Sunday, March 17, 2013

MUST READ: MCNY Library Acquires Civic Engagement & Higher Educatioon

Jacoby, Barbara & Associates. Civic Engagement in Higher Education. Jossey-Bass, 2009

This collection of essays focuses on the increased role that civic engagement takes in modern colleges/universities.  The authors spend considerable effort proving how new models of education are necessary to prepare students for the new demands of the 21st century, such as interdisciplinary approaches, integration between classes, and connection between the real world and the classroom.  Many of these ideas have been forwarded by Purpose Centered Education for decades.  

That said, it is important to understand and contextualize that advancements being made in higher education to promote civic engagement are not counter to what is being done here at MCNY.  Instead, this volume will help place our college’s unique approach to education in the context of a larger conversation. Lionizing one approach while vilifying another serves no one; I believe the purpose should be quite simple: create better classes, empower students to make changes in their lives and communities, and engage them to become better students and citizens.  We are not alone in this mission.  We can maintain Purpose Centered Education while educating ourselves about the innovative pedagogy occurring across the country.

This brief overview cuts to some of the highlights of the text.  The Introduction (Chapter 1) provides excellent overview, history of service learning/civic engagement in higher education, as well as substantial resources. (This chapter can be found online, and the full text is now available in the MCNY library)  

Points of interest, particularly for our emerging “First Year Experience” program, include the descriptions of innovative first year programming at colleges in “Civic Engagement in the First College Year” by Mary Stuart Hunter and Blaire L. Moody, especially pages 74-78,   The “Chapter on Engaging General Education” provides illuminating descriptions and applications of the “Democratic Academy” – “premised on a theory of civic education that can be combined with service-learning and other pedagogies of engagement to support an evolutionary process of character and education” (Spiezio, 85) -- which represents quite closely the goals of MCNY’s Purpose Centered Education.  This chapter includes both practical steps and an empirical case study.  In “Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility,” the authors show how three intersecting education reform movements have laid the groundwork for the exponential growth of programs geared towards civic engagement:  U.S. diversity, global learning, and civic engagement.

“Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility” provides perhaps the most compelling evidence that Audrey Cohen’s model of education has in fact become a major component of higher education in the 21st century, though no one in the literature credits her for such.  (Do a quick database search on one of the major academic databases for “Purpose Centered Education” and then “Service Learning.”  You’ll see what I mean.)  This chapter outlines the work Part of AAC&U’s 5-year initiative, “Greater Expectations:  Goals for Learning as a Nation Goes to College”, a working group whose task was to identify possible “arc” from elementary to college of cumulative civic learning.  Their findings were published in Purposeful Pathways:  Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes.  The article shows how the working group developed a “new model of civic learning that could be applied from elementary school through college and, in the process, establish the habit of lifelong engagement as an empowered, informed, and socially responsible citizen” (Musil [in Jacoby], 59).  The “six elements (or “braids”)” of Civic Learning Spiral bear a striking resemblance to Cohen’s 5 Dimensions:  1) Self; 2) Communication & cultures; 3) Knowledge; 4) Skills; 5) Values; and 6) Public Action.  Though Cohen is not credited in such models, we can instantly recognize the connection between the six braids and the 5 dimensions in Purpose Centered Education.

Jacoby is one of the leading scholars on the progress classroom, and her collection represents the best of the best of educators doing work that would make Audrey Cohen proud.  As we move forward, I think the greatest tribute we can make to Cohen and her innovative approach to education is to let it live, and I think part of that life depends on understanding the many intersections between Purpose Centered Education and other models of education.  I invite you to peruse the offerings in Civic Engagement and Higher Education.  I think you will be as blown away as I am.

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