Creating an American Renaissance

Part I

Colleagues, we have come quite a way since any of us were in college. There is new research, new methods, and new needs from our students. It is our job to accommodate for these future leaders, and give them the absolute best education available on the planet. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to be a major contender among all United States schools, and please do not doubt me when I say that one of the prime reasons for being a top contender will be because of fresh ideas – new curriculums. With the proposal of The Public Humanities Curriculum (PHC), we have the opportunity to be the first state school in the south east to have such a program, and more importantly than the press taking notice will be that the students will take notice. This curriculum is the next step; however it cannot be said that the concept is an easy one to understand. It is our charge to fully understand the purpose and importance of such a curriculum, the basic framework of the curriculum (which is based around public work), and what it means when we say that the curriculum is committed to helping foster “character” and “public virtue” in our students.

The “textbook” definition as to the importance of this type of curriculum is that it will help “enrich public life, culture, and citizenship”. These abstractions warrant more explanation. Through vocational and technical curriculum’s, there is often a total focus on the end and graduation; students have gotten away from the old school of thought that going to college is about the learning experience and not about the salary you will be making when you get out. This is not to downplay our current curriculums or their respective schools, but to show that there is a chance to make students once again excited about learning.

The Public Humanities Curriculum has the capacity to make students more involved in every day life – public life. We will be building a new type of thinker. They will be able to formulate new ideas based not only on textbook learning, but also the experiences and opportunities this curriculum will offer them. These students will be getting out of the classroom and making a difference, getting involved.

Getting out into a public life aspect comes down to the basic principal of social participation and interaction. This is not the “intimate” interaction as those that go on within family or within romantic situations mind you. It means that they will be functioning in the capacity that facilitates sharing/exchanging information, arguments, images, beliefs, and overall knowledge. It enables formation of goals and how these goals can be achieved. It comes down to promoting the “common good” and the general health of the community.

It is impossible to talk about community and public life without the intertwined idea of public cultures. Public cultures are ways of living, doing, coexisting, and interrelating that promote public life. They are the institutions, technologies, traditions, conventions, values, and public roles that promote public life. The ideas of public culture and life interrelate in that they both promote each others potency to create very dynamic and interactive communities and excel in getting things done and coming up with fresh ideas.

By improving the students understanding and involvement of public life as well as public culture, we create a very active citizen: the type of citizens that will have the capacities of thought (the classic definition of “virtue”), the experience, and the knowledge to get things done. We will effectively create citizens that have the power to affect the hegemony.

These above concepts are both the purpose and importance of such a curriculum as we have proposed here at USC. It may be helpful to think on the idea of “Theatrum Mundi” (all the world is a stage). We desire to make our students have all the capacities and tools to be players on this stage, not left behind clueless on how to affect their surroundings or be unaffected by them.

Part II

In the previous section we learned, among other things, why this curriculum is important to have and what purpose it will serve. We examined how citizens are created and rooted in the community, and to aid in creating good citizens we have to include these aspects of community in the curriculum itself. The ability to make proactive citizens will also create a community that is proactive. The quality of public life and public culture is based on the quality of the citizens participating in said aspects of the community. Harry C. Boyte, known for his published works on democracy and citizenship, has provided much of the framework for this curriculum in his book Everyday Politics. Through this section we will evaluate several of the concepts in Boyte’s book as well as the PHC.

Boyte tries to mesh the two ideas of “vocational training” and “citizenship training” into one cohesive idea. Current academia, especially those associated with civic education, never try to break down the barrier between work and social rolls done in a vocational setting, and the work and social rolls done in a citizenship setting. Boyte sees the distinction as more harmful than helpful, because by separating the two we create an idea that there will be less time for one or the other. He decidedly mixes the two together in his idea of “public work”.

As stated in part one, public work is one of the basic cornerstones of the curriculum. Further explication on the idea of public work is one of the primary purposes of this section. Boyte sees public work as more of a state of mind. It is something that is done more by a restructuring of the mind than as a restructuring of daily life, by doing the first the second follows.

Public work is the lifeblood of communities, that is to say that they necessitate each other. Public work is work that affects the community and its citizens. Citizenship and public work are completely related as we might have guessed from previous explanation of Boyte’s reason for creating the term. Essentially, the two terms explored in this section (citizenship and public work) work with each other in a cyclical sense (see Figure 1). By Boyte’s definition, citizens are the creators of democracy. By citizen’s existence and activity, democracy is engendered. Citizens are also the progenitors of public “goods”. These goods are not limited to material goods, but also goods such as public culture and public life that were explained above. The goods produced by the citizens add to the production of social capital. Social capital is social networks or activities that allow for and aid in the goals of a community and getting the goals accomplished. The term is best expressed through example:
Social Town has many of its citizens connected though regular town meetings, free spaces where the tows people gather and discuss ideas, and channels through which the citizens can affect the community. There is lots of social capital here in Social Town, and when they wanted to expand the local transportation system, meetings were held and within three months an acceptable proposal had been drafted, voted on, and passed. The neighboring town of Anti did not have the social capital like Social Town did, and when they tried to expand their local transportation system, it took four months. When the system was implemented in Anti Town, the citizens were generally displeased with the system because several social groups were left out of the transportation routes.

So when the citizens produce their social goods, they are staying involved in their own capacities in the community. The work they do for the community is what is essentially considered public work.

This idea of social capital is the prime ingredient in giving communities the capacity for self action. We allow the communities the power to be self sustaining and self motivated. As we have seen already, many of these terms work together in a cyclical sense and the idea of communities with the ability for self action ties into the idea of “democracy as a way of life”. Boyte stresses throughout his book (as you can tell by the title Everyday Politics as well) that democracy should be an every day experience – every day participation. By breaking down the work/citizenship boundry with this curriculum, we offer our students a chance to be involved in democracy daily. We can stress to them the importance of daily activity and actually doing something.

Another important aspect will be teaching things such as the realization of the cultural orientation of a community. Boyte expresses this best when he asks the question “‘What works to develop cultures that sustain powerful citizen action?'”(Boyte xi). We teach the students to seek out what will aid in keeping a community active.

It is also important to note that Boyte refuses to root this type of civic education in any type of political affiliation. To root the education and the curriculum in either liberal or conservative schools of thought would be deadly to the aim of the curriculum. If it were rooted in one, we would be ostracizing the other, and loosing students. Boyte does question both ideologies in his book, but he does not favor one to the other. He is committed to the education on democracy, public life, and citizenry opposed to a political belief or value, which is what our curriculum must also be committed to.

To conclude this section, it should be said that while Boyte’s book offers wonderful insight to how some things on the PHC should be done, it is only a skeleton frame work. It is not a step by step instructional pamphlet that tells us how to build this curriculum, which allows for us to come up with a completely original concept. As we as a community work towards our ultimate goal of creating this curriculum, this book may offer several ideas worth pursuit. This will be a hard task, but the rewards will be unfathomable. Boyte has essentially sparked the fire, and we have build the fire up and feed it, otherwise it will die.

Part III

In part two we examined the frameworks of the PHC and many of Boyte’s views on the subject of public work and citizenship. Examining the idea of breaking down the boundaries between work and citizenship allows us to see that every day people are not full time politicians, but they are full time citizens and should be brought to this realization, and given the power and tools to act on this knowledge. We want to enable people to live democracy, and be able to contribute to the common good. While “common good” is an ever evolving term, and nearly impossible to offer a blanket term for what is good for a diverse and independent society, we know it requires an active public culture in which discussion of issues takes place. It is necessary that “the people” (demos) actually have the power (kratos) to solve problems and peruse goals as a community.

In part one we mentioned the classical idea of “virtue”: the capacity for thought and action. This idea of virtue which goes under the idea of character is the primary discussions of this section. We must analyze if a higher education setting is the appropriate place to teach virtue, and if it is indeed appropriate, how should virtue be taught? By examining these questions, we will inevitably delve into an ancient tradition known as “character education” (indirectly more than directly examining the history of the education tradition) which has its roots in ancient Greek culture – the birthplace of democracy.

When examining this idea of virtue in its classical definition, we must analyze the memory (specifically procedural memory), emotions, and habitus actions of daily life. Procedural memory is subconscious memory that is executed with out thought. An example of this is the “fight or flight” idea which is essentially a reaction that people have to run away from a situation or to stand and “fight” it. Through history several organizations (like the military) have been able to change these reactions so that people stay and fight instead of running away. Another example of procedural memory is the kind of binary thinking that many people have, the “either/or” process. This is one of the things we want to tune in the curriculum. The students should be able to have a type of “free thought”. The problem with binary thinking is that it is exceedingly limited. We are trying to encourage outside of the box thinking, which is the basis of free thinking. When students are constantly reinforced through the curriculum to think freely and not on limited terms, they become true thinkers, which will create fresh ideas.

It is also essential that we train the students to include emotion in citizenship. Society currently creates and unnecessary divide between the two. Citizenship is a very dynamic and human oriented practice, with the thought that emotion does not belong in citizenship we create a setup for individualistic thought without consideration for others. This inevitably erodes everything that we have discussed in this essay, including public culture and social capital.

As we are leaning to create a sense of “daily democracy” in the curriculum, alienating emotion would effectively eliminate the habits and dispositions that we are trying to instill in the students through the curriculum. These dispositions and habits we want to instill would be those of virtue.

Teaching and learning these dispositions, habits, and virtues is likely to be the hardest part of the curriculum. First we should examine weather it would be prudent to teach them in a higher education setting. When we look at the quality of students that we accept into general higher education, we see people who are primed for learning and thinking. These students are the type of students who deserve to learn virtue and character in a higher education setting. However, with the current style of teaching, the curriculum would not fit and would end up being a waste of time. Teaching virtue and the others listed above cannot be done through a textbook (though it may be supplemented by readings), or totally taught in the classroom. The conventions of classroom teaching must be rethought to teach virtue. The idea of service learning offers one model that would be wonderful for teaching virtue. The concept is that students and teachers move into the community with active participation and activity in a lesson. Both the student and teacher are actually put into a capacity of experience that aids the learning of the topic. For the students to actually be taught in this capacity, we must also analyze the current modes of interaction between student and teacher. Teachers are indeed the ones instructing, but that is where the boundary ends. The common practice, currently, is that there is a great divide between teacher and student. While some of this divide is student created, the teacher has the capacity to change their understanding of it. Active participation prompted by the teacher is one way to close the divide. When a teacher is constantly prompting the students for input, thoughts, ideas, and discussion on the subject they are more likely to learn through their own capacities. In short, the teachers should be facilitators of learning and thought, instead of current direct approaches to “forcing” the information into the student.

When the divide is consistently reworked in the ways listed above, the students will soon not need prompting, and the learning will become more of a homogenous mixture. We can realize that the information is all around us, and the students will be able to pull on their experience to learn current lessons.

To end this essay, I would like to reiterate the purpose of The Public Humanities Curriculum: to enrich public life, culture, and citizenship. We have examined the purpose of the curriculum, its foundation and framework, as well as its commitment to virtue and character. While we have a lot of work and deliberation ahead of us, we should keep in mind on what this will offer our student body as well as their lives in the world after college. This motivation should be in the back of our minds when we deliberate on the curriculum, and how we will build it. We should also recall that one of the purposes for this curriculum is to create a new form of civic education, one where democracy, virtue, and character are redefined, one where we aim to create active citizens that have every bit of knowledge to improve their lives and the lives of those in their communities. Through one active citizen, many things can be accomplished.

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