A Crucible Moment One Year Later: From Clarion Call
to Determined Implementation

By: Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Issues, AAC&U

This week marks one year since the national report A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future was released at a White House event. Shaped by recommendations from over 150 people representing a wide range of constituents both on and off campus and a National Task Force of distinguished higher education leaders, the report touched a  national—and even an international—chord for many. The first printing of 7,000 volumes was sold out or distributed by the end of May, necessitating a second printing.  Thousands more people visited or downloaded the PDF version on AAC&U’s website.

If year one of A Crucible Moment’s life was dominated by inspiring people with its rhetoric, year two needs to be dominated by collectively, busily hammering out of its recommendations a new architecture for learning.

The report is chock-full of creative curriculum designs, innovative pedagogies, and plentiful opportunities for civic development in student life.  Many campuses have established fruitful partnerships with their local, regional, national, or international communities.  Yet all agree such opportunities are typically optional, random, and disconnected from students’ main areas of study.

Many are trying to correct these limitations. The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education pledged to track civic education and engagement at its twenty-nine public colleges and universities.  In another nation-wide effort, an entire network of community colleges, The Democracy Commitment, has been formed with the express purpose of making education for democracy a priority for community college students.  NASPA put a call out for Lead Institutions among its members who would share how they are advancing civic learning at their institutions through student affairs leadership.  The Bringing Theory to Practice Project has announced a major infusion of financial support to assist colleges ready to institute concrete plans to advance civic learning and engagement, while Campus Compact created a companion guide (pdf) to Crucible Moment to make the report’s most salient recommendations more easily accessible.

This week also marks the publication of  AAC&U’s newly designed and expanded version of Diversity & Democracy, which will now be a quarterly with 20 percent more pages in order to provide a broader arena to describe what implementation looks like and how civic, global, and US diversity are intertwined.  Within weeks of that release, the Council of Europe’s new publication, Re-Imagining Democratic Societies, will be out based on an international forum sponsored in part by the International Collaboration on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy of which AAC&U sits on the Steering Committee.  That volume includes my article that highlights how US colleges and universities are putting education for democracy into practice.

A Crucible Moment is not the first national report calling for civic learning to be a priority.  But the multiple stakeholders are determined this time that its call for a radical re-centering of education for democracy will be heeded.  To facilitate that, AAC&U has convened twelve other organizations that played a critical part in creating A Crucible Moment and reach broad audiences with the intent to partner with one another and row in tandem this time.  Called the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Steering Committee, the thirteen of us have worked this first year and will continue to work during the second year and beyond to coordinate our efforts, make strategic partnerships wherever possible, and help our collective constituencies implement institutional changes that will foster civic learning.

But it will take more than these thirteen organizations to make a difference.  Everyone’s efforts matter wherever they are.  Let’s all celebrate the first anniversary of A Crucible Moment’s publication by pledging action during year two so we are sure it doesn’t become just another report gathering dust on a shelf.


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