The future of American democracy largely depends on a higher-education sector that fosters civic learning and agency—the capacities to appreciate and contribute to an open and flourishing commons. This site stems from a project designed to foster an innovative, multi-site civic-learning pilot funded by the Teagle Foundation. Our “Third Way Civics” (TWC) approach seeks to transcend the “civics wars” that impede investment in undergraduate civic learning, demonstrating the complementarity of traditional and progressive approaches by combining rigorous historical study with situational practice and application of civic skills.
Our project is not just a course in civic learning but an experiment in the civic reconstruction of higher education. Thus, our purpose it not to promote adoption of our particular syllabus, but rather to catalyze experiments in values-based, non-polarizing civic learning in as many higher-education settings as possible while providing at least one workable (and adaptable) model with which to start. We frankly assert that building a more just, inclusive, and resilient commonwealth is a task both obligatory and profitable for every citizen and institution, especially those with influence over young minds.
Observers in many fields and of many minds agree that the United States faces a civic crisis, and that higher education can play a critical role in addressing it. Pertinent to that role is a widely recognized need for a renaissance of civic learning among the nation’s growing population of undergraduates. Yet significant disagreement exists over what that renaissance must entail, and indeed over what “civics” means—a situation made acute by limited resources and already crammed curricula. Some call for a focus on traditional civics content: developing knowledge of the structures and processes of government, familiarity with foundational texts like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and exposure to great works of American political and social philosophy. Others call for a focus on civic skills and dispositions: fostering students’ capacities and penchants for self-criticism, collaborative inquiry, empathetic reasoning, and work across differences for public purposes. We think the times call for an alternative approach, drawing on the best ideas from both sides of the civics debate: a “Third Way Civics” curriculum providing information and skills to help undergraduates live lives of moral integrity and public purpose in our pluralistic society. The civic crisis threatens liberal education, undermining trust and investment in the public and civic missions of our colleges and universities. But it also serves as an opportunity—a chance for faculty and students to rediscover, reassert, and realize the value, to their lives and those of their fellow citizens, of the Teagle commitment to “open-minded engagement with the most challenging ideas of past and present.”
For more information, please contact David J.Roof.