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An Education in Civic Thought

Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silver Storey of the American Enterprise Institute

are proposing a new field of academic study called “Civic Thought” which

highlights the importance of civic education, free speech, and viewpoint

diversity in higher education. It’s worth it to read their latest white paper

mapping it all out — it’s thoughtful, well-researched, and full of great ideas.

To develop future leaders and active citizens of our democracy — which the

University of Virginia has been committed to since its founding — the authors

point out that students need to learn to listen to ideas they disagree with and be

able to work with those who may see the world differently than they do.

Competent citizens need to “deliberate with others who have different

perspectives and experiences.” The authors pointed out in a recent Wall Street

Journal column that “the elements of Civic Thought are derived from the

intellectual demands of American citizenship, which requires the ability to

deliberate about everything from war to education. Equipping the mind for such

responsibility is an ambitious intellectual project, fully worthy of the


They point to Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic

Thought and Leadership as a good model — since its founding in 2016, it has

grown to 20 faculty teaching more than 1,000 students annually, all with

bipartisan support. Similar efforts are underway in North Carolina, Ohio,

Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Utah, and Texas. As the flagship public

university in Virginia, UVA has the opportunity to lead the effort across the

Commonwealth. We should take that opportunity.

Here’s their argument I like best: “The conversations of Socrates and Catherine

of Siena and the speeches of Cicero and Frederick Douglass should be analyzed

and imitated as models of how to seek truth in common with others. One might

learn from them how to persuade people of things those people do not wish to

see, yield before the more comprehensive views others may present, and gather

diverse human beings for the sake of action.” That’s exactly what we do in my

class called Democracy Out Loud, which is a 3500-level seminar in the Politics

Department. We need more classes like it, taught by people of all walks of life.

If UVA undergrads could major in Civic Thought before heading out to lead our

Republic, I think our nation would be in a much better place. Isn’t that what our

motto, “Great and Good,” calls us to?


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