Today many people are working hard to develop and sustain forms of public engagement in American higher education that are mutually beneficial and reciprocal. This kind of public engagement often includes technical problem solving and service-learning. But at its best it also includes the work of naming and framing public issues and problems and deciding among various alternatives what should be done about them. And it includes the work of building a democratic culture that is grounded in an ethic of full participation, where people of all backgrounds and ages have opportunities to learn and grow and contribute to public work as active citizens (in the participatory rather than legal sense of that word).
While few are aware of it, there is a rich and deep legacy of this kind of public engagement in the Cooperative Extension work of land-grant colleges and universities. It was envisioned and brought to life (imperfectly and incompletely, of course) in ordinary places and ways by women and men across the country during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, as Ruby Green Smith documented in her important and newly republished book about extension work in New York, The Peoples Colleges. And it continues today, though it is both undervalued and endangered.
To mark the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the federal legislation that institutionalized the land-grant system’s Extension work by establishing the national Cooperative Extension System, Imagining America has launched a new initiative called Extension Reconsidered.
“I believe this is an important and timely initiative.” — David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University
Drawing inspiration from Ernest Boyer’s important book, Scholarship Reconsidered, IA’s Extension Reconsidered initiative aims to reconsider dominant views of what Extension is and what it’s for, and to envision what it could and should be in the twenty-first century.
- What can and should Extension do to improve its contributions to the work of understanding and addressing the critical economic, ecological, and social problems that citizens are facing in the twenty-first century?
- How might Extension realize its potential as a force for renewing and strengthening our communities, our democracy, and our civic culture?
- How might Extension help citizens to claim their places in public life by coming together to advance their values and interests, and consider and act to address the problems that matter to them and their families and communities?
These and other questions will be taken up this spring in a variety of ways on our blog and at special events that are being planned in 13 states: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin. The events will help open a path for a long-term initiative devoted to developing and supporting new ways for Extension to strengthen democracy by engaging people and methodologies from arts, humanities, and design fields. They will also contribute to research for a book that will be published in 2016, titled Extension Reconsidered.
Extension Reconsidered is a partnership between Imagining America, the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH), and the Art of the Rural. To learn more, click on the boxes below. Please join our conversation on the Extension Reconsidered blog, or contact a state-level team to get involved in the discussion.
|Browse the following links to learn more about Extension Reconsidered:|
|Scott Peters||Jennifer Jensen|
|Faculty Co-Director, Imagining America||Project Coordinator, Extension Reconsidered|