A recent government report argues that colleges should make civic learning a central part of higher education in order to increase participation in the political system and confront a critical moment for American democracy.
The Jan. 10 report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education in an effort to reverse trends of low American political participation and suggests that colleges should take further steps to increase student interest in the political system.
“In addition to serving as an engine of economic development, higher education is a crucial incubator for fostering democratic voice, thought, and action,” states the report, entitled “A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future.”
The report — released by The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement — also suggests that colleges encourage students to work in public service after graduation.
The report draws upon the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 population survey as evidence for “citizens’ passivity,” which finds that between 2009 and 2010, only 10 percent of citizens contacted a public official.
The report argues that an increased emphasis on civic education in higher education, especially for undergraduates, would help reverse these trends.
According to the report, some calls for educational reform place too much emphasis on job training and do not focus enough on student preparation for involved citizenship.
“Colleges are no longer expected to educate leaders or citizens, only workers who will not be called to invest in lifelong learning, but only in industry-specific job training,” the report reads.
UC Berkeley students had mixed reactions to the report’s findings.
Some students believed that their peers were well-informed about the federal government but also thought the campus should increase its focus on political education. Others felt that UC Berkeley students needed to learn more about civics but disagreed on whether the campus should play an active role in the learning process.
“I think that Cal students think they are informed about American government and how it works, but they are actually misinformed,” said freshman Stephanie Chamberlain.
College students served as an important base of support for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, with the third-highest turnout of voters under 30 in the country’s history voting in that election. The report raises the question of whether youth voters will turn out in high numbers a second time.
“It’s not that hard to find out (about civic government) — if you were interested, the information is out there,” said sophomore Sameer Abraham. “Even if the university makes people take classes, if they’re not interested, they’re not going to learn anything.”
Franklin Krbechek covers research and ideas.