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Searching for a Praxis of Possibility: Civic Engagement and the Corporatized University

This dissertation addresses the questions: What is the impact of neoliberal education on the development of civic identity in college students? What are the limitations and the potential of service-learning to support students to become agents of change within the context of neoliberal education and corporate education reform? How do the students navigate the complexity of the development of their civic identities within this context and to what extent do they either challenge or reproduce (or both) existing social and political structures and develop the skills they need to enact their vision of change? In a climate of increasing corporatization and standardization of education that continues to more narrowly define what it means to teach and learn across the K-16 spectrum, the future of democracy demands an exploration of what kinds of civic actors such a system is producing. Employing an ethnographic sensibility, I examine the trajectories of students in the Citizen Scholars Program at UMass-Amherst (a five course, service based academic leadership program) as they navigate their learning and development as civic actors over the course of two years. I explore themes that emerge in the areas of community, pedagogy, and civic & social selves, and within these examine where the program appears to succeed in helping students to vision change, where it falls short - and how it might better support students to act and to discover a praxis of possibility. In addition, I offer more general recommendations on best practices for effective civic education in the era of neoliberal education reform.
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