II. Introduction to Civic Engagement Certificate
Wesleyan University prides itself on enrolling and nurturing students with a strong social consciousness. Students participate in a wide variety of formal and informal “civic” activities in Middletown and around the world. These activities include volunteer work, practicums and service-learning courses. This Certificate is designed for students interested in reflecting upon these activities and integrating their civic and academic efforts.
At first glance it may appear that civic engagement is more properly an extracurricular pursuit than an academic field of study. Obviously, people have been engaged in the political and social lives of their communities and nations without stepping back to reflect on their activities. At the same time, the study of civic engagement has a very long history. In the Laws Plato complained "that no human being ever legislates anything, but that chances and accidents of every sort, occurring in all kinds of ways, legislate everything for us" (709a). Plato’s complaint was premised upon a belief in the possibility of what we might call collective agency. He envisioned a form of political activity that would not leave our collective fates to chance, but would enable us to self-consciously direct our affairs in accordance with the aspirations and commitments we have deliberately accepted. At least as an ideal, the political sphere can be a realm of human freedom, one in which we use our energies and wit not simply to adapt to our fate, but consciously to shape it.It may seem odd to think of Plato as a theorist of civic engagement since in his ideal society most citizens’ civic activities are effectively controlled by a narrow elite. In a democracy, by contrast, we envision all citizens participating in the exercise of collective agency, and in a democracy the scope of civic engagement extends beyond the specifically political sphere to encompass civil society as well. Civic engagement encompasses a wide range of activities in which individuals work to strengthen their communities, to realize common goods, to enhance the capacities and dispositions necessary for democratic self-rule, and in general to deliberately shape their common life. (To see a number of commonly used definitions of civic engagement, see (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/publications/crlnews/2006/jan/civic.cfm). The Certificate is structured to provide an understanding of what civic engagement involves.
The Foundations course (Sociology 268, Civic Engagement) addresses that question explicitly, providing an overview of key aspects of democratic theory, and then surveying major forms of citizen participation, the conditions that are necessary for, or that contribute to, the creation and maintenance of those forms, and reflexive forms of scholarship – often called “public scholarship” – that emerge from and contribute to civic engagement. These issues are revisited in the senior seminar, which will reflect on readings from the Foundations course in light of other course work and the experience of students in civic engagement during their time at Wesleyan. Students will apply to participate in the certificate during their sophomore year, although in exceptional circumstances students may join in their junior year. During their sophomore through senior years CEC students will complete a series of structured academic and co-curricular activities including courses, volunteering, practicums and opportunities for reflection that will enable them to develop a broad understanding of the varied components of civic engagement