Preparing College Students for Democratic Citizenship Through Deliberative Dialogue

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 19–20, 2010

Howard University
Washington, D.C.

This article submission, based on proceedings as presented during the breakout session by Dr. Andrea Montgomery, Dean, Division of Humanities, at Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi, is entitled, “Preparing College Students for Democratic Citizenship through Deliberative Dialogue.” Such a discussion may become pedagogical in nature and answers the following: “In the liberal arts tradition, how do we awaken intellectual excitement, challenge assumptions, and foster new ways of understanding the world?”

The challenges of providing a quality education in higher education have never been greater. Global citizenship has become as close as the neighbor next door. It is incumbent upon institutions of higher education to prepare this and future generations for such a time and place. Within the liberal arts tradition, we explore the disciplines of study which strive to educate the whole person, not only preparing students for a specific profession, but for life itself, for the moral, intellectual, social, civic, and spiritual growth that accompany a life well lived. An education grounded in the liberal arts extends to an investigation into the central human questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my responsibility to God, to other individuals, to the ever present community? Liberal education becomes preparation for the demands of contemporary society.

Ideas and pedagogical strategies by which to achieve the aforementioned outcomes suggest a paradigm shift in higher education classroom pedagogy and campus-wide interaction. This paradigm shift has been labeled “deliberative dialogue” through the process of “deliberation.” Liberal arts schools provide a comfortable environment for deliberative democracy through deliberative dialogue. The concept of deliberation, as a method of increasing student civic engagement has gained standing. With regard to higher education, deliberation has been considered as a classroom tool (Campbell, 2005; Doble, Peng, Frank, and Salim, 1999; Ervin, 1997); a method of campus wide communication (Mallory, and Thomas, 2003; Schoem and Hurtado, 2002); and as a means of promoting interaction with communities (Brisbin and Hunter, 2003; Murphy, 2004). As a classroom tool, deliberation provides a means of exposing students to important civic knowledge, skills, and experiences needed for citizenship. It teaches them to examine evidence critically, to be able to see the world through multiple viewpoints, to step into others’ shoes; and to make connections and see patterns (Howell, 2002).

During the process of deliberation whether campus-wide or within the classroom, students are encouraged to consider a diversity of perspectives surrounding a predetermined framed topic, approach, or expected outcome. Students develop a habit of listening, and carefully weigh the gains, advantages, disadvantages, or tradeoffs. The imagined outcome of this exercise is the acquisition of the discipline to keep an open mind, the capacity to accept change, and the ability to make decisions with others. Deliberation is not the usual pro/con debate. Instead, deliberation is an engaging effort to consider all alternatives, weigh the competing values at stake in each option, and think about the trade-offs involved in different choices, while searching for common ground on the issue. Students are taught to balance speaking and listening. The classroom becomes active and participatory. Information is transferred across disciplinary content boundaries with connections between the classroom and the real world. This presentation supports deliberative dialogue as a cornerstone, reconnecting and revitalizing higher education for larger democratic purposes.


Brisbin, R. A. and S. Hunter. (2003). Community leaders’ perceptions of university and college efforts to encourage civic engagement. Review of Higher Education, 26: 467-468.

Campbell, D. E. (2005). Voice in the classroom: How an open classroom environment facilitates adolescents’ civic development. CIRCLE working paper, 28.

Harriger, K. J., & McMillan, J. J. (2008). Contexts for deliberation: experimenting with democracy in the classroom, on campus, and in the community. In J. R. Dedrick, L. Grattan, & H. Dienstfrey (Eds.), Deliberation and the work of higher education: innovations for the classroom, the campus, and the community. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation.

Howell, C. L. (2002). Reforming higher education curriculum to emphasize student responsibility. College Teaching, 50: 116-118.

Murphy, T.A. 2004. Deliberative education and civil society: A consideration of ideals and actualities in democracy and communication education. Communication Education, 53(1): 74-91.

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2011: Engaging Students in the Community and the World