Assignments teach civic engagement

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By MICAH SMITH, Ranger Reporter:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, “there is a need to help younger people recognize their own capacity to do good, and help them discover the rewards of generosity.”

Texas colleges and universities are taking it into their own hands to teach their students about personal and social responsibility.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which governs all state colleges and universities, students should develop intercultural competence, knowledge of civic responsibility, and the ability to engage effectively in regional, national, and global communities, and the ability to connect choices, actions and consequences to ethical decision-making.

The state has incorporated these learning objectives into the required general education core curriculum for all state colleges and universities.

Social responsibility is defined as an ethical framework that suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.

At Amarillo College, several classes have required assignments that ensure students meet the social and personal responsibility learning goals. As part of some of their core general education classes, students have to do a project that focuses on giving back to the community.

“Our service learning project requires that you do four hours of some sort of community service,” said Dr. Beth Rodriguez, a psychology professor.

This community service can range from volunteering at the High Plains Food Bank to helping an elderly neighbor around the house.

“Everyone is getting a degree now, so everybody has to do something else. Requiring the service-learning project actually gives students a leg up when they go apply for scholarships or for internships or a job. It shows not only have you done the school work, but you’ve also done something else that helps out the community,” said Rodriguez.

Requiring students to learn social responsibility doesn’t just positively affect the community, it can also improve the lives of those doing the work, Rodriguez said.

Another type of service learning project that students may have to partake in doesn’t involve volunteering. Instead, this assignment requires students to examine their own ethics and values, and relate their beliefs to the subject they are studying. Students in U.S history classes have to write an ethical dilemma paper.

“It is a writing assignment where students are asked to put themselves in a particular historical dilemma where they have to make a decision,” said Dr. Stefanie Decker, a U.S history professor. “Most of the dilemmas are not a right or wrong answer. The students are asked what they would do if they were in that particular dilemma.”

An example of one of the ethical dilemmas students may be faced with is putting themselves in the shoes of President Harry Truman in 1945 and having to decide whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and spare millions of lives, or potentially endanger the lives of millions of Americans by not doing so.

“The ethical dilemma paper teaches students a sense of what we would do if we were put in these situations and how it could affect others,” said Allison Prater, a physics major.

Faculty members said service-learning projects help students to become better members of society. From volunteering, to writing ethical dilemmas, educators are finding ways to model social responsibility in their classrooms. “What we do does affect the people around us. In order to be a functioning adult, we have to understand that we’re going to interact with other people, and what we give back to our community does make an impact,” said Rodriguez.

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