Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Educating the Civic Professional: Reconfigurations and Resistances

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Educating the Civic Professional: Reconfigurations and Resistances

Article excerpt

"Education has come to mean not the production, morally and intellectually, of men and women, but of mere specialists," Kinley complained in 1897 (p. 46). Kinley--a professor of political economy at the University of Illinois who held degrees from Yale, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Wisconsin--thought that such an education was "degenerate." In his view, it "turns out engineers and political economists and clergymen and journalists and other specialists, who are specialists, and as far as training goes, nothing more" (p. 46).

A particularly striking expression of the positive ideal behind Kinley's complaint can be found in a brief passage from a speech delivered in 1944 by Michigan State College (1) president John A. Hannah. Speaking in Chicago before the fifty-eighth annual convention of the Association of Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, Hannah (1945) proclaimed:

   Our colleges should not be content with only
   the training of outstanding agriculturalists, or
   engineers, or home economists, or teachers, or
   scientists, or lawyers, or doctors, or veterinarians
   --it is not enough that our young people be
   outstanding technicians. The first and never-forgotten
   objective must be that every human
   product of our educational system must be
   given the training that will enable him to be an
   effective citizen, appreciating his opportunities,
   and fully willing to assume his responsibilities
   in a great democracy. (p. 76)

Today no less than in Kinley's (1897) time, however, Hannah's (1945) view of what American higher education's "first and never-forgotten objective" must be does not line up well with what many feel it actually is in practice. This is so despite an ample supply of high rhetoric about the importance of education for citizenship and the existence in some institutions of substantive opportunities for students to pursue moral and civic development (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003). According to some scholars and critics (e.g., Sullivan, 2000; Wilshire, 1990), in both undergraduate and graduate programs in a wide variety of professional fields, education for technical competence in pursuit of economic aims vastly overshadows, if not entirely displaces, education for citizenship. As Ernest Boyer (1987) observed in his study of undergraduate education, "Narrow vocationalism, with its emphasis on skills training, dominates campus" (p. 3).

Service-learning offers a promising, but as of yet underdeveloped and underappreciated, way of addressing this problem: not by providing students with separate opportunities for civic education, however valuable such opportunities might be, but by providing a means for the integration of education for work and citizenship in professional programs of study. By adopting service-learning as a means for integrating education for work and citizenship, professional programs can ground the often vague and abstract objective of civic education in the pursuit of the "practical" objective of preparing students to enter their chosen professions. Such an integration offers promise of transforming professional programs of study from vehicles for educating "mere specialists" (Kinley, 1897, p. 46) and "outstanding technicians" (Hannah, 1945, p. 76) to vehicles for educating civic professionals who are "fully willing to assume [their] responsibilities in a great democracy (Hannah, p. 76)."

The concept of civic professionalism points to the public functions and social responsibilities of the professions. (2) According to William Sullivan (2003, p. 10), civic professionals make a "public pledge to deploy technical expertise and judgment not only skillfully but also for public-regarding ends and in a public-regarding way." Accordingly, what makes professionalism more or less "civic" is not just the degree to which professionals' intentions can be shown to be "public-regarding" but the degree to which their practice can be shown to be so as well. …

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