Focus on Learning: Livic Engagement and Learning from One Another

December 3, 2010

Yesterday I came to New York City for a meeting of the Presidents of Project Pericles, an organization of about 30 member colleges devoted to promoting civic engagement on the part of our students.

“Civic engagement” has become a hot term in higher education circles over the past decade: so much so that we spent some time trying to understand how Project Pericles differs in purpose or efforts from a number of other efforts.

Project Pericles was initiated by Eugene Lang, a major philanthropic benefactor of Swarthmore College (his alma mater), the New School, Columbia University, and a number of other causes. In 1981, he founded the I Have a Dream Foundation to support college access.

One of Project Pericles’s signature programs is D4D: Debating for Democracy.  Students at the member colleges prepare letters (really, policy briefs) that advocate for a specific change in public policy.  They submit them to Project Pericles for the competition, but also send them to members of Congress.  A group of students are then selected to come together (last year in New York City) to present their papers to a panel of former legislators.  Last year, Earlham’s group of students was one of those invited (Mary Smith, Connor Hall and Hannah Hale Leifheit) and did extraordinarily well.

Thinking yesterday about the value of Project Pericles, I was especially struck at how few opportunities there are for students to come together from many campuses to work together, argue with each other, compete with one another, learn from one another and inspire one another.  Of course there’s the NCAA, and there’s the Council on Undergraduate Research — both of which Earlham also participates in.  D4D and Project Pericles provide another opportunity.  We need more of them.

Civic Engagement: whatever else it means, it means learning together from one another.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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