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ISSUE 121 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/7/2008

Lecture engages citizens

By Ida Holdahl
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 7, 2008

Professor, author and senior fellow William Galston spoke about global citizenship last week to a group comprised of students, alumni, Northfield community members and St. Olaf professors and faculty. Galston's lecture fit into St. Olaf's current theme of global citizenship, the focus this spring being "Civic Engagement and the Liberal Arts." In his lecture, he proposed that a liberal arts education might be the answer to developing engaged citizens.

Galston centered his lecture on developing engaged citizens in a diverse world and at St. Olaf, a theme which coincides with the question of civic engagement in his own book entitled "Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice." Additionally, he tried to engage directly with the College's mission statement, which states that as a community, St. Olaf "provides an education committed to the liberal arts, rooted in the the Gospels, and incorporating a global perspective."

Galston began by saying he thought "St. Olaf students cut across the grain," in comparison with the "strikingly low civic engagement" expressed at colleges and universities nation-wide. He noted that he has been "enormously impressed by the serious inquiry and commitment to civil engagement at St. Olaf" during the short time he spent here. Indeed, St. Olaf's campus theme for the last two years has been "Globalization in the Liberal Arts," and this semester's sub-theme is "Civic Engagement and the Liberal Arts."

However, hand in hand with his previous statement, Galston also said, "we as Americans tend to have a stunning ignorance of other people," and often respond to international disputes and conflicts only in crisis. As a result of this trend, Galston said, "we are always behind the curve and as a result we make huge costly mistakes." Galston noted that American citizens are associated with the nation's actions whether or not we condone them. "If [we] go abroad, [we] go abroad as Americans," he said. "Much of what you wish to accomplish abroad [is only possible] through decision and action at the national level."

Making clear reference to the crisis in Darfur, Galston challenged the audience to become civically engaged. "International resolution is not always going to be discharged by the international community as a whole," he said, "[which] puts pressure on those who are able but not always willing." Noting that although this "requires clear decision at a national level," he stated that one of the things that moved [the United States to action] in Darfur was regional movements. "Rally has a perceptible effect," he said.

He also addressed the idea that higher education at a school like St. Olaf should be capable of cultivating a correct view of global citizenship and the world. "Some steps in this direction would not be easy but very, very productive," he said, referring to the ability of the St. Olaf community to create civically engaged citizens. "Colleges such as ours should require classes in American History, World History, Constitutional Political and Social Movements, American Literature, Culture and Religion as well as World Literature, Culture and Religion," Galston said.

In presenting this information, Galston allowed the St. Olaf College community the opportunity to consider the public purpose of an education in the liberal arts. He also encouraged his audience to think about the responsibility of being a citizen in the United States. "To be a citizen is to undertake certain responsibilities towards one another," he said. "Special powers, and thus capabilities, result in special responsibility."

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