This Friday, I’m giving a talk here on what we can learn from Tocqueville about teaching civic engagement. The habits and dispositions that we should cultivate, I’ll argue, can almost all be cultivated on campus. Encouraging students to be involved off campus is the last thing we should be doing--not last asin "never," but last as in "only after they know more or less what they’re doing" and "only after they have acquired the taste for self-government and responsibility through engagement with the matters that mean the most to them on campus." We’re not alone in my little piece of the academic universe in referring to it--self-deprecatingly--as "the bubble," but, doggone it, it’s our bubble, and there are ways we can exercise control over it and take responsibility for it that we can’t do elsewhere.
What’s more the tendency to look off campus for "engagement" often enlists students in others’ hidden or not-so-hidden agendas and emphasizes a kind of "practicality" thatis the great temptation of American higher education, not to say American life and American intellectual life altogether.