Colleges have civic duty

By The Columbia Chronicle

A new report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement says democratic ideals in America could decline dramatically in the future if civic learning and engagement are not made a main priority of higher education.

The report said 38 percent of college seniors think college is about serving the community, while 58 percent say it should be. Yet more than half of college seniors scored less than 50 percent on a basic American civics test. Colleges must step up to the plate to help students become informed, engaged citizens, according to the report.

While civic learning should be a mainstay of the college experience, it should begin earlier to truly make a difference. By the time students reach college, many have made up their minds about most issues and are set in their opinions.

Not only that, but some students see college only as a means to an end: a career. If American politics and community involvement were concentrated on in elementary and high school, more students would be civically active by the time they got to college.

The sad fact is, while many college students at Columbia believe they are politically informed and active, they aren’t. It takes more than reading a Wikipedia page to know what’s going on in the world.

Unfortunately, American society revolves around instant gratification, with most people looking for the path of least resistance. Out of 172 world democracies, the U.S. ranked 139th in voter participation in 2007, according to the report. For the world’s most powerful, privileged democratic country, the results are depressing. Yet half of the states in the U.S. don’t require a civics education for high school graduation.

With such dismal numbers, it’s reasonable to ask educational leaders at every level to step up and think outside the box for solutions.

While rerouting funds from the U.S. Department of Education to “more critical” programs at schools is a questionable solution, Columbia and other colleges could benefit from a more civic-centered curriculum. A required current events class for freshman would be a simple way to help students get more politically involved. Columbia should consider some of the report’s suggestions in its

prioritization process.

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