By Dr. Mary A. Evins, Research Professor and Coordinator of the American Democracy Project
When I am introduced at MTSU as the faculty member who heads the American Democracy Project (ADP) for the university, I typically get, “Oh you’re the person who gives away pocket Constitutions,” or “You’re the person who puts on Constitution Day.”
It is true, our ADP initiative does provide faculty with pocket Constitutions for classroom use every semester, and we do work to expand Constitution Day activities across the university, so yes, I am that person, on both counts. (I do want to note, however, that the university’s separate colleges actually develop and host their own wonderful Constitution Day events every year, producing excellent educational programming unique to their schools, so the primary work of Constitution Day is truly theirs.)
At a reception hosted by the CHP and ADP at the Heritage Center in Murfreesboro, MTSU student government officers Andrew George (right) and Caleb Gray (left) welcome Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett to MTSU.
Through both Constitution Day programs and classroom Constitutional study, MTSU realizes its Title 36 U.S. Code 106 compliance for state educational authorities, and ADP works hard to assure that MTSU both meets and exceeds its federal requirement.
Yet the American Democracy Project has a much greater mission than that. Its purpose is no less than the transformation of university education, through intentionally embedding civic learning within every course, every department, and every college of MTSU, so as to facilitate the growth of civic learning across the curriculum.
To provide the solid institutional platform from which to further our objective, the office of the university provost transferred ADP in 2014 to the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP). Isn’t preserving the core values of America’s national purpose the ultimate historic preservation? Isn’t graduating civically responsible citizens a critical role of a university education?
ADP taking MTSU students to the polls in Rutherford County for early voting, October 2014.
The American Democracy Project, a national initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), actively engages in the work of educating educators about their required roles in building the third pillar of higher education after curriculum and career, which is civic learning. Faculty in all fields need to find connections to civics content within their disciplines to intentionally create opportunities for citizenship education appropriate to the subject matter.
On its Web site, the national office of ADP defines its focus as advancing “public higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy” by supporting universities in their efforts to “produce graduates who are committed to being knowledgeable, involved citizens in their communities.” ADP MTSU facilitates that work on campus and strives to widen the scope statewide through policy advocacy.
ADP MTSU has terrific community partners, including the Murfreesboro Rutherford County League of Women Voters, whose members actively work to increase the student vote by carrying out voter registration drives on our campus.
In political science and history courses, civic learning connections seem to be easy and straightforward, although sometimes students’ personal civic responsibilities are not expressly articulated unless faculty members intentionally make obvious connections explicit.
Educating for democracy–preparing students for responsible political engagement–is not, however, only the work of faculty in history and poli sci departments. Art faculty at MTSU use classes as opportunities for students to design 2-D and 3-D projects around issues of justice or Constitutional principles. College of Education faculty discuss education policy and the roles teachers must play in legislative advocacy. Agriculture faculty have students calculate production for, and develop, vegetable plots at military veterans’ homes. Psychology faculty, in their study of stereotyping, have students assess their own prejudices and then do field work with marginalized populations.
English professors have had their students write on a wide range of subjects, from Enlightenment thinkers to Seven Revolutions global problems. Biology faculty involve students in direct environmental activism. Chemistry faculty are bringing the SENCER mission into the classroom, engaging science students in their civic responsibilities, to make science relevant and exciting. Business professors incorporated Tennessee’s state constitutional amendment about the Supreme Court into the curriculum this past fall. Recording Industry faculty are finding their industry on the cusp of both civic activism and historic preservation as Nashville’s Music Row recording studios are being saved from the wrecking ball.
Center for Historic Preservation graduate students, MTSU faculty, and faculty from some of our partnering community colleges (Cleveland State and Jackson State) attended the national American Democracy Project conference in Louisville, KY, in 2014.
The impetus for intentional civic learning across the disciplines comes from many sources, both national and international. The call to action in higher education is generating results in university classrooms throughout the country. At MTSU, we would like to think that our ADP program has been directly instrumental in encouraging many of the exciting civic learning changes we are witnessing in classrooms across our campus. Stay tuned for a future blog post on the Faculty Learning Community that has fostered much of this change at MTSU.
Amanda Barry, Forging a New Path: The American Democracy Project Joins the Center for Historic Preservation.
Anne Colby, et al., Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement (Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2007).
National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2012).