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Learning Democratic Citizenship: An Experiment in Teaching Deliberation
Unformatted Document Text:  reported that they felt “powerless” and somewhat condescended to—that in some ways, the community seemed to be enabling the students’ “little project”—not at all the perspective or the intent of the students. There was, however, clear appreciation to the students for their work on the issue book, demonstrated by the fact that most participants had read it and came prepared to talk. Many of the students reciprocated with a new found interest in and concern for their community. Clearly, there was at least a modicum of bridging of the proverbial town/gown divide and a sense that what happened in the community deliberation had real consequences—that it “mattered.” Lessons learned in developing a Deliberative Democracy Program If we learned anything in the course of our project, it is that the work of encouraging active citizenship in college students is hard and that it must be done intentionally, thoughtfully, and carefully (Ryfe, 2006). In many ways, such work may seriously challenge the received practices of higher education, necessitating not only a deep commitment to changing the perceptions of students themselves as democratic citizens but also the perceptions of faculty, administrators, and institutions. In enacting such a change we must confront both philosophical and programmatic considerations. For example from a philosophical standpoint institutions need to consider such questions as: What is the purpose of higher education and to what extent it involves the preparation of democratic citizens? If one of the purposes is civic education, which activities will be privileged, politics or service? What kind of democracy are we talking about – one made up of largely disengaged self-interested private citizens or one that emphasizes engagement in and commitment to the community and “strong democracy”? If we 18

Authors: Harriger, Katy. and McMillan, Jill.
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reported that they felt “powerless” and somewhat condescended to—that in some ways,
the community seemed to be enabling the students’ “little project”—not at all the
perspective or the intent of the students. There was, however, clear appreciation to the
students for their work on the issue book, demonstrated by the fact that most participants
had read it and came prepared to talk. Many of the students reciprocated with a new
found interest in and concern for their community. Clearly, there was at least a modicum
of bridging of the proverbial town/gown divide and a sense that what happened in the
community deliberation had real consequences—that it “mattered.”
Lessons learned in developing a Deliberative Democracy Program
If we learned anything in the course of our project, it is that the work of
encouraging active citizenship in college students is hard and that it must be done
intentionally, thoughtfully, and carefully (Ryfe, 2006). In many ways, such work may
seriously challenge the received practices of higher education, necessitating not only a
deep commitment to changing the perceptions of students themselves as democratic
citizens but also the perceptions of faculty, administrators, and institutions. In enacting
such a change we must confront both philosophical and programmatic considerations. For
example from a philosophical standpoint institutions need to consider such questions as:
What is the purpose of higher education and to what extent it involves the preparation of
democratic citizens? If one of the purposes is civic education, which activities will be
privileged, politics or service? What kind of democracy are we talking about – one made
up of largely disengaged self-interested private citizens or one that emphasizes
engagement in and commitment to the community and “strong democracy”? If we
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