Going Back to College, College, College …

Tributes to LL Cool J (back when he was a rapper) aside, earlier this week Eduflack has the honor and privilege to spend a little time up at Williams College to guest talk at Williams’ Political Leadership course.

The course is taught each year by Jane Swift, the former governor of Massachusetts and the CEO of the terrific Middlebury Interactive Languages. I’ll go on the record and declare I am a HUUGE fan of Governor Swift. That might surprise some, who remember that back in the day I ran a congressional campaign where she was the opponent and I did and said things in the heat of the campaign that I wish I could do over, but it is true. The good governor and I reconnected about a decade ago, after she transitioned from being chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was focusing her enormous energies on her passions of education and education technology.

For all the folks who bemoan edtech and how online learning has stripped all meaning from classroom instruction and has kids focused on rote memorization of math and English items for the state test, take a look at what Swift has built up at Middlebury. She and her team have been able to harness the power of interactive technologies to teach foreign language to students across the nation. And they have done it in ways that better prepares the learners for the 21st century, both in their language fluency and in their approach to learning in general.

But I digress. Back to Williamstown and the textbook New England college campus at Williams. As part of Political Leadership (LEAD 250/PSCI 205), this week’s class was focused on trends and tactics when it comes to establishing a political narrative. I was fortunate enough to spend nearly four hours with students in the class. And I was amazed by what I learned from the students.

We can be so quick to stereotype students, particularly in the context of politics. It doesn’t help when it is on a campus like Williams, that carries a long-standing reputation for liberalism. But I found students who represented the political spectrum. More importantly, I engaged with students who had deep reasons for their political beliefs. Those who could distinguish the different forms of feminism when explaining why they may be for or against Hillary Clinton. Those who didn’t share the distain for the fly-over states that we hear from so many political prognosticators. Those who had looked through the talking points of all of the viable candidates to really drill down on how they would lead, who was advising them, and who would be at their sides in a new presidential administration.

What I heard was what “educated voters” continue to say is absent — a new generation of voters who are passionate about issues, inquisitive about candidates, and determined to be informed as to both how politics and policy work. And it helped that these students were also interested in education policy, particularly how it should impact politics but rarely does.

It’s very easy to voice frustration with “today’s college students.” Demands for free college, safe spaces, and the like make it very easy to caricature those on our college campuses. But my visit to Williams gave me hope. I saw the sort of students I wished I had been during my own postsecondary experience. I saw them questioning and pushing back on convention. I saw them seeking to better understand a political system that has largely either taken them for granted or written them off. I saw the future.

 

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