A TC Moment to Rethink and Renew Civic Education
I know that for many of us, the excitement and nervous energy that typically accompany the start of a new semester are mixed right now with other, stronger emotions. The events of the past year have troubled many and given rise to new debates about the value our society places on multiculturalism and the future of public education. At this time of transition and deep division in our country, TC’s efforts to build a better educated, more just, safer, healthier, and more equitable world have taken on a new urgency.
Now more than ever, this is “the TC moment.”
In my November State of the College address, I highlighted faculty work that epitomizes how TC is leveraging our expertise in education, psychology, health, and leadership to advance our social justice mission. And I called for a cross-disciplinary21st-century civics initiative that will work to expand civic and social justice education in America. Over the past year, it has become clear to me that we must revisit and renew civic education for today’s challenging times.
I started my career 50 years ago as a social studies teacher. It was very clear then that civic education was a major focus of our department, whether we were teaching history or civics itself. We were responsible for educating informed citizens who could make knowledgeable judgments. Graduates would need to dissect candidates’ statements, critique press coverage, and sort through opposing positions.
Over the decades, narrow test-based accountability squeezed out the time for and focus on civics, turning schools to reading and math scores as preeminent goals. But there’s a danger in romanticizing the past because in those days we did not focus sufficiently on what clearly must be at the core of civic education today: the respect and appreciation that must be at the heart of a multicultural society, an understanding and recognition of bias (including our own), and mutual understanding with one another. And as so much research at TC has shown, our education system still doesn’t lay sufficient groundwork for citizenship in a just and multicultural society.
If educational institutions have disappointed, they are also our way forward. In the search for solutions in this time of upheaval, many will consider protest while others will focus on political organizing, but we here at TC must focus on education. I believe that civic education has to be redesigned, reinvigorated, and re-established for 21st-century society – our digital, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic society. There is no better place than TC to do that.
TC faculty have long been ahead of their time in discovering ways to address social ills and to confront both contemporary and future challenges -- from the founding of Social Studies Education in the early 20th century to up-to-the-minute research and policy creation concerning subjects such as global citizenship education, adversity and human resilience, the health effects of poverty, and school diversity. Every day, TC continues to investigate how best to relay our vast troves of knowledge into humane teaching and principled action. By joining our cross-disciplinary intellectual resources with our powerful will to effect widespread change, TC can lead the movement to advance civic and social justice education in schools across America.
We are fortunate to have the support of a large alumni and donor community to assure that we can sustain our legacy of ground-breaking work over the long haul. And TC students are dedicated to promoting robust and civil discourse and to making the College itself a more just and open place.
As we commit ourselves even more strongly to the hard work of learning and teaching in advancement of social justice, we must continue to sustain the health and vibrancy of our community by supporting each other and by challenging ourselves. Let’s seize the TC moment – and change the world.
Best wishes for a productive spring semester.
Published Wednesday, Jan 25, 2017