Friday, November 24th, 2017

Equality’s role in democracy and higher learning discussed

Posted on November 08, 2017 in News
By USM Free Press

Ben Theiault

Through a combination of education, community involvement and the emphasis of equality, Compact President Andrew Seligsohn aspires to redefine the way our country views Civic education. He seeks to promote a new way to execute Civic education with the help of local institutions of higher learning in areas all over the country. He came to USM to explain what the university can do for its surrounding residents.

Last Wednesday, Nov. 1, Seligsohn spoke at Hannaford Hall to advocate for his organization and its potential benefits it may bring the Southern Maine area. He was introduced by Samantha Frisk, the USM Coordinator of Service-learning and Volunteering, who spoke on USM’s commitment to the Greater Portland and Casco Bay community.

Frisk emphasized the importance of community involvement during the learning process and expanded upon how USM incorporates these ideals into student’s daily education. Frisk facilitates communications with local schools, Preble St Resource Center and various after school programs, among many others to partner with USM classrooms.

Campus Compact is a self-described “relationship-driven organization” located in Boston. The group seeks to encourage community growth and development through institutions of higher learning. Compact is a way to centralize civic learning in our country and educate students about their potential for community involvement.

Andrew Seligsohn began his presentation with a playful jab at the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative non-profit that also strives for the involvement of students in their respective communities. He stated that NAS has dismissed Compact as left-wing propaganda for their decision to abandon traditional methods of teaching civics.

Seligsohn used this icebreaker as an opportunity to segue into what he defines as new civics. This ideology revolves around the building and reinforcement of community. The old civics curriculum focuses on educating and lecturing students. Seligsohn, like Frisk and their many partners, conscribe to the belief that the only way to truly understand and educate oneself about civic duty is through direct community engagement.

Following his definition of contemporary civics, Seligsohn discussed equality and its role in civic development. He illustrated this point through the telling of a personal story about his father’s past. Seligsohn’s  father was Jewish and raised in Germany. Following the Nazi occupation, he was forced to flee.

Seligsohn recounts asking his father how he can speak to Germans without resentment. His father explained that during the occupation, an array of people ranging from friends and relatives, to business acquaintances and customers, called his family offering support, despite the tremendous risk it carried. When reflecting upon his interactions with other Germans Seligsohn Sr. stated “ “I have to assume that they were one of the people that did that [reached out]. That’s what’s needed to be equal. The people reaching out affirmed our equality. I can’t do anything less than that in my conduct towards others.”

This moving story was in essence the backbone of the presentation. Through its recitation, Seligsohn was able to explain that in a community equality is a right that must be granted  to all people. He stated that equality naturally evolves into democracy, which inevitably leads to community building.

Seligsohn described equality’s role in political development through the elaboration of two mindsets: one that conforms to egalitarianism and one common in the past that conforms to divine right. Historically, leaders were revered as divine entities. He explained that due to this concept, people in the past did not view each other as inherently equal, perpetuating the growth of monarchies and dictatorships. However, when people begin to view each other as no better or worse than themselves, democracy will naturally ensue because everyone’s opinion is regarded as important.  

After addressing equality’s place in government, he went on to discuss the consequences of inequality in community. Inequality takes many shapes and sizes. Seligsohn explained that things such as “poverty, drug addiction, lack of a good education and even lead exposure significantly hinder one’s ability to meaningfully influence their community.”

With this information in mind, we finally reach the goals and achievements of Compact. Compact wishes to “…share what we know from both research and practice to provide our members with the best tools for building democracy through education and community partnerships.” For resources, they help implement sample tenure and other promotions; civic action plans that actively engage with the unique; and professional services to help orchestrate change and provide research findings.

Civic Action Planning is a process that is applied to colleges that wish to have a greater local presence. Over 450 university presidents have pledged to help devote resources from their universities to give back to the community.

The speech was concluded by USM president Glenn Cummings, who announced that USM is now part of the movement, starting 2018. One of the most noteable promises from the plan is increased access to resources that help prepare for internship programs.

The USM Civic Action Plan can be found at compact.org under the resources category.