Students develop new citizenship course
Inspired by suggestions given by Ralph Nader during his talk on campus last year, 300 hundred U of A students in conjunction with the Students’ Union have developed a course aimed at giving students the tools for greater civic participation.
Their efforts have been successful, resulting in a new citizenship course which is currently under development by students and professors alike. The course may be offered by the department of political science as soon as next September, according to former SU president Mike Hudema.
“We got this idea from when Ralph Nader spoke here, and basically he said that a lot of our education is centered around us growing up corporate as opposed to growing up civic,” said Shannon Phillips, executive policy and information officer of the Students’ Union.
“And so, what [Nader] proposed was that U of A students get themselves together … and put together a course about what it means to be an active and engaged citizen,” she said.
Last year’s Students’ Union did not initiate the proposal process, but Hudema and Phillips played an important role nonetheless.
Hudema is quick to emphasize that the course is the result of students’ interest.
“I think it’s more of a student-driven course than a students’ union-driven course,” Hudema said. “We just provided a forum where they could talk about it and find out what the next step was.”
Phillips and Hudema explained that the 300 students who e-mailed the SU formed working groups to brainstorm ideas for the potential course. In coalition with the SU, the course was proposed to the University with great success.
“I know that it was really well received by the dean of arts and by [the vice president (academic)] last year,” said Phillips. “I think the way we communicated it was like, ‘look, this is part of your practical application in arts,’ and there’s this certain kind of idea that arts isn’t relevant enough. This is one of the ways that an arts education could somehow teach more practical skills.”
According to Hudema, the citizenship course is unique in several respects.
“Well, it’s the first of its kind in terms of a student-led course,” said Hudema. He added that the course is also the first course in Canada, to his knowledge, to have been proposed by a students’ union.
Both Hudema and Phillips are pleased with the outcome of the proposal, but argue that greater change needs to happen both inside and outside of universities in terms of fostering greater civic responsibility.
“If you go to your average person on the street and ask whether they feel like an integral part of the democratic process in Canada, I think the resounding answer that’d you’d get would be ‘no,’” said Hudema.
While the course curriculum is not currently known, Hudema explains that the course will aim to give students better tools for change.
“The basis of the course is to teach people about what it means to be a citizen and to look at different historical developments, like the women’s movement or the civil rights movement or those type of movements. That’s what we’re envisioning as the start of the course,” said Hudema.
“Hopefully what this course is about is trying to give people some of the tools and the tool box, saying, ‘dream, think about the world that you want, and then here are some tools that you can have,” he added. “We should all be active participants in creating the world that we want.”
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