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Logo: American Democracy Project: Freshman Summer Reading Program

Information and Suggestions for Faculty

Introduction to the ADP

The American Democracy Project (ADP) is an initiative organized by the Association of American State Colleges and Universities that seeks to create an intellectual and experiential understanding of civic engagement in the United States in the 21st century.

Dr. Thomas Ehrlich, Ed. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, defines 'civic engagement' as:

  • Working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.
  • Promoting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes.

Clearly, SUNY Brockport can point to faculty members who teach civic engagement ideas, issues, and principles in their courses. Further, some departments are civically engaged through interaction with other communities at both the local level and beyond. Still other departments pursue civic engagement by addressing and participating in social justice related activities and other causes. Lastly, several departments have elaborate service learning and internship programs that are geared toward civic engagement.

These accomplishments, while important, fail to address major goals of the ADP, specifically to 1) facilitate and encourage campus-wide conversation and action in the area of civic engagement and 2) to move from activities located in discreet and disconnected areas of the curriculum and co-curriculum toward the articulation of civic engagement as an institutional priority. While conversations continue as the ADP moves into a second year on our campus, a number of specific outcomes can be noted:

  • Fall and spring courses focused on the ADP are offered in 2004-05.
  • A series of campus events are planned for 2004-05 that include speakers, films and arts and cultural events relating to the ADP.
  • The Summer Reading Project for freshmen was reinstated with a title choice relevant to the ADP.
  • Completion of two campus surveys: 1) a survey of attitudes regarding civic engagement and 2) a campus audit of current civic engagement activities.

The Summer Reading Program

Photo: Cover of Nickel and Dimed As part of the ADP, SUNY College at Brockport has reinstated a Freshman Summer Reading Program to orient new students to the Brockport academic community by having a common reading experience. This summer's reading selection is Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Students will receive a copy of the book with support materials and information about the program in early July.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is Ehrenreich's account of her year working as a waitress, cleaning woman, nursing home assistant and Wal-Mart employee. Her portraits of the working poor should encourage healthy dialogue on our campus by bringing up issues such as the economy, the income gap and our large low paying service industries.

Ideas for how faculty can be active partners in the American Democracy Project and the Freshman Summer Reading Program:

(The following recommendations grew out of the ADP Town Hall Meetings held this spring.)

  • Read the book! If you need a copy, the Barnes and Noble Bookstore offers the paper back for $10.40 (reflects a 20% discount).
  • Find ways to bring discussion of ideas or issues in the book into your clases based on your individual discipline or area of interest.
  • Use a question from the Freshman Summer Reading Program reading /discussion guide for an in class writing response, to stage a debate or to generate disuccsion.
  • Encourage students to take part in the many campus discussions, projects and lectures organized as part of the American Democracy Project. Of note are the staged reading of the play script of "Nickel and Dimed" (October) and "Changing Nature of Work: How Economic Trends Have Changed and Will Change Your Life," a workshop provided by Career Services that can be held in your class.
  • Consider using mechanisms like secret ballot voting, mock debates (assign pro/con roles), or role-playing to address key issues in Nickel and Dimed (i.e. the working poor, a living wage, links between low paying jobs and lack of a college degree).
  • Organize a "Survivor Challenge" between APS seminars. The challenges could be organized around service-oriented activities emphasizing civic engagement.
  • Utilize the New York Times in class (a partner in the ADP). A search function allows faculty to identify NYT articles based on subject matter. Or sign up for an email alert based on subject matter that will email pointing to relevant articles in that day's newspaper. Subscription information is available through the office of Campus Life.
  • Allow students to select a question from the reading/discussion questions to debate in class. Divide the class into debate "teams" and make the debates a contest.
  • Ask students to conduct research on the "working poor." Compare their findings with findings in Nickel and Dimed.
  • Ask students to define "civic engagement" then compare and contrast their definition to that of Dr. Ehrlich.
  • Encourage students to explore the issues surrounding the 2004 National Election (or those raised in the Ehrenreich book) having them do so by setting guidelines for "civil discourse."
  • Encourage students to register to vote by taking advantage of the number of campus-wide initiatives in the fall.
  • Organize or encourage co-curricular opportunities to investigate key issues regarding the national, state and local elections. Take advantage of the elections and the attending political debate as an opportunity to tie discussion or assignments to classroom work.
  • Utilize the ADP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document as well as the Summer Reading Program FAQ document so that you can answer students' questions about these initiatives.
  • Utilize these websites for more information on the ADP and the Freshman Summer Reading Program:

For additional questions about the summer reading, (585) 395-5646 or e-mail sarno@brockport.edu.

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