Reversing a Civic Recession: What The Harvard Classics Can Do

Recently the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) the White House and the Thomas Jefferson & George WashingtonDepartment of Education launched a mission to reverse the disturbing long-term national civic recession that we have been enduring, which has led to less voting, less volunteering and greater distrust in government.  They set out to establish a bold national agenda that will move civic learning from the periphery to the center of college learning.

Columbia, Maryland based My Harvard Classics intends to help with this mission announcing the launch of its online civic education center that contains primary source documents such as the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist Papers. It includes among other things free mp3s for the documents and links to other helpful civic learning tools.

The Harvard Classics were created in 1909 to allow anyone to obtain a liberal education with just 15 minutes of reading a day for one year reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five foot bookshelf. As part of a liberal education one is stimulated by and encouraged to engage in civic duties or political study generally. Studies suggest that when exposed to civic education, participation in the voting process increases. It is therefore important that people are instilled with a basic understanding and appreciation for political discourse and its effects on our daily lives. This will produce active participants in the voting process.  The Harvard Classics spark interest in the political process by way of learning the history of politics from the primary source documents themselves, from the beginnings of democracy in Ancient Greece through the American Revolution, with authors ranging from Socrates to Machiavelli to Abraham Lincoln among other political thought leaders.

Having that core understanding of the origins of political theory will give the reader a tremendous understanding and agility with modern politics.  A more effective and articulate political participant develops. One that is capable of arguing in more arenas and deeper, all the way back to the primary sources.

As civic education becomes an increasingly needed value in society, the Harvard Classics gain new relevance particularly in the mission launched by the White House, the Department of Education and the AACU to reverse a civic recession. The primary source of the great political arguments and discourses that form the foundation of modern politics are contained in the Harvard Classics. Learning from the primary sources of democracy and political theory instills veracity for civic and political engagement that is much needed in today’s society.