The Port Huron Statement – now THAT was Student Engagement!

January 25, 2010 at 9:52 am Leave a comment

 By Alec Patton

It’s easy to forget that the twentieth century’s biggest push for student engagement and citizenship came not from central government, school leaders, or staff, bu from students – and that, far from welcoming it, governments responded with condescension, outrage, and violence. No prizes for guessing that I’m talking about the 1960s.

Conventionally, this is the point when I would turn up the Hendrix and talk about the late 1960s*. But I’m going to go further back, to the Port Huron Statement, founding document of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) – a document that captured my imagination when I was an undergraduate, and played a small role in beginning my relationship with my wife.

This was the document that took the American left away from communism. It’s worth reading all of it (bearing in mind that it was written by university students, so it isn’t entirely devoid of self-importance and bombast), but I’ll just quote one bit from their vision for America’s future:

The economic sphere would have as its basis the principles:

  • that work should involve incentives worthier than money or survival. It should be educative, not stultifying; creative, not mechanical; self-directed, not manipulated, encouraging independence; a respect for others, a sense of dignity and a willingness to accept social responsibility, since it is this experience that has crucial influence on habits, perceptions and individual ethics;
  • that the economic experience is so personally decisive that the individual must share in its full determination;
  • that the economy itself is of such social importance that its major resources and means of production should be open to democratic participation and subject to democratic social regulation.
  • Well, things haven’t quite panned out that way so far – but it still sounds pretty good to me.

    *For an excellent account of student movements around the world (particularly the atrocities in Mexico, which I’d known nothing about), read Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year that Rocked the World

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    Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

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