Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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For civic health

Posted on January 26, 2012

Wheaton’s athletes won an honor that means more than anything that fits on a scoreboard.

The National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators recognized our sports teams for their commitment to community service during the group’s annual national conference.

The recognition is particularly timely. The need for colleges to act more vigorously on their responsibility for promoting civic engagement is an issue that may soon get more attention on the national agenda.

The White House and the Department of Education recently convened a one-day conference on higher education’s role in ensuring the ongoing health of our democracy. In conjunction with this event the Department released a report it had commissioned:  A Crucible Moment:  College Learning and Democracy’s Future.  The report is intended to “spark a national conversation and call to action about how institutions of higher learning can embrace and act on their long-standing mission to educate students for informed, engaged citizenship…”  The purpose of the conference at the White House was to begin that conversation.  I was one of 10 college presidents invited to participate in the conference, which also included representatives from a number of education foundations and some K-12 education leaders as well as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president.

During the conference, I facilitated a discussion entitled, “Advancing Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Across School and College,” which was aimed at surfacing ideas that would move civic learning to a more central place in students’ experience and have the greatest impact from Kindergarten through college.

Many good ideas surfaced from the give and take. I’m proud to say that more than a few of the proposals that were identified are in place at Wheaton, from offering myriad service learning opportunities to creating a substantive role for students in the governance of campus life to ensuring that our students have meaningful cross-racial interactions on campus or in the classroom.

This is a subject that is particularly important to me. In November, I delivered a guest lecture at the University of Texas at Austin about the best kind of education through which to develop student capacities for civic engagement:  namely, a liberal education. We should talk more about what we do here at Wheaton through our connected curriculum, through the Office of Service, Spirituality, and Social Responsibility, through the Center for Global Education, and other activities.

I believe that the well-rounded liberal arts education that Wheaton offers does prepare our students to become civic leaders. That’s every bit as important as the college’s ability to prepare students for professional success and a lifetime of learning.

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