Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Citizen Scholars
AL 210 Course
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Course Overview

AL 210 will include a common basis and a particular focus. The common basis shared by all sections over all semesters covers the nature of democracy, dialogue, dissent, citizenship, justice, critique on the more conceptual level. The particular focus for each section is determined by each instructor who selects a social, cultural, or political problem to use to illustrate and practice deliberation, engagement, and critique. 

For the common basis among all courses, faculty will draw from a set of recommended sources drawn from various CAL disciplines (departments as well as interdisciplinary programs).  While there are no universally required readings, faculty will be able to draw from a set of sources related to one basic theme of the course: democratic deliberation in general and its relation to citizenship, engagement, participation, justice, and critique.  Sources will include essays, novels, poems, religious writings, plays, works of art, film, historical analysis, philosophy, political theory, and others. This list of sources will be drawn up in cooperation with faculty planning the Citizen-Scholar program and faculty planning to teach in it.  Sources reflecting international cultural diversity will be recommended at least by faculty in the language departments; sources reflecting national cultural diversity will be recommended by all faculty.

Faculty teaching the course have leeway to choose a particular focus that involves social, economic, cultural, or political justice and that also reflects various modes of participation in democratic deliberation and decision-making broadly construed.  Faculty will structure the course around the particular focus selected.  Examples might include: prison reform, women in India, food security, religion in public life, climate change, indigenous community rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc. The focus can range from a very specific problem to a more abstract aspect of social, economic, cultural, or political justice, provided that it allows for examination and engagement with participation and democratic deliberation in identifying, illuminating, or resolving the issue. 


Course Parameters

1. The course must include “a significant emphasis on writing, with opportunities for peer-review, instructor-provided feedback, and some level of revision.”  IAH also has a focus on  “writing to learn” rather than “learning to write”.

  • AL 210 will include opportunities for writing.  Instructors can specify writing assignments, but it is expected that projects (a), (b), and (e) will have significant writing and projects (c) and (d) some writing.

2. The course must be united by a question/problem.

  • The common theme for AL 210 is “The way that arts and humanities can contribute to solving social, cultural, and political problems through various modes of participation and engagement by diverse groups in democratic discourse broadly understood to include political debate, public discourse, critique, protest, dissent, and artistic expression”   

3. The course must include multiple disciplinary perspectives with texts/sources from multiple genres and media, and use mostly primary sources which reflect the diversity of human experience.

  • Faculty teaching AL 210 are allowed to determine precisely which disciplinary perspectives to include, but as with any IAH course there must be a variety and the course cannot be a disciplinary course.  Primary sources are stressed. Faculty should include diversity in sources.

4. The course must include historical context.

  • AL 210 includes a specific project on the historical context of the section focus.  The common basis of the course will also stress historical, cultural, social, and economic factors that have created modern democratic systems.

5. The course must be culturally diverse in organization and materials.

  • AL 210 will include concerns of diverse groups and communities within the US and in the world. The common basis of the course will include the perspectives of various communities toward the successes and failures of democratic political systems. 

Core Projects

These five projects are listed in the rough suggested order a faculty member might employ them during the semester.  No particular order is required. Faculty can determine whether any should be group or individual projects. These do not exclude other assignments or projects.  They might overlap.  Engagement is not a specific requirement in the course but remains as an option in (c).  The program as a whole includes engagement and service but this course is more the theoretical and practical preparation for engagement.

  1. A project on theories of democratic deliberation broadly understood. Students will have to learn, integrate, critique, and assess various approaches to democratic deliberation and civic participation. Could be a paper, presentation, or similar assignment.  This project reflects the common basis of the course for all sections.
  2. A primary source project on an historical instance or example related to the specific focus of the section. This could include research beyond the course materials or be restricted to primary sources identified by the faculty or on the syllabus.
  3. A project that looks at contemporary ways that individuals or groups are approaching the focus of the section.  This could, for some foci, involve observation of and research on a local community or campus organization involved in engaged work related to the course focus. For other foci that do not have local connections, this could be a more distant look at communities or individuals participating in the issue in some way, e.g. web presence, media or public activism. 
  4. A creative activity in which the student enters into the debate about the focus through an artistic work.  This could be any kind of creative artistic work – a short film, a poem, a performance, a visual image, a poster, a short story, etc. The purpose of this assignment is have students engage in artistic endeavors rather than traditional essays.
  5. A project that ties the student’s intended major to engagement with the focus.  The student might be asked to explain how the intended major contributes to democratic resolution of the problem. For example, the student might discuss disciplinary output (e.g. a novel, a film), or the skills one learns through the liberal arts (e.g. collaboration, cultural understanding, communication, critical thinking), or do a profile of a current or past individual working within the arts and humanities who contributed to the issue.