Higher Education for American Democracy
Going back to the future to understand the value of "gen ed"
In the first month of our spring seminar on higher education, we explored a long list of reasons why people go to college. Career preparation. Love of learning. Personal growth. Meeting a spouse. Playing sports. It’s what comes after high school. The list went on and on… but though every student in the class is majoring or minoring in Political Science, another reason on my mind didn’t come up. Preparing for citizenship in a democracy.
I can’t blame the students: Americans of all ages simply don’t talk in those terms very much. Nowadays, we often attach the word crisis to both democracy and higher education, but too rarely consider that the problems may be connected.
So let me do for you what I did last night for my students. Let me take you back to a time when a presidential commission could seriously argue that democracy’s future depended on giving as many Americans as possible access to college — and specifically, to colleges that offered robust general education rooted in the liberal arts.
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