In January I attended the annual conference of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) – Hunter is a member institution. Heard of them? I hadn’t until a few years ago. But they’ve been around for 100 years, doing some pretty cool stuff – particularly lately – around big-picture research, community-building and advocacy for “liberal education.”
The opening speaker was Eric Liu, a former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy advisor for Clinton and founder of Citizen University (you could tell he used to be Clinton’s speechwriter, because wow can that guy give a speech – I recommend any of his TED Talks). His overall argument was that the purpose of liberal education, what we and our fellow liberal arts colleges aim to do, is to “make citizens”. To develop in people the values, knowledge and skills to be able to work with others to articulate and solve complex problems.
There’s a lot to think about in just that one sentence, about how it would apply in all facets of our democracy. But in this age of “market fundamentalism” (Eric’s words) dominating perspectives on education, it’s critical to redirect the conversation on what we do. So thinking from the big picture to the Monday lecture, how do we make that happen? How do we “make citizens” every day in the classroom?
I’m not sure, but I think my first reading assignment will be this great collection of essays on Civil Teaching and Learning, published just last year by Bringing Theory to Practice.