Liberal Education

From the Editor

If not civically engaged, what is one's status in a democratic society? Detached? A spectator? Or disengaged-and absent from the action that builds a healthy body politic? Alarming statistics about student participation in public affairs, notably in voting, have raised red flags for educators. Articles in this issue refer to the situation. The red flag translates into some institutions' doing an internal assessment of their role in addressing the possible void in education for democratic citizenship.

The seeming passivity of students in regard to civic engagement, as Kim Spiezio's article suggests, may be a misreading of student culture. The total picture of students shows a high incidence in community activities. His research indicates that lack of know-how about civic affairs has more to do with it than disengagement or passivity. If that's the case, it opens the door to curricular and cocurricular initiatives and innovation to guide a process for student involvement in the principles and practices of civic life.

There are complex assumptions behind the effort to incorporate a commitment to the common good in students' academic experience. The future of democracy by which one generation hands on the legacy of the inherited wealth of the American democratic experiment is the foundational impulse in the enterprise. Another assumption is the belief that self-fulfillment is incomplete without the well-being of the social environment-the context of individual well-being. Even, to name a seldom-used d word: an honorable duty.

What is the metaphor for peace-time protection of our society? We use the metaphor of war for everything that we find threatening, whether poverty, drugs, and, of course, military challenges. But when we speak of civic engagement, no such mobilizing metaphor has become the shorthand for common purpose. Thus, for now, with equal seriousness and importance but with peaceful and free intent, higher education's commitment to civic vitality is a catalyst for student engagement, whatever the image.

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