Topics: Academic Programs, Teachers College

October 6, 2021

Teachers College exterior

Ball State University, in collaboration with Southeastern University and the Minnesota Humanities Center, recently received funding from the Teagle Foundation for a groundbreaking effort to promote content-rich historical and civic learning for undergraduates.

The project, Third Way Civics, aims to give students the ability to develop a civic identity that does not reduce self-government solely to individual rights, privileges, or obligations in relation to the state, but expands it to include any and all efforts to steward and improve the public commons—the life we share together.

The purpose of the “Third Way Civics” curriculum is to help undergraduates form a civic identity in non-polarizing, individually and collectively empowering ways; a civic identity that does not reduce self-government solely to individual rights, privileges, or obligations vis-à-vis the state, but expands it to include any and all efforts to steward and improve the public commons. The project includes pilot courses being offered this Fall at Ball State and Southeastern universities, with plans to expand the number of courses being offered this Spring at Ball State and other universities across the country.

“These courses will facilitate students’ civic learning, providing exposure to opportunities for civic engagement and public service, and fostering a richer, fairer, more inclusive and vibrant public life,” said Dr. Anand R. Marri, dean of Ball State’s Teachers College and one of three principal investigators on the project.

The Third Way Civics project is consistent with a broader effort in Indiana to reinvigorate civics instruction. A new statewide initiative that requires students in grades 6-8 to take a semester-long civics course was recently signed into law by Gov. Eric J. Holcomb. Accordingly, Third Way will help Ball State cultivate a unique philosophy for civics education that is adaptable to the K-12 setting.

“The approach to the curriculum involves individual, small-group, and collective reflections on the content, themes, and lessons of historical debates conveyed through primary sources,” said Dr. David Roof, who is teaching the pilot course at Ball State.

Dennis Ross, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 2011-19, is also teaching a pilot section of the course at Southeastern University.

“Students exercise lots of choice from among texts and engage in lots of in-class sharing of knowledge with classmates whose readings differ,” he said.

The Third Way Civics project seeks to transcend the ‘civics wars’ and ‘history wars’ that have become flashpoints in secondary and postsecondary education. Instead, it uses primary sources to introduce students to prominent debates and developments in American political history, through which they engage with classroom activities designed to build their individual and collective “civic muscle.” In this way the course helps fulfill what surveys show to be a widespread desire among students: a desire for a practically democratic education, one that that positions them for economic success but also prepares them for lives of public purpose and productive citizenship.

“The project was designed to help undergraduates develop the skills to understand the past, present, and possible futures of American democracy, while also exploring their own potential paths toward a personally rewarding yet publicly meaningful life—all while learning to approach disagreements and differences as opportunities for expanding horizons and building relationships,” said Dr. Trygve Throntveit, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Minnesota Humanities Center and Center and co-leader of the Third Way Civics project.

Even in its early phase, the project is gaining national attention. There is a planned meeting to discuss the project at the upcoming Association of American Colleges & Universities’ annual meeting, and several universities have expressed interest in offering the course. A hub is also emerging in Minnesota, led by Minnesota State University-Mankato and North Central University (both of which are offering the course this Spring).

A discussion is also underway to adapt the course for police officers in training in criminal justice programs, and to offer the course incarcerated individuals in prison education programs.