This report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement calls on the nation to reclaim higher education’s civic mission. Commissioned by the Department of Education and released at a White House convening in January 2012, the report pushes back against a prevailing national dialogue that limits the mission of higher education to workforce preparation and training while marginalizing disciplines basic to democracy. The Task Force calls on educators and public leaders to advance a 21st century vision of college learning for all students—a vision with civic learning and democratic engagement an expected part of every student’s college education. The report documents the nation’s anemic civic health and includes recommendations for action that address campus culture, general education, and civic inquiry as part of major and career fields as well as hands-on civic problem solving across differences.The report emphasizes the major themes of our book: citizenship and deliberation.
Why must the United States require its educational system to educate for citizenship as well as careers? Public schooling and ever-expanding access to postsecondary education have been distinguishing characteristics of our democratic nation. Higher education in a robust, diverse, and democratic country needs to cultivate in each of its graduates an open and curious mind, critical acumen, public voice, ethical and moral judgment, and the commitment to act collectively in public to achieve shared purposes. In stark contrast, higher education in a restrictive, undemocratic country needs only to cultivate obedient and productive workers. As A Nation of Spectators astutely asserted, “We believe that economic productivity is important but must not be confused with civic health.
Two distinct but closely aligned pedagogies—intergroup and deliberative dialogue—are each longstanding and recognized pedagogies that educate for democracy. They can be found within both the curriculum and the cocurriculum and enacted both on and off campus. These pedagogies can serve as a learning-centered design for a course, a widely adaptable dialogic approach, and a mode of collaborative civic problem solving. These two pedagogies also address head-on an essential skill in a diverse democracy: the capacity to deliberate productively and respectfully with others who hold different views, in order to deepen mutual understandings and, in the best of cases, to agree on a shared set of actions.