Students lack civic spirit

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — College students are more likely these days to serve in soup kitchens. But they’re less likely to get politically involved in finding solutions that do away with the need for soup kitchens.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — College students are more likely these days to serve in soup kitchens.

But they’re less likely to get politically involved in finding solutions that do away with the need for soup kitchens.

So say scholars at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who spent three years studying moral and civic actions and education at more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide, including Spelman College, Duke and Portland State universities.

“A lot of students are resistent to political engagement,” said Anne Colby, a senior scholar at Carnegie. “They’re very turned off by it and cynical.”

But Bill Moeller, director for the Florida State University Center for Civic Education and Service, says lack of political action does not necessarily mean students are not involved.

Young people have just turned away from the traditional means of bringing about change, be it religious or political, and toward methods such as Internet campaigns, Moeller said.

Despite the different approaches, which Moeller said are all needed, the desire to change society still prompts some students to step into the political arena.

In Educating Citizens: Preparing America’s Undergraduates For Lives of Moral and Civic Responsibility,

Colby and other Carnegie scholars argue that although colleges have a lot of good programs in place that promote volunteerism and values, there are still many missed opportunities for students for moral and civic growth.

That growth takes place best when students are given the opportunity for “structured reflection,” to analyze a society’s problem and brainstorm solutions instead of just volunteering to help, said Thomas Ehrlich, a former president of Indiana University and one of the authors of the study released last week.

“It means not only having a moral compass, but knowing how to use it,” Ehrlich said.

FSU senior Melissa Madsen would agree with that. Take serving at a soup kitchen, for instance.

“That’s nice and all, but the connection needs to be made there,” Madsen said.

“We need to reflect on the bigger picture. What am I doing or not doing to cause something like this?”

Madsen says students tend to gravitate toward two camps of thought.

The pessimistic group is disheartened by what it sees, but those in this group don’t think their actions will change anything.

Students who belong to the group at the other extreme are overly optimistic and think things will immediately change.

Madsen leans toward optimism.

She serves on FSU’s executive board for service scholars, a cadre of students FSU recruited and gave scholarships to because of their public service in high school.

She is majoring in criminology and English a certificate in aging studies.

She leads a student group called LOVE, Loving Our Valued Elders, that works with the elderly in Tallahassee.

“I see it more because I surround myself with it,” Madsen said of student involvement.

Moeller said the FSU community is heavily involved in service outside of the classroom through student clubs and other extracurricular activities, but more needs to be done to include service in FSU curriculum.

That involves changing campus thinking, he said.

He thinks many academic types think volunteering is the work of family or churches, not education.

But service can be used as a teaching method, he said.

George Clark, an associate professor at FAMU’s School of Business and Industry,
requires his business ethics students to do at least 10 hours of community

“Students go through different experiences, and hopefully through experiences, they get more out of it,” he said.

College is a prime time for developing moral character, Colby said, and most universities have a few courses that empasize the importance of ethical behavior or civic involvement.

The problem with this approach is that it can be limited to students who seek out these ideals, authors said.

It’s important to have a campus climate that supports positive values such as “honesty, openmindedness and respect for others,” Ehrlich said.

Jon Dalton, director of FSU’s Center for The Study of Values in College Student Development, said FSU and other universities can be guilty of using a college degree as a means to an end and not communicating the responsibility to society that should go along with it.

Still, FSU makes public service a priority for students.

The school gives out a humanitarian award each year and notes service on college transcripts.

FSU opened the doors of its center for service in 1995.

The university rewards about 12 high school graduates with significant community service experience $2,000 a year toward tuition.

Patrick Sullivan, FSU’s new student body president, is one recipient.

Madsen is another.

© 2003, Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Fla.).Visit Tallahassee Democrat Online at by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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