Young people can play an important part in American democracy and public discourse, as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, have demonstrated. However, students at all levels of their education need to be equipped with civic knowledge in order to be engaged in their own communities, said John B. King, Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education, at the UMD College of Education’s inaugural Dean's Lecture on Education and Society on April 9.
More than 250 people attended the event “Advancing the Civic Mission of Higher Education in Challenging Times,” at the College Park Marriott.
“Even in times of discord, America is resilient. America is hope,” said Dr. King, who started working as a visiting professor at COE in the fall of 2017.
“One of the reasons I’m optimistic is young people, the young people gathered in this room for the topic of civic learning and engagement, but I’m also optimistic because of the hundreds of thousands of young people across the country who were recently motivated to make their voices heard on issues they cared about by participating in school walkouts and rallies, including my daughters.”
“I’m optimistic because of the young people of Parkland, Florida, who, after surviving a tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, leveraged social media to create the #neveragain social media movement and organize the protest marches, one of the largest student-led protests since the Vietnam War. These students are driving important national dialogue on guns, gun violence, and mental health.”
The Parkland students’ educational preparation, which includes lessons on civics and public speaking, has helped make their efforts so successful. Unfortunately though, there are many more students who are not properly equipped to participate in democracy. For instance, only about one in 10 African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students have a working knowledge of how government functions, said Dr. King.
Therefore, in order to empower citizens to participate in their government, students should be equipped with civic knowledge, civic skill and civic action, both in the K-12 system and in higher education.
Colleges and universities can help advance this mission by integrating knowledge of history and government, not only in subject-specific courses, but doing so across disciplines, as well as by providing hands-on opportunities for service projects, Dr. King said.
Along with providing relevant courses and service-learning opportunities in schools, perhaps young people should also be required to take part in civil service of some kind, Dr. King said. In his own case, the experience of volunteering as a civics teacher changed his trajectory from a career in law to one as an educator.
In introducing Dr. King to the audience, College of Education Dean Jennifer King Rice said she hoped the lecture series would “begin a conversation” about the “transformative power” of education in the public arena.
“The Dean’s Lecture on Education and Society brings together scholars, leaders, students, educators, public intellectuals, community members, all of us, to discuss some of the most pressing and contested issues in our society and to consider how education might help to address them,” Dean Rice said.
Education is a crucial component in participating in a free democracy, serving as an “equalizer and a passport for economic and social opportunity,” said UMD President Wallace D. Loh, who also spoke before King’s remarks. Dr. Loh said that the university could do more to encourage its students to become more civically engaged, as the current political climate has brought about “fraught” times, and values such as equality, fairness, tolerance and dialogue are under attack, Dr. Loh said.
“Being an American is the matter of the heart, is a commitment to our state of mind to those values that have attracted millions of immigrants in the past to this country and make us a beacon of liberty and freedom around the world,” Dr. Loh said. “Those are the values we need to educate more than ever today.”
Following a robust Q & A, the audience, which included faculty, staff, students, as well as COE alumni and educational leaders in Maryland, attended a reception.
The University of Maryland College of Education is grateful for the Clarvit Family's generous support of the Dean's Lecture Series on Education and Society.
Dean's Lecture on Education and Society Video: