- Civic Engagement in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices
Ambiguity abounds when conceptualizing the term, “civic engagement.” Higher education finds itself in a moment where parameters and definitions are needed in order to move its civic initiatives forward. Institutions are asking the question, “What do we mean by civic engagement?” The latest book from Barbara Jacoby and Associates, Civic Engagement in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices, offers a response and provides insight into what educating students for civic engagement might entail. Jacoby (2009) argues:
If civic engagement is to gain real traction in today’s higher education, it must be clearly defined, and civic learning outcomes must be established. Opportunities to learn about and practice civic engagement must be embedded throughout the curriculum and the co-curriculum. This book shows how all this can be done, and is being done, at higher education institutions around the country. (p. 2)
Drawing from expertise around the country, the contributing authors in this book offer a wide range of perspectives and examples while drawing from the rich base of research upon which civic engagement work can and must rest. The intended audience is broad and ranges from entry and midlevel professionals on the forefront of civic engagement initiatives to assistant/associate deans/directors who supervise them. This book has clear implications for policymakers, foundations, and associations. Fundamentally, this is a book for anyone who is charged with enacting the civic mission of higher education and is an important resource for determining what might be accomplished.
This edited book is divided into two sections. The first section provides a structure for conceptualizing civic engagement grounded in its historical context and includes an exploration of the dimensions of civic learning. The second section investigates a wide range of civic engagement initiatives, both curricular and co-curricular, happening across the country in diverse institutional contexts. The book flows like a conversation among the authors with many of the contributors referring to the important conceptual and historical mapping offered in the opening chapters.
In the introductory chapter, Barbara Jacoby takes on the challenge at hand, getting one’s mind around what is civic engagement and what do we mean by “educating students for civic engagement.” In many ways, the work of civic engagement has pushed ahead with fragmented and loose understandings of what it is in the first place. She cites a review of research done by Lester and Salle (2006) that listed thirty-three recent studies on service-learning of which only three included any definition of civic engagement. Drawing heavily from the work of CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) and the Coalition for Civic Engagement and Leadership at the University of Maryland-College Park (2005), Jacoby [End Page 567] defines civic engagement as:
acting upon a sense of responsibility to one’s communities. This includes a wide range of activities, including developing civic sensitivity, participating in building civic society, and benefiting the common good . . . Through civic engagement, individuals-as citizens of their communities, their nations, and the world-are empowered as agents of positive social change for a more democratic world.(p. 9)
She concludes with a thorough overview of leadership in this area that can easily double as a quick reference guide to the many higher education associations and initiatives working to drive civic engagement today. This opening chapter lays important groundwork and captures the current state of affairs in civic engagement across the country.
The first section also contains a chapter reviewing civic engagement research over the last 10 years written by Mark Hugo Lopez and Abby Kiesa, both of whom provide leadership on research through CIRCLE. Caryn McTighe Musil of AAC&U completes this opening section by offering a creative and useful conceptualization of what we mean by “educating students for personal and social responsibility.”
The second section builds from these definitions and frameworks by examining current practices that shed light on strategies and pitfalls of integrating civic engagement across an institution. Other movements in higher education such as...