One response to “Strong review of research on student political engagement

  1. There is something about responding to a blog post already nearly six months old. Particularly when that post is on a subject like civic engagement, posted during an election like Obama’s, by players key to the Obama organization’s civic engagement followup (Tisch has two members of the service learning cadre in the new Obama administration).

    So, here goes.

    First, most of those 15 points are absolutely invisible to the communities surrounding Tufts. That is, the Tufts interest in civic engagement and service learning is exclusively, with very superficial exceptions, in how that learning affects the students involved, regardless – and often at the very real expense – of the communities they intend to serve. Such a vision is at best counterproductive to social change, at worst more reminiscent of Kipling than Fanon!

    Second, there seems to be very, very little attention paid to what changes students might affect – to curricular, social, political, economic, literary, artistic, or other circumstances of their engagement. This is astoundingly anti-academic for an approach which is so campus centric. At universities as near and as different as MIT and Harvard and BU, there are very concrete and often elaborate enterprises engaging students, faculty, often graduate students and administration in substantial projects involving measurable social change. When, for example, Harvard tried experimental programs in Roxbury, then State Rep Mel King convened activists and forced the university to change its entire approach to experimental vs. control group testing. When neighborhood activists engaged MIT students in debates on highway expansion, both the university and the community found a common interest against the auto and in favor of mass transit. In contrast, the only common interest Tufts seems to have provoked is support for their multi-cultural janitors and readiness to taste the maple syrup produced in trees adjacent to the largest housing project in their nearest city. Harvard’s Kennedy School created the way Somerville measures the impact of public services, while Tufts’ Tisch College collects maple sugar.

    Perhaps this is unfair, since Tufts now claims – with declines in investment value – to have their service learning “under water,” although that same endowment grew by more than $160,000,000 earlier in that same calendar year. Maybe they can’t afford to outreach to the poor, the hungry, and those displaced by their students and faculty. Maybe service learning really is an academic-only exercise. Then say it.

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