Complacency, Civic Engagement & Experiential Education…

What do these pedagogies and words have in common?  The answer is DACA.  And a play I saw last night here in DC called “The Arsonists,” written in 1958 by a Swiss writer, Max Frisch and re-named in a translated British production in 2007.  The moral message of the play is this: A complacent and inert citizenry, where fear and reluctance to act, makes them complicit in their own destruction.  Frisch wrote his play as a metaphor to engage his audience in thinking about what actions they could/should be taking to fight back against the rise of Nazism and Communism.

And another convergent moment came last evening before the play when my wife and I were dining right next to a table of about twenty youths all wearing DACA protest T-shirts; they had just come to celebrate their participation in yesterday afternoon’s protest of the DACA decision by the President at his hotel downtown…

Complacency:  Gone.  Whether it was in Charlottesville a few weeks ago or yesterday, students and their adult supporters have turned out to peacefully demonstrate and say no to the politics of fear and bigotry. To the inhumane decision to deport almost 800,000 children brought here by their parents – and who have successfully made a constructive life for themselves throughout the nation.  There has been a marked uptick in citizen engagement in cities and campuses across the country.

Civic Engagement:  I’m sure there are many ways to define this term, but, at its root, it plainly describes the ways in which citizens stand up and make their voices heard. The DACA decision by Trump has, for some time, been a catalyst on and off campuses for student action.  And action by “Dreamers” who have been invisible to most Americans. The threat to them has been taken up by other students, faculty and staff — broadening engagement of all for the benefit of a few…

Experiential Education:  In 1982, in one of my earliest published pieces for the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education (January-February, Experiential Education),  on “Principles of Experiential Cross-Cultural Learning,” I said:

“If experiential cross-cultural learning means anything in the world today, it must be a vehicle for shaking loose the complacency of students about critical world issues and fostering an appreciation for the diversity of national interests and cultural values struggling to co-exist on the planet.”

At home, the threats are great and coming at us weekly. Abroad, there is a resurgence of fear, due to the instability of the North Korean regime, unlike anything I’ve seen since the early days of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis.  Again, as if history is repeating itself in our lifetime, I quoted Dr. George Bonham in my 1982 essay, author of Education and the World View (1981, Council on Learning):

“We live in a world that is increasingly anarchical, increasingly unpredictable and increasingly a world not of American choosing or of America’s imagination. We may now find ourselves at one of the great disjunctures of our national history…The world has unalterably changed – and so must American education.”

How eery to read this in the current moment.  I see students demanding and fighting for change.  I see our higher educational institutions both resisting change and stumbling forward to keep up with the pace of local and global events.  And we citizens? We’re being forced into corners.  We’re fighting each other in the streets.  We’re shouting past one another.  What will bring us together?  As I write, it appears the only thing that has overcome our divisions is the terrible devastation of recent natural disasters.

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