Elite Universities Have The Urgent Need for Civics Education: A Return to the Foundations of FreedomBy Joy Liwanag
As we step into a new year, elite universities find themselves under scrutiny, with leaders perceived as weak and students seemingly adrift.
In this atmosphere, it becomes crucial to reevaluate the role of higher education in preparing the next generation for their civic responsibilities. The path forward must involve a return to civics and civic education to instill in students the knowledge and understanding needed to uphold the principles of freedom in America.
The Founding Vision: Civic Education and American Freedom
From the inception of the United States, the significance of higher education in preserving liberty has been emphasized by influential figures. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, stressed the need for citizens to perform the "duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty," including respect for the Constitution. In his last public appearance, Washington proposed the creation of a national university to prepare civic leaders committed to safeguarding freedom.
This vision was carried forward by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others, who played key roles in establishing the University of Virginia. They envisioned institutions of higher learning that would nurture statesmen capable of preserving public prosperity and individual happiness by upholding the principles of a free society.
Revitalizing Civic Education in Flagship Public Universities
In recent years, flagship public universities across the country have embraced this founding vision by launching schools and institutes focused on the serious study of American civics. Alumni and governing boards have supported these efforts, recognizing the vital role of civic education in producing leaders well-versed in the principles of liberty. These initiatives are underway in states such as Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Utah, and Ohio, with more likely to follow.
Civic education, rooted in the study of Western civilization and American constitutionalism, draws from various academic disciplines, including politics, economics, philosophy, history, and law. It is not reducible to any single discipline but seeks to foster a patriotism that is both spirited and open to critical self-reflection. It serves as an antidote to cynicism and nihilism, aiming to secure a prosperous future by preserving the wisdom of the past.
A Conservative Celebration: Traditional Civic Education
While civics is not a value-free social science, it remains pre-partisan, providing a foundation for understanding political institutions before engaging in policy debates. It is an integral part of a liberal education in its original sense - an education befitting a free person. Grounded in open inquiry, reasoned debate, and freedom of thought and speech, civics education prepares students to become custodians of the American experiment.
At a time when campus activism and faddish ideologies dominate headlines, conservative support for traditional civic education is cause for celebration. Civics education allows us to conserve the best in our political and intellectual traditions, offering a path forward that is rooted in knowledge, critical thinking, and a commitment to the principles of liberty.
In conclusion, the urgent need for civics education in elite universities cannot be overstated. It is a call to return to the foundations of freedom, ensuring that the next generation of leaders is equipped with the knowledge and understanding necessary to navigate the complexities of governance, uphold constitutional principles, and preserve the blessings of liberty for generations to come.