Liberal Education

College Learning and Shared Futures

It's commonplace now to say that September 11 fundamentally altered Americans' sense of the world. And it's accurate, I believe, to acknowledge that September ll both legitimated and lent urgency to a vision of the learning we need in the twenty-first century that was already well advanced. The authors whose papers are presented here are part of a movement that has worked determinedly for well over a decade to establish civic engagement, intercultural learning, and social responsibility, both at home and abroad, as requisite elements in campus life and liberal education. These papers, first presented at AA&U's 2002 Annual Meeting, suggest the richness and complexity of this educational vision.

James Joseph's conception of connecting private and public morality, Benjamin Barber's focus on the knowledge and experiences basic to global interdependence and democratic citizenship, and Sylvia Hurtado's empirically grounded portrait of capacities important to successful participation in a diverse democracy each point us toward important goals for students' civic knowledge and development.

Diana Chapman Walsh in turn offers us a portrait of an entire educational community committed and organized to engage values issues and challenges, at home and abroad. Collectively, as these papers reveal, we have come a very long way in redefining for this new century the academy's educational obligations to a world in which global interdependence, cultural diversity, and vastly unequal social power are ineluctable realities.

The question that now confronts us is whether we will be able to accelerate the pace of educational change so that we actually prepare our students--and ourselves--for responsible engagement in this era of turbulent interdependence. What would it take to match educational practice to the goals we all recognize as both important and necessary? Here are some answers that are emerging from hundreds of campus and community dialogues, including the work of AA&U's own Greater Expectations and Shared Futures initiatives:

Create a staircase of expectations, from school through college. Civic engagement with global, intercultural, and values questions requires, as a basic prerequisite, a knowledge of history and cultures. But college is much too late to begin that process. Preparation for global and civic engagement needs to begin in high school, through students' extensive study of both United States and world history, and the connections between them.

In 1983, the Nation at Risk standards called for three years of "history and social studies" in high school. With recent dismal reports from national studies of students' historical and civic knowledge before us, it is surely high time to recognize that deep knowledge of the world's histories and our own cannot be accomplished in three years alone, especially if the students taking those courses are under age seventeen.

Four years of history in high school should become the standard, with other social sciences an addition, not a substitution for, this core curriculum in history. The current structure of high school history learning is an anachronism from a more parochial era. We need to remap it so that American students learn their own history in depth, explore the emergence of democratic ideas and institutions, and also explore the roots and formation of our globally interdependent world. These studies needn't be confined to history courses alone; they can be enhanced by complementary and interdisciplinary studies in literature, the arts, and social studies. Optimally, this preparatory curriculum in history and cultures should include experiential as well as academic learning. Similarly, we should aim as a nation to make competence in a second language a standard for high school graduation.

Focus on higher, rather than remedial, learning about global, diversity, and equity challenges in college. If college students arrived with a solid foundation in history, culture, and languages brought in from the schools, the academy could then fulfill its mission of providing higher, rather than introductory, education about global, cross-cultural, and civic issues.

At a minimum, college students should 1) study Western and world cultures in depth, 2) examine global processes and contestations, including those connected with democratic movements around the world, 3) explore diversity issues in their own and other societies, 4) develop intercultural skills (including the use of a second language for purposes of actual communication), and 5) explore the complexities of democratic citizenship in a diverse and divided world.

Charge every department to prepare its students for global, intercultural, and societal challenges. As AA&U's numerous reports on diversity, democracy, and liberal learning have recommended, the learning needed for our shared world can't be assigned to general education courses alone. Departmental majors also should identify and address global, diversity, and social responsibility challenges important to their fields.

Whether students are preparing for a career in economics, education, or engineering, they will do their work in an environment suffused with intercultural, ethical, and equity challenges. Professionals are constantly called to make choices about competing claims. Making these choices responsibly calls for the capacity to negotiate culture, context, and conscience, as well as technical questions. We shortchange both our graduates and our society when we offer anything less.

Many on campus will greet such proposals with the argument that accreditation requirements for specialized fields form an impenetrable bar to any broadening of college majors. In fact, as our Greater Expectations Project on Accreditation and Assessment has discovered, exactly the opposite is true. Led by professionals themselves, such fields as engineering, business, nursing, and education already are calling for their majors to achieve global, cross-cultural, and ethical capacities.

Both academic and community leaders are calling, in short, for new forms of learning better attuned to our shared world. To respond effectively, the academy will need to work in new and more purposeful ways with our partners in the schools.

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