October 16, 2008 Your Monthly Source of Community Service-Learning News VOL.6, NO. 2

Teaching for Political Engagement

By Dr. Patrick Doyle, Asst. Professor, College of Agriculture, CSU Chico

Communities thrive under the principle of political engagement; it is the core of democracy. Just about every aspect of our daily lives is touched by politics -- and agriculture is no different; it is a politically-charged sector of the US economy. Its success depends on effective policy development, requiring informed policy makers and constituents. That is where my interest in the California Campus Compact-Carnegie Foundation Faculty Fellows program started. I’ve been teaching a course in agricultural issues (AGRI 482) for sometime now for Chico State’s College of Agriculture. The course curriculum lends itself well to political engagement due to its mission of promoting the critical evaluation of major issues facing agriculture such as water, land, animal welfare, and food safety. The incorporation of political engagement into student learning has been and continues to be a work in progress. Keeping political engagement learning unbiased has been the greatest challenge for everyone involved, from students, community partners, to myself.  Political engagement by nature is biased. Humans are creatures of opinions and perceptions; those opinions drive daily decisions. The objectives of the course challenge students to take a look at agricultural issues outside of their own beliefs and opinions. To overcome this challenge of bias, I’ve had a paradigm shift. Teaching for political engagement is really about informing our future leaders and civic participants about political access points, ways and where to get involved if they so choose. These political access points, I believe, are keys to getting future generations involved. All too often I hear from someone, “I want to get involved but don’t know where to go or how to even get started.”  I’ve tried answering this question through projects that include researching an issue, presenting the issue, and identifying people, associations, and other means of getting involved if a student so chooses. .We’ve developed brochures to share with others and featured guest speakers as another means to introduce access points. Some of my greatest successes involve the guest speakers who have shared their histories and career paths, in becoming politically engaged.  Through these speakers, like Farm Team, students learn about opportunities that exist to become politically involved, such as letter writing campaigns, working on politically-charged issues, and even visiting government representatives. This spring, students will be given an opportunity to spend a day with state officials and agricultural organizations on the forefront of political issues facing agriculture. Many of our graduates will go on to become active participants in the political process. Agriculture is politically charged by nature.  By providing these experiences and exposing them to these political access points, our students will be better prepared to contribute thoughtfully and effectively in public policy when called upon to do so.

On a more personal note, the California Campus Compact-Carnegie Foundation Faculty Fellows program has allowed me to grow as an educator.  The time spent discussing teaching pedagogy with other fellows is priceless, and both my students and I are better for it.


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