To provide undergraduate and graduate students at Arizona State University with the foundation to succeed as lifelong learners and future leaders in political, economic and social life. Our degrees and academic programs blend transdisciplinary study of the liberal arts and classic texts with examination of American ideas, institutions, and civic culture; experiential learning in leadership and civic affairs; and the practice of civil discourse. SCETL also provides civic programming for the broader community and supports renewal of K-12 civic education.
Founding mission statement
By Professor Harvey Mansfield
SCETL's board member and William R. Kenan Jr. professor of Government at Harvard
"A new school in Arizona State University should say why it exists and what it will do. Universities in America today live in an atmosphere of a certain conformity of opinion and suffer from an obvious lack of debate. Often there seems to be more open and vigorous debate in American society and politics than where one should expect it, in the American university. Yet the solution is not to bring in more politics and greater contention from outside, thus disturbing the peace necessary in a university for study and scholarly inquiry.
This school seeks to introduce a new level of debate over the large questions of life that always arise. These are questions of value: What is the best form of government? The most efficient and just economy? The good life for an individual? And also basic questions of fact and concept: Is science the only kind of knowledge? Does history have a direction and purpose? Is moral choice a fact or delusion?
These questions do not have easy answers, and indeed the questions have always been clearer than the answers. As a learning community of faculty and students, this school will approach them in two ways. One way is to look beyond the time and borders of our present society to the great thinkers who have contended for the high status of teachers of humanity. Some, like Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, are known as literature; others, like Plato, Marx and Nietzsche, known as philosophy. Both poets and philosophers make us aware that our way of life is not the only way, and they combine to teach us how our way is distinctive and how we ought to judge it.
The other way of studying the fundamental questions is to look within ourselves to the American leaders, both intellectual and political, who have inspired us. Here we turn from the human task of thinking for oneself to the civic vocation of contributing to our common life. As citizens our students face the responsibilities of the nation and the world that will be theirs when their time to lead arrives. We need to know what principles and institutions have made us Americans and whether they need to be reformed or reasserted.
Since America was founded on certain ideas rather than a single race or nation, we need to see what those founding ideas were. We need to see how they have guided our people to live, and how we have changed, for better and worse. Ours is the most thorough and enduring democratic society in history, and yet we debate its faults. We need to see how the ideas of the Founding Fathers were both invoked and reformed through the succession of leaders after them: by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan – and let’s not forget Mercy Warren, Abigail Adams, Edith Wharton and Betty Friedan. Nor can we fail to mention the two greatest books on America – The Federalist and Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
In sum, our new school looks outward to humanity and inward to America. Its ambition is to teach critical minds and to puncture complacency – and it tries to be both proud of genuine greatness and humble about human imperfection."