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August 30, 2006

The Civic Minded Five!

The Freshman Writing Office just dropped photocopies of A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility into the Curriculum in our mailboxes (I wonder if they upheld their civic responsibility to get permission before distributing copies of copyrighted material). I haven't had the time to read over the whole thing yet, but here are some of my favorite parts so far:

Civic responsibility means active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good.
We encourage you to work with your students to reshape or change this definition entirely to formulate one that works for your class.

So not only is the official definition of civic responsibility about as vague and meaningless as the awards introduction that Jon Stewart read at the Emmys, civic responsibility can pretty much mean anything at all. I think I'm going to work with my students to entirely change this definition to read "Civic responsibility means actively bribing your teacher with Star Wars toys because he doesn't make enough money to afford them all on his own." I think that will be a much more useful definition. However, the writers of this guide suggest incorporating some of the following into a revised definition:

Addressing society's problems in an informed manner.

I wish someone would inform me what it means to "address society's problems" in a classroom. On second thought, I probably don't...unless it's "You know what society's problem is? Meaningless academic jargon."

Showing respect as well as dissent for laws.

If you are a parent thinking of sending you kid to college, I want you to pay special attention to that one. I have just been officially ordered by my employer to teach your children how to become dissenters. Respectful dissenters, perhaps. But dissenters nonetheless. I wonder if it makes any difference which laws I teach students to disagree with...or maybe I should just encourage them to dissent against all laws, just to be safe. I think this one goes along with another bullet that reads

Questioning governmental policies and practices.

Now, I'm all for intelligent and open discussions about government. I for one have no desire to live under a tyranny...but don't you think that a political science teacher is probably better equipped to handle this kind of thing? There are actual majors and fields of study dedicated to this line of work. It's like the English department trying to encourage the Math department to only use complicated Shakespearean characters as examples in all of its word problems in order to help students better understand literature. Actually, that would be a pretty cool Math class. Sign me up!

Recognizing the difference between legally defined and culturally defined citizenship.

What in the blazes is "culturally defined citizenship?!?!" Are illegal aliens supposed to get a vote just because they eat McDonald's and wear blue jeans? I don't want to bring dark cynicism into my classroom, but it's kind of hard not to with this kind of mumbo-jumbo.
The list goes on for another ten perplexing bullets...and every single one of them feels like a real bullet going through my traumatized brain.

Oh, and check out this allegedly authentic quote from a "service learning student":

"My idea of citizenship and civil society has changed as a result of my experience. I now feel like it is my duty to give back to the community by becoming an involved citizen. Because of this wonderful experience, I now see the positive effects service learning has on society. This has helped me really feel as though I am a part of America."

Maybe if they spent a little more time learning how to form concrete arguments instead of being civically responsible, that paragraph might have an ounce of meaning in it. (Not to mention the fact that it reads like a statement issued by a brainwashed terror hostage.)

I don't know about the rest of academia, but I barely have enough time to teach my students how to create a coherent paragraph.

Posted by Peter Terp on August 30, 2006 at 04:14 PM | Permalink


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