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Promoting Civic Engagement in a Required General Education Course

Chapter 12: Promoting Civic Engagement in a Required General Education Course

John SuarezSUNY Cortland

This chapter explains how first-year English composition students began developing a commitment to civic engagement by working on a problem-based learning assignment in a service-learning learning community. Students used those strategies – service-learning, problem-based learning, and a learning community – to reach their basic academic objective:  demonstrate skills in developing relationships. Those skills are central to coherence in writing and to empathy, which is important in committing to civic engagement.

These students moved along the five-stage path to that commitment through these strategies’ place-based challenges and opportunities to reflect.  In this case, students reflected on their listening skills, role-play activities, and community experiences. Through their reflections, students “constructed” knowledge:  they created claims about people, policies, and conditions.

Those claims can reveal misunderstandings that provide the instructor with teachable moments; the instructor should address those moments quickly by replacing planned lessons with others that help students connect service-learning experiences and claims with learning objectives, such as critical thinking skills.

My students’ essays and reflections show the degree to which students met the course’s learning objectives. I describe ways of addressing the challenges associated with this approach, including a lack of established campus/community relationships, a lack of time, and weak civil-discourse skills.

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About the Author

John Suarez is the Coordinator of the Office of Service-Learning at SUNY Cortland. In 1999, he launched service-learning English Composition courses in the college’s Writing Program. He partners with faculty and community agency supervisors on multidisciplinary civic engagement projects.  Publications include “Emotion in PBL and SL,” in Engaged Faculty Curriculum, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (2015) and “Empathy, action, and intercultural competence:  A neurological rationale for simulation’s effectiveness in developing intercultural competence,” in Intercultural Horizons: Intercultural Strategies in Civic Engagement, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK. (2014). Presentations include “Reflective listening in professional settings,” United University Professionals meeting, SUNY Cortland, November 2016, and “’Hire’ Education, Public Purpose, and Student Employers,” Campus Compact Conference, Boston, March 2016. He earned his MS, Education, and BA, Speech/Theater, from SUNY Oneonta.

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association / pp: 169-182