and biology labs, students could learn how to
test the local drinking water, soil samplings and
other evaluations leading to online public reports
that benefit the community. The lead calamity in
Flint, Michigan, could have been flagged earlier
under this kind of functional education.
Within social science courses, congressional
lawmakers could have their real-time performance analyzed for the benefit of the students’
civic maturity and that of the citizenry. Call it
Congress 101—a recurring report to the people.
Similar evaluations could be made of important
executive branch agencies at the local or state levels.
Traditional course work can be greatly enriched,
at little or no cost, with experiential learning that
makes these students wiser consumers, and more
knowledgeable about their roles as stronger workers, taxpayers and voters.
Our casebook, Civics for Democracy: A Journey
for Teachers and Students (1992), demonstrates that
there is no incompatibility between this knowledge
and traditional pedagogy. My urgings regarding
dual purpose were well received at community
colleges, but bureaucratic rigidities prevailed. My
brother’s belief as a small businessman was that
such knowledge is a seamless web and that a good
democracy and good economy go hand in hand.
The western campus of Cuyahoga
Community College in Ohio did adopt this
course for civic skills. The instructor was the
prime mover. He motivated greatly the students
and took them on a field trip to Washington.
Alas, the course lapsed when the teacher left to
take another position.
As Democratizing America narrates, Shaf Nader,
while serving in the late 1960s as the American
Association of Junior Colleges’ associate director of
developing institutions, envisioned broad exten-
sions of community colleges, including evening
adult civic education courses and using new
technology with old democratic values. He saw
the college as both a stabilizing presence and a
source of self-renewal for the community, including
constant feedback between the two arenas. He
wanted more of these colleges to have their own
media—then radio, television and cable stations.
He even foresaw the internet’s possibilities
and broadband access being a public utility
linked to every home like the telephone and
electric circuits. All these and other innovations
he knew required far-seeing planning by college
leaders, faculty and outstanding students. He
wanted them to insist on academic freedom
from any pressing interests compromising the
best of education.
A confident community college contributes to
a receptive community and receives benefits and
support in return. Such an educational climate
brings out the best from more people as forthright
conversations replace self-censorship.
Shaf Nader practiced what he preached and
for that the larger community in northwest
Connecticut continues to receive the benefits of
an expanding campus. Northwestern Connecticut
Community College is rated number one among
that state’s community colleges. Another example
in American history of how one visionary person
can make a lasting practical difference.
Democratizing America is available at www.interlinkbooks.com. Frank
Mensel of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa says, “The book is prime reading for every community college
professional and every graduate student in higher education and a must for
all pursuing community college careers.”
The founders and early days
of Northwestern Connecticut
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2017 | 13 AACC.NCHE.EDU
“In an era of community breakdowns—signaled by too few people showing up at
town meetings, at the polls or running for or monitoring their own governments—
the community college is a natural institution to reverse this slide.”
Ralph Nader, founder, Center for Study of Responsive Law