"Educating Nomads: Narratives and the Future of Civic Education." A paper prepared for delivery at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place and Sheraton Boston Hotel and Towers, September 3-6, 1998.



Abstract: The concern for civic education has re-entered the mainstream agenda of American political science. The primary task is to consider what should be done to "reach" the next generation of students. Most efforts in this regard have operated under the assumption that students of the future will be like students of the past. Based on this view, the problem is most often regarded as a matter of selecting an effective way to disseminate relevant knowledge.
In this paper I argue for operating on a different set of assumptions, i.e. that we need to take seriously the emergence of the new worldview among students growing up in the age of the personal computer and other new technologies. Put briefly, how do we prepare ourselves for educating what Marshall McLuhan called the "nomadic gatherers of knowledge" who are the citizens of tomorrow?
To meet this challenge, we must rethink the very nature of what civic education entails. Rather than viewing it as the training and "informing" of more rational voters and community activists, we need to think of civic education as the cultivation of a relevant "narrative" that will engage students in American civic life.
After presenting a brief and speculative characterization of the "nomadic student," I offer a brief overview of the role played by different civic education narratives over the past two centuries. Finally, I consider how we might approach developing a civic education narrative of the future, and what the implications of the narrative shift might be for those of us who will be engaged in "educating nomads."