What is civic education?
Civic education has three vital components as defined by the Annenberg Classroom.
1. Knowledge which prepares individuals for informed participation in democracy.
The facts and concepts that students need to know.
2. Intellectual and practical skills which prepare individuals for critical participation in democracy.
Abilities such as reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking that students need to develop.
3. Virtues which prepare individuals for civil participation in democracy.
Character attributes such as "civility, honesty, charity, compassion, courage, loyalty, patriotism, and self-restraint" that students must cultivate.
Why focus on civic education in higher education?
Higher education serves many purposes. Often we focus on the importance of readying students for their professional futures, but we must recognize a responsibility to prepare them for their civic futures as well. The 2017 book Teaching Civic Engagement Across Disciplines argues “It is time to bring two national priorities—career preparation and increased access and completion rates—together in a more comprehensive vision with a third national priority: fostering informed, engaged, responsible citizens. Higher education is a space where that triad of priorities can cohere and flourish.” Colleges must facilitate the development of students as citizens and community members.
Why focus on civic education in the community college?
Civic education is especially relevant in community colleges, which are nicknamed “democracy’s colleges” because they offer opportunity to a broad range of students. Our population includes dual enrollment students, first time college students, mid-career professionals, and retirees. We teach students of many races and ethnicities. We host students from around the world. We invite students with varied academic preparation to learn with us.
Many of the students that we serve are also traditionally underrepresented in the electorate: young people, minorities, individuals without an education and low-wage earners. Consider that only 50% of eligible young people aged 18-29 voted in the 2016 general election. Consult these statistics from the United States Election Project for more detailed information about who votes--and who doesn’t. It’s noteworthy that individuals with more education are more likely to vote. Community colleges have a unique opportunity to educate many first-time voters and to create lifelong voters
Elected representatives respond to voting blocs, and our students deserve good representation on the topics that matter to them. We must empower them to critically engage so that they can choose leaders who share similar values and ideas. In Matt Reed’s concise but compelling opinion piece “Civic Engagement at Community Colleges”, he describes how students in community colleges often lack interest in and knowledge of politics, even though many hot issues such as income inequality, free community college, and health care have a profound impact on them. He encourages community colleges to make “a deliberate choice to encourage students to have those political conversations on campus.”
Why focus on civic education in the classroom?
Many colleges already emphasize civic life as a part of the broader campus community in the form of volunteer opportunities and voter registration drives. By including civic education as part of the curriculum, too, faculty facilitate students' understanding of their vital role in society. Through our teaching we can
offer a meaningful, safe space to exchange ideas, teaching the process of democracy.
engage and empower students personally.
combat polarization and confirmation bias.
interest students with current, relevant topics.
promote strong public discourse beyond the classroom.
improve voter turnout.
involve all students in our democracy, even those who are not eligible to vote.
Why focus on civic education in the composition classroom?
Civic education fits well with a composition curriculum because it
follows rhetoric’s origins as a civic art.
emphasizes reading, writing, critical thinking.
utilizes the flexibility in our curriculum to focus on current events.
requires developing good research skills.
cultivates digital/civic online literacy.
highlights varied purpose, audience, tone, medium.
serves as a vehicle to focus on argumentation and logic.