According to the Pew Research Center, political engagement is highest at the ideological extremes, creating the “U-Shape” of political activism. While this pattern holds true across many facets of participation, what is most concerning is its correlation to partisan animosity. Those who view the opposing party as “very unfavorable” and consider themselves consistently conservative or consistently liberal are more likely to be engaged than ideological moderates. In my view, this is the most compelling argument for experiential learning in higher education.
Providing opportunities for nonpartisan engagement during the years in which young Americans are learning new things, pursuing new passions and finding their place in the world is critical to a vibrant and strong society. Each new generation must acquire basic civic knowledge — the three branches of government, the Constitution and the history of modern federalism. But, they must also develop the dispositions that strengthen a constitutional democracy — voting, deliberating controversial public issues and interacting with public officials and civic leaders.
Prior to its emphasis on job preparation, the role of public education was to ensure that citizens could engage knowledgeably in the body politic. Encouraging students to engage in societal issues is absolutely appropriate in education so long as the student ultimately and freely chooses the form and direction of that engagement.
Over the course of the last decade, institutions of higher learning have moved toward a pedagogical model that couples instructional content with experiential learning opportunities. It has long been understood by educators, at all levels, that the classroom experience alone does not necessarily translate into competency when the curriculum is void of internalization, interaction and application. Demonstrated levels of proficiency occur most effectively when learning is given context.
But the advent of this learning model, particularly in the social sciences, has been met with suspicion. The argument goes that this academic approach promulgates biased viewpoints and produces a homogeneous group of like-minded activists. The fear is real and the cynicism understandable given what we know to be the reality of engagement today — only the most partisan participate. READ MORE.