Civic Engagement in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices . By and Associates . San Francisco, Calif. : Jossey-Bass , 2009 . xxii + 265 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-38846-4 . $40.00 .
Beginning in the 1970s and accelerating in the last decade, there has been a groundswell of interest in the role of higher education in preparing students for “civic engagement” and instilling them with “democratic values.” Particularly in the U.S. context, where public confidence in elected officials has recently plummeted to record lows, teachers, scholars, and administrators are increasingly called upon to defend the relevance of a university education for building a civil society and the role of the university itself as a civic actor.
Responses to this call have varied widely. Some emphasize the fundamentally democratic character of pedagogical practices such as deliberative discussion and critical inquiry. Both individual instructors and institutions of higher education have turned to service-learning and other forms of community-based education as a more activist strategy to engage students in the civic sphere. National organizations such as Campus Compact (http://www.compact.org/), the Bringing Theory to Practice Project of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (http://www.aacu.org/bringing_theory/index.cfm), and the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (http://www.outreachscholarship.org/) have sprung up to encourage such initiatives, to provide resources, and to foster dialogue. A number of useful resources have been published to encourage civic engagement in the university classroom (for example, see Howard, Service-Learning Course Design Workbook[Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2001], and Battistoni, Civic Engagement across the Curriculum: A Resource Book for Service-Learning Faculty in All Disciplines[Providence, R.I.: Campus Compact, 2002]), including at least one volume dedicated specifically to the disciplines of theology and religious studies (Devine, Favazza, and McLain, From Cloister to Commons: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Religious Studies[Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education, 2002]).
The present volume does not so much stand in this movement as above it – and helpfully so. Editor and chief contributor Barbara Jacoby (University of Maryland) has edited previous volumes on service-learning (Service-Learning in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices[San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1996] and Building Partnerships for Service-Learning[San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2003]), but this work attempts to examine civic engagement from a wider vantage. The first three chapters provide an orientation to the topic, offering an overview of major civic engagement initiatives in the academy (ch. 1, Jacoby), survey data on such engagement among college students (ch. 2, Mark Hugo Lopez and Abby Kiesa), and the multiple elements and outcomes of the “Civic Learning Spiral” developed by the Civic Engagement Working Group of the AAC&U (ch. 3, Caryn McTighe Musil). These chapters candidly address the ambiguous definition of the term “civic engagement” itself – often comprehending not merely participation in the political process, service, and social activism, but also broader personal virtues of empathy, “global citizenship,” and, at least potentially, almost any positive value at all – as well as overturning common assumptions about our students. Notably, Lopez and Kiesa draw on national survey data to suggest that “college students are more engaged and knowledgeable than is generally believed” (33), with higher rates of volunteering, voting, and community involvement than those with little or no college experience. The issue, then, is not to create engagement where none was before; it is to enhance such engagement, to make connections, and to provide further opportunities.
Remaining chapters set out to highlight effective models and practices to do just that. These chapters are not organized primarily by course, discipline, or even institution. Instead, several address the integration of civic learning objectives into different stages or curricular models common to many institutions and very many students' experience. These include chapters on first-year programs (ch. 4, Mary Stuart Hunter and Blaire L. Moody), general education (ch. 5, Kim Spiezo), capstone experiences (ch. 7, Kevin Kecskes and Seanna Kerrigan), community-based undergraduate research (ch. 11, Elizabeth L. Paul), and study abroad (ch. 12, Jacoby and Nevin C. Brown). Others address more specific pedagogical approaches and educational values with applications across the disciplines, such as interdisciplinary study (ch. 6, Nance Lucas), intercultural awareness and diversity training (ch. 8, Michelle R. Dunlap and Nicole Webster), and leadership education (ch. 9, Nicholas V. Longo and Marguerite S. Shaffer). The single chapter devoted exclusively to service-learning (ch. 10, Marshall Welch), subjects this popular teaching tool to a searching inquiry, profiling a series of programs that aspire to press beyond mere service to “meaningful social change” (192).
This volume is, on balance, very well-conceived and well-executed. The bibliographical resources alone commend the work, and the rich fund of specific models and institutional initiatives that inform each chapter make it especially useful and relevant for department and division administrators, as well as instructors ready to take a leadership role. Indeed, the final chapter, entitled “Securing the Future of Civic Engagement in Higher Education” (ch. 13, Jacoby and Elizabeth Hollander), provides suggestions for stakeholders at every level. Less ambitious faculty, looking for suggestions and strategies for the individual classroom, will no doubt use the work much more selectively, but they, their students and – at least potentially – the broader societies in which they live will no doubt benefit from the insights offered therein.