Civic Thought: A Proposal for University-Level Civic Education b Benjamin Storey & Jenna Silber Storey at the American Enterprise Institute
- There is widespread, bipartisan concern that American universities are not adequately preparing students for citizenship. The most ambitious efforts to attend to this problem to date have been undertaken by Republican-led state legislatures, which have mandated that state universities create new academic units for civic education.
- While this innovation has been undertaken to meet political needs, its success or failure will be determined by academic standards. To meet those standards, these new academic units will need to define and execute a distinctive intellectual mission.
- An intellectual mission in the fullest sense requires a coherent program of teaching and research in a specific and demanding discipline. This report sketches the outlines of such a program, which we call “Civic Thought.” As its core elements are derived from a consideration of the intellectual demands of citizenship, it may be useful to all those working toward the renewal of university-level civic education.
.In a democratic republic such as our own, citizens need to learn howto deliberate with others who have different perspectives and experiences. They need to be capable of evaluating different arguments and considering different needs as they consider the best possible course of action for the country as a whole....Contemporary citizens should learn to consult and evaluate different forms ofexpertise in the course of deliberating between alternative courses of action. Insofar as the citizen’s responsibility is, however, for the whole of our common life in all its complexity, political decisions cannot be derived from the counsel of any particular specialist.
Since citizens need to learn to deliberate together about problems that call for action, the approach of Civic Thought is best characterized by a phrase borrowed from Hannah Arendt—the “willingness to take joint responsibility” for the problems one’s country faces and the remedies that might be employed to address them. For example, while considering the national debt, scholars of Civic Thought would consider it as our problem, and they would inquire into how fiscal accountability might be restored without neglecting areas where spending is truly necessary. The willingness to take joint responsibility for the challenges facing one’s country means, in Arendt’s words, refusing to adopt a posture of “estrangement” from it, an attitude of unquenchable “dissatisfaction . . . and disgust with things as they are,” and striving rather to understand oneself as implicated, for better and worse, in the unfolding history of one’s political community