Tuesday Teaching Topic: Election Day Eve Edition

The actual Tuesday Teaching Topic will be up on Tuesday. 

Tomorrow is election day for the city of Chicago. Do you speak to your students about voting and citizenship? Do you consider part of our goal to help students become better citizens?

At my alma mater, Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota, our mission statement included the development of citizenship at both the local, global, and environmental levels. Currently, the mission statement reads:

“As northern Minnesota’s university, we engage in new worlds of thought, embrace responsible citizenship, and educate for a future that can only be imagined.” (Source)

I have no record of it, but I remember the mission statement as much more robust, including global and environmental citizenship.

One of my philosophy professors there introduced me to some of Thomas Jefferson’s writings on the importance of education for a democratic citizenship. To paraphrase, if we are to include the opinions of citizens in any portion of our government, we must ensure that our citizens are properly educated. Otherwise, we fall prey to the same issues that overtook the ancient democracies of cities like Athens: a rule of the uneducated means a rule of appetite and ignorance that will surely lead to mismanagement and anarchy. In Jefferson’s letters to John Adams and in his Notes on the State of Virginia, he argued that we need to introduce a publicly funded education for the sake of citizenship.

I have always taken this to heart: American education has its roots in developing good citizens. There were few who discussed public education’s role in developing workers or its importance in employability.

The City College’s own mission statement includes nothing directly about citizenship. One could see citizenship implied by “community service,” though as stated the virtue of community service is ultimately for a student’s individual success in a new environment:

“Through our seven colleges, we deliver exceptional learning opportunities and educational services for diverse student populations in Chicago.

“We enhance knowledge, understanding, skills, collaboration, community service and life-long learning by providing a broad range of quality, affordable courses, programs, and services to prepare students for success in a technologically advanced and increasingly interdependent global society.

“We work to eliminate barriers to employment and to address and overcome inequality of access and graduation in higher education.” (Source)

I accept that the world’s economy has changed dramatically in the 238 years since the USA’s inception, and that supporting the development of students’ job skills is a critical goal in our city’s and nation’s success. But this does not mean the importance of developing citizens has been usurped.

So again, do you speak to your students about voting and citizenship? Do you consider part of our goal to help students become better citizens? If so, how do you see your class contributing toward the virtue of citizenship? What would you want to see in other classes and from the institution as a whole?

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