Peer Review

From the Editor

“Democracy must be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.”

—John Dewey

Summer 2015 was the season when candidates of all stripes began vying for attention as they made their cases to become the next president of the United States. As I watched news clips of politicians working the Iowa State Fair crowds, I wished that those contenders would put down their fried Snickers, funnel cakes, and corndogs and pick up a copy of A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future. As those candidates refine their higher education platforms, they’d do well to heed the words of the report’s authors, the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, who caution, “Public leaders who believe that the ‘economic agenda’ of higher education is reducible to workforce training also fail to understand that there is a civic dimension to every field of study, including career and technical fields, as well as to every workplace. Industries and services have ethical and social responsibilities of their own, and, in a democracy, citizens and community partners routinely weigh in on such questions. Workers at all levels need to anticipate the civic implications of their choices and actions.”

The recent Hart Research Associates report Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, underscores the need for workers with civic awareness. In the report’s findings, which summarize responses from a national survey of employers, one sees that there is broad agreement among employers that students, regardless of their chosen field of study, should gain civic and democratic capacities in college. In fact, 87 percent of the employers agreed that all students should gain an understanding of democratic institutions and values, and 86 percent agreed that students should take courses that build the civic knowledge, skills, and judgment essential for contributing to a democratic society.

In a world where college graduates spend the majority of their public lives engaged in work, this issue of Peer Review, which was produced in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, focuses on how colleges might reconceive preparation for work in addition to preparation for citizenship. Instead of making the case for civic learning only by noting that civic education skills also are useful in getting a job, this issue explores whether there is a more expansive and civic notion of work to which higher education might contribute. Are there civic skills and attributes that students need to be successful workers? If so, what are they? Does this enriched concept of work have resonance with employers, and does it challenge prevailing notions of work? How have colleges and universities incorporated civic concepts of work across their curricula? In this issue you will find a series of articles that serve to challenge and provoke those committed to a fundamentally civic understanding of liberal education.

While election season is often a time of contention and difficult discussions, it can also inspire us to become hopeful about the future. This sense of optimism about America’s liberally educated students as tomorrow’s workers and decision makers is clear in Martha Kanter and Carol Geary Schneider’s 2013 Change article, in which they note: “If we succeed, as we must, our students will have the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to meet tomorrow’s challenges. They’ll be America’s future public servants, problem solvers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders. They’ll be the heartbeat of our common culture, the stewards of our shared civic life, and the trustees of our values. They’ll “do” democracy in a way that provides hope and inspiration for the world.”

Kettering Foundation, established in 1927 by inventor Charles F. Kettering, is a nonprofit operating foundation that does not make grants but engages in joint research with others. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation. The foundation seeks to identify and address the challenges to making democracy work as it should through interrelated program areas that focus on citizens, communities, and institutions. The interpretations and conclusions contained in this volume represent the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, its directors or its officers.

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