ERIC Identifier: ED321704
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Morse, Suzanne W.
Source: Association for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington Univ.
Washington DC. School of Education.
Renewing Civic Capacity: Preparing College Students
for Service and Citizenship. ERIC Digest.
Citizenship is more than a legal construct with clearly defined individual
rights and responsibilities. The concept goes beyond what we do and think
as individuals to a common way of thinking about our shared interests and
common life. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1831, he observed
These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world You'll not
believe it when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their
country, a citizen may conceive of some need [that] is not being met. What
does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with his neighbor.
Then what happens? A committee begins functioning on behalf of that need.
All of this is done by private citizens on their own initiative. The health
of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed
by private citizens (1956, p. 201).
It is this spirit of citizens conferring with citizens that is missing
This brand of direct democracy was built on the notion of the Greek
polis, where the citizens first priority was to participate in public life.
While Americans never participated so directly, the New England town meeting,
which Thomas Jefferson called the wisest invention ever devised by man
(1903, vol. 8, p. 203), did allow for direct participation. While these
early models excluded many individuals and lacked the balance between individual
rights, they are helpful metaphorically, because citizenship today, despite
the context of a highly technological, bureaucratic world, requires that
individuals be knowledgeable of the public problems but, more important,
have the capacity to act together toward their solutions. Modern citizenship
requires participation in the public life almost by default. Our lives,
no matter how individualistic, are affected by public decisions every day.
The concept that individuals who are productive in society have an integrated
private and public life is the foundation for building a new cadre of citizens.
The kind of public life we have depends on the kind of people we are.
Tocqueville's account of his visit to America examined the American character
today, which he called at times habits of the heart. A retracing of Tocqueville's
visit found that citizens today are people who have much in common and
believe, despite the many obstacles, that community and commitment could
be renewed in America (Bellah et al. 1985).
WHAT IS HIGHER EDUCATION'S ROLE IN EDUCATING FOR CITIZENSHIP?
A democratic citizenry, required by Thomas Jefferson, should be well
educated and informed on the issues of the day, with the necessary skills
to participate. Citizens must feel that they hold office in the country
and have mastered a set of skills and competencies. Early American colleges
considered responsible citizenship part of their mission as they developed
learned gentlemen capable of providing informed leadership for the new
country. With industrialization and urbanization of America in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, however, emphasis shifted to preparing individuals
with the specialized skills and knowledge to contribute to and guide the
burgeoning America. Despite the waning interest, colleges and universities
have a mandate to develop responsible citizens.
At its best, the campus is expected to bring together the views and
experiences of all its points of view and create something greater than
the sum, offering the prospect that personal values will be clarified and
the channels of our common life will be deepened and renewed (Boyer and
Hechinger 1981, p. 56). We must, however, find ways to balance individual
needs and larger public purposes (Boyer 1988). Said another way, the challenge
for education is to develop citizens. The issue is, how? A number of ways
have very strong arguments and advocates. Six general categories can be
used to frame the debate: (1) cultural traditions and classical education;
(2) community and public service and experiential education; (3) studies
of leadership; (4) general and liberal arts education; (5) civic or public
leadership education; and (6) other, which includes professional education,
international studies, and philanthropy. These approaches to civic education
are based on certain premises of the public life and democratic theory.
Individuals learn about citizenship and its role in the public realm throughout
their lives. Relearning new notions about citizenship will require new
ways of thinking, relating, and acting. Higher education can help students
develop civic skills and create the experience of civic life during very
critical formative years.
This development can be encouraged in a variety of ways and in a number
of places. Faculty, administrators, students, and the broader community
can work together in defining what it means to be a civic community. What
higher education offers to the process is a setting, a curriculum, and
an established community, all aimed at developing human beings for living
in a public world. It is important that the higher education community,
in toto, think together about how to define, address, and develop the next
generation of citizen leaders.
WHAT ARE THE SKILLS FOR A RENEWED CIVIC LIFE?
"Our political behavior depends on our idea of what democracy is, can
be, and should be" (Sartori 1987, p. 12). We learn our notions of it from
our relationships and interactions with parents, teachers, peers, the media,
and our history, and these impressions mold visions of democracy and determine
how we see the citizens role in relationship to it. Three models can be
used to define that role: electoral-competitive, representative, and participatory
democracy. Each requires different attitudes, skills, and levels of participation
The more expansive model, participatory democracy, requires first and
foremost active participation. It also requires the civic skills of public
talk, public judgment, thinking, imagination, and the courage to act. Briefly,
public talk requires that citizens have the ability to talk, listen, and
act together for common purposes. What citizens learn from talking with
each other are new ways of relating and working with others. Public talk
is prerequisite for public judgment, which requires both thinking and imagining.
"Judgment is the ability to bring principles to particulars without reducing
the particulars to simple instances" (Minnich 1988, p. 33). Political judgment
requires the ability to think together with others about what the right
public course of action should be. It is not a solo activity; it requires
that others be recognized and acknowledged in the process. "The journey
from private opinion to political judgment does not follow a road from
prejudices to true knowledge; it proceeds from solitude to sociability"
(Barber 1988, p. 199). Public judgment is the capacity to think with others
about collective lives and actions. It requires the ability to talk or
imagine different viewpoints and perspectives with others.
College and university communities are in the special position of deciding
what responsible citizenship requires in a democratic society and the skills
that are required for it. To begin this process, conversations on campus
must address these issues and how the curriculum can best inculcate them.
Colleges and universities can help students to refine and expand their
notions of citizenship and the common world through the classroom and how
it is structured, by providing opportunities for experiential learning,
and in creating a campus community where all constituencies can think together
about their shared lives. The challenge, however, is not about what kind
of curriculum, governance, or extracurricular activities are in place.
It is about finding ways to solve the problems that face the world we share.
Barber, Benjamin R. 1984. STRONG DEMOCRACY: PARTICIPATORY POLITICS FOR
A NEW AGE. Berkeley & Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.
------. 1988. THE CONQUEST OF POLITICS: LIBERAL PHILOSOPHY IN DEMOCRATIC
TIMES. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press.
Bellah, Robert N., Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler,
and Steven M. Tipton. 1985. HABITS OF THE HEART: INDIVIDUALISM AND COMMITMENT
IN AMERICAN LIFE. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
Boyer, Ernest L. 1988. COLLEGE: THE UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA.
New York: Harper & Row.
Boyer, Ernest L., and Fred M. Hechinger. 1981. HIGHER LEARNING IN THE
NATIONS SERVICE. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching. ED 212 206. 75 pp. MF-01; PC not available EDRS.
Jefferson, Thomas. 1903. THE WORKS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON. 12 vols. Edited
by Paul Leichester Ford. New York: Knickerbocker Press.
Ketcham, Ralph. 1987. INDIVIDUALISM AND PUBLIC LIFE. New York: Basil
Minnich, Elizabeth Kamarck. Summer 1988. "Some Reflections on Civic
Education and the Curriculum." KETTERING REVIEW
National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. 1990. COMBINING
SERVICE AND LEARNING: A RESOURCE BOOK FOR COMMUNITY AND PUBLIC SERVICE.
Raleigh, N.C.: Author.
Sartori, Giovanni. 1987. THE THEORY OF DEMOCRACY REVISITED. Chatham:
Chatham House Publishers.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1956. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. Edited by Richard
D. Heffner. New York: New American Library.
This ERIC digest is based on a new full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC
Higher Education Report series, prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher
Education in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education,
and published by the School of Education at the George Washington University.