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Frank Newman's second sachs lecture

Are students ready to meet the needs of today's society or are they too consumed with personal goals?

Dr. Frank Newman, most widely known for the "Newman Reports" (Report on Higher Education, 1971, and National Policy and Higher Education, 1974) and former President of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) raised this question in his second Julius and Rosa Sachs lecture entitled "Rebuilding of Toqueville."

As evidenced by many early charters of colleges studied by Newman, the prime task of educational institutions has always been to create an effective citizen. He argued that colleges and universities can strengthen students' effectiveness by using community service in conjunction with course work. This would enhance civic skills to create individuals who can change society.

"The issue of civic skills is layered over by all kinds of myths, hyperbole, and ideology that gets us off course," said Newman. "A focus on civic skills may be even more important than a focus on workforce skills."

According to Newman, an increasingly cynical view of the government is directly related to the decline in participation in civic duties such as voting. Newman thinks that this distrust may stem from the earlier political issues of Watergate and Vietnam. Other issues, like the comparison of the impeachment processes of Nixon and Clinton, may also play a role.

"The media is also a source of cynicism," said Newman.

This lack of civic skills negatively affects the political system. Newman points out that teachers need to be better prepared to teach civics and no longer push it aside as something that students learn in 12th grade.What do we do? The political system is obviously in trouble, commented Newman.

"A greater knowledge of government will create a greater desire to participate in it," said Newman. He added that schools at all levels should encourage community service.

People are volunteering, but they are concentrating on their own concerns rather than the good of the group. According to Newman, this type of involvement lessens the emphasis on civic duties and furthers the disconnection.

"We have to find a way to integrate this so that they see the big picture and they don't see this as 'doing my thing' and 'the city council and the Congress and the state legislature doing its thing,'" said Newman.

Most people aren't voting. The public is growing increasingly cynical about government and governmental issues. They think that one vote won't make a difference, so why bother?

Newman said that voters from the extreme ends of the spectrum are liable to vote, especially the intense voters that are supporting a cause.

Universities and colleges need to encourage the "center voter" who is the voter looking for a compromise to solve certain issues. More "center voters" creates less opportunity for special interest groups to gain complete control of the government.

In order to fuel the interest of students and society in political issues, Newman said society needs an objective center of discussion where issues can be debated. Universities need to be centers where political issues can be discussed freely.

This period of change is a good chance for political and academic leaders to get together to find out what society needs from education, he added. They will be able to not only plan for the future, but also avoid undermining what already exists.

There are some "signs of hope," said Newman. School and environmental reform are "plodding along and making progress in this semi-functional system." Also, students are involved in community service and some task forces are being established.

"One of the most difficult things about democracy is that it requires an enormous balancing act," said Newman. You cannot have a balancing act unless you are willing to lead and follow in a constructive way."

In all three of this year's Sachs lectures, Newman focused on what society needs from education. In his first Sachs lecture he discussed the importance of intellectual skills in the information age. The third presentation "Higher Education and Social Mobility" (November 18) discussed whether or not affirmative action regulations are illegal, unconstitutional, and inappropriate. Newman reexamined and debated the question of education and social mobility.

The third Sachs lecture will be covered in the December issue of Inside TC.

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