Educating citizens, not just workers

Pressured to prepare students for the workforce, America’s colleges have forgotten their civic and democratic mission, argues a new report: Colleges must educate citizens, not just workers.

About Joanne


  1. That used to be an unquestioned mission of the k-12 system, along with literacy, numeracy and general background knowledge across the disciplines. Colleges and universities also had a real core curriculum that was taken by all students, regardless of their major.

  2. Tax-subsidized, State-worshipful indoctrination. We’re better off without it.

    • Cranberry says:

      Yes. In the editorial, Carol Geary Schneider writes, Those preparing for careers in science, health, engineering, education, public service, business, accounting and the trades all need practical experience in examining the kind of public questions with which every field inevitably wrestles. Today’s students need—both for democracy and the economy—not just to analyze issues, but to work together with others from different backgrounds in finding achievable solutions to actively contested questions. Work in the field—in partnership with community organizations tackling important public questions—is the new frontier both for college majors and for democracy’s future.

      To which I would say, what did they do in high school? If a student chooses a certificate program, or a two-year associates degree, or functional, vocational training after high school, that’s their prerogative. Inflating the number of courses needed to get to work does those students no favor.

      Remember the extreme rate at which college tuition and fees have increased for the last twenty-five years. Perhaps this opinion piece is a sign that the higher education bubble is bursting, because families can’t afford to pay for a “horizon-expanding and civic-minded liberal education.”

      I also doubt the founding fathers placed a high priority on “partnering with community organizations.” That stems from the White House, not Franklin and Jefferson.

    • I disagree. You can’t expect voters to take the responsibility of voting seriously if no one has ever talked to them about taking it seriously. You can’t expect students to understand state government if they’ve never been taught about it. How will they know the proper limits of free speech versus an abuse of the right to free speech if they’ve never learned about the legal principles involved in free speech?

      We used to call this “civics” and you would have at least a couple semesters of it in high school, but now we just gloss over it.

      • Cranberry says:

        That’s a fine argument for a strong high school history course. Most states mandate a great deal of US history in high school, and I have the impression that the new Common Core standards require schools to cover US political writings in history and in English classes.

        If the high schools have failed in their duty, requiring courses in college won’t solve the problem. All the issues you mentioned, I learned in high school. They should be taught in high school. I fail, however, to see the sense in requiring a chemistry major to do “work in the field with a community organization.” Let the students complete their academic studies, and let them join society as working, tax-paying, voting citizens.

        Voting rates rise with education. There is no need to fantasize about a crisis in college graduates’ civic knowledge when available evidence shows that the more education a person has, the more likely she is to vote. (

        College graduates may not be able to participate in local community activities, because they’re busily trying to pay off their student debts in order to be able to settle down, have children, and save for their retirement. That’s a different issue than supposing that people who choose to become engineers don’t understand the requirements of citizenship. There is no evidence for that proposition.

        • Exactly; the basics needed for general education and civics should be done prior to HS graduation. That’s the point I was trying to make in the first comment. The k-12 system has been abdicating its responsibilities. Part of the academic mission should be creating informed AMERICAN citizens, able to support themselves and fulfill civic and community responsibilities. One of the major reasons for the establishment of public schools was to ASSIMILATE the large number of new immigrants into the American fabric. Now, as then, those who do not wish to assimilate and become Americans are free to leave. E pluribus unum.

  3. I actually received my B.A. in Philosophy at UC Berkeley. If anything, that education has become the foundation of how I think. In particular, my education in Philosophy has required me to be precise, relevant, and brief. That’s one of the main ways in which my education in Philosophy was formative for me.

    What is learned through Philosophy is commonly believed to be irrelevant to an intelligent work force. But, I think that’s merely an unjustified assumption.

    I stated all of this since Joanne’s original blog post states “many public leaders now are actively promoting witheringly reductive versions of college learning” that treat ”history, world cultures, anthropology, philosophy, literature and the other humanities” as an “unaffordable luxury,”

  4. greeneyeshade says:

    To Malcolm Kirkpatrick: Back in his young Tory days, George Will observed that “America is more than just an arena for making money: It is a culture.” He might have added that it is also a polity, and no polity can afford to neglect civic education. (Victor Davis Hanson made the same point in a recent New Criterion _ is that conservative enough?)
    It’s one thing to argue about the content of civic education, another, and very dangerous, thing to dismiss it altogether.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah, we ought to be educating citizens. In school systems which buy Zinn by the truckload. Which promote divisive education based on race–is it Tucson under the gun currently?.
    Imagine a HS government teacher with a poster saying, “The only money the government has is the money it takes from you.” keeping his job.
    Yeah, we ought to. But who will do it? Western Civ has got to go. DWEM aren’t taught any longer.

  6. Literature teachers have as an unspoken goal to be purveyors of literature. The character education that is often called for – and is implied in this call for education from citizens – comes from the stories we tell and the lessons we learn in English class. The same can happen in social studies classes, and even the math and sciences, if the class is not hyperfocused on content.

  7. Oops, I meant “purveyors of culture.”

  8. Richard Aubrey says:


    I suppose the lessons taught or purveyed differ based on the stories chosen.

    So that means we have to be concerned about which stories are chosen and who does the choosing and is there accountability.