Professor Shaiko on “Who Is Responsible for Responsible Citizenship? Phronetic Learning and the Quest for Practical Wisdom”

On Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020, students and community members gathered virtually to attend the latest Rocky Watch event. The series of public policy broadcasts welcomed Professor Ronald Shaiko, a Senior Fellow and the Associate Director for Curricular and Research Programs at The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, in a lecture entitled, “Who Is Responsible for Responsible Citizenship? Phronetic Learning and the Quest for Practical Learning.”

Professor Shaiko’s main argument focused on the gap between the mission statements of higher learning institutions and the actual commitments to these claims. As he noted on Wednesday, it seems to be expected that, “by breathing the air in Palo Alto you will come out a responsible citizen.” Professor Shaiko challenges this notion and proposes that the nation’s top colleges and universities need to forge a path toward practical wisdom, that goes beyond simply disseminating knowledge to students. 

Over three decades of teaching have culminated in a 3-course sequence that Professor Shaiko uses to implement “phronetic learning,” or practical wisdom. This sequence begins with Civil Literacy (Public Policy 15), then moves to Civic Skills (Public Policy 45), and finishes with Civic Responsibility (Public Policy 51). 

The main difference that separates this sequence from traditional education is Professor Shaiko’s focus on applying learned tools to real-world scenarios. To do this, Professor Shaiko focuses on a variety of interdependent skills: imagination, team building, empathy, detachment, trust and commitment, and reflection. These skills all reflect the importance of placing yourself in the shoes of others and exchanging information with the outside world. 

Professor Shaiko’s intention is to instill a commitment to responsible citizenry into his students that will go beyond the classroom and last a lifetime. He proposes a challenge to his students each year; “if by the age of 40, you’re not serving on a non-profit board, or running your child’s boy scouts or girl scouts, that you’re not serving on city council or on the zoning board, and you come back to the 20th reunion - I am going to be very unhappy.” 

Professor Shaiko concluded, “if we aren’t creating responsible citizens, then we need to take it out of our mission statements.” The nation’s top colleges and universities need to rise to their own standards and place more importance on the creation of responsible citizens. 

-Written by Sydney Towle ’22, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

Rocky Talk Podcast w/ Professor Ron Shaiko: Apple Podcasts and Spotify.