hunger, poverty, or energy from diverse disciplinary and societal perspectives  Common Intellectual Experiences – these programs of common study often probe questions about the nature of a “good society” and individual responsibilities to self and others  Service Learning – over the past two decades, service learning has become a top priority for connecting college learning directly with society’s urgent problems and with community partners that are working to solve them
  56. 56. Educational Practices (cont.)  Collaborative Assignments and Projects – expected in many courses and programs, these group assignments build capacities that are fundamental for active citizenship and effective problem-solving  Undergraduate Research – opportunities to work with scholars on unsolved problems help college students learn the arts of “evidence-based reasoning” which is fundamental to effective citizenship as well as to scholarship  Diversity/Global Learning – these programs build direct knowledge of people, communities, and challenges different from one’s own; they build civic vision and capacity  Capstone Courses and Projects – often required in students’ majors, these culminating experiences frequently provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills to important problems that we face, at home, abroad, or both.
  57. 57. Here Are the Signature Programs that Build Civic Knowledge, Engagement and Capacity at Your Institution
  58. 58. But Isn’t Higher Education Really About Preparing Students for Jobs?
  59. 59. “... [W]e are not forced to choose. ... A flourishing economy requires the same skills that support citizenship.” Martha Nussbaum “The Liberal Arts Are Not Elitist” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10, 2010
  60. 60. Employers Endorse Many Outcomes that Build Both Civic Capacity and Work Readiness Critical Thinking & Analytical Skills 81% Applied Knowledge in Real-World Settings 79% Ethical Decision Making 75% Intercultural Competence 67% Global Issues 67% The Role of the U.S. in the World 57% Cultural Diversity in the U.S. and Other Countries 57% Civic Knowledge, Participation, and Knowledge 52% Percentage of Employers Saying Colleges Should Place More Emphasis on Outcomes These findings are taken from Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn, a survey of employers conducted for AAC&U by Hart Research Associates and published in 2010. For a full report on this survey and related employer findings, see
  61. 61. In Building Civic Capacity, We Also Are Ensuring Economic Vitality
  62. 62. “Liberally educated people have the wherewithal to do well and to do good both for themselves and for their communities and society.” Grant Cornwell President, The College of Wooster