The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College
The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College


Fall Conference 2013

Thinking Challenge

2013-2014 Essay Contest Co-Sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement

Thinking Challenge
QUESTION:  What is it with youth today? Are they disengaged bystanders in the midst of a “civic recession,” active citizens with new understandings of citizenship, or something entirely different? Should education aim to form publically-spirited citizens? In what ways could/should education encourage youth engagement?

Consider the following:Each essay contest participant has his or her own understanding on the question of youth engagement today. Participants can consider the questions posed by the Arendt Center Fall Conference when responding of provide their own unique perspective.

The 2013-14 Essay Contest reflects on questions related to youth engagement; a topic being discussed at this year's Hannah Arendt Center Fall Conference, titled "Failing Fast: the Educated Citizen in Crisis" which asks if we can re-invigorate the cultural and educational institutions that have nurtured public-spiritedness.  Participants in this year's essay contest can explore questions posed at the conference when addressing the essay contest prompt.  Conference talks and materials can be found on the Arendt Center website.

Against politics in its basest form, Arendt saw education as “the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” The educator must love the world and believe in it if he is to introduce young people to a world worthy of respect. In this sense, education is conservative—it conserves the world as it has been given. But education is also revolutionary, insofar as teachers must realize that the young people they nurture are newcomers whose fate is to change the world. Arendt argued that teachers must humbly teach what is; in this way they prepare students to transform what is into what might be.

Arendt shares Ralph Waldo Emerson's view that “He only who is able to stand alone is qualified for society.” Emerson’s imperative of self-reliance resonates with Arendt’s imperative to think for oneself.

Participants may want to consider the following: in an increasingly global world, do we need a common public language?  What, in the 21st century, is an educated citizen, and what role should/do educational institutions play in educating citizens? What knowledge and skills should politically involved citizens seek? What, in the 21st century, is an educated citizen? Are our educational institutions failing us?  

In the early years of America's republican experiment, the American yeoman farmer participated in Town Hall meetings. Today, few American's have the experience or the desire to govern. The old ideal of the citizen democracy seems to be in crisis.  However, movements like the Arab Spring, which were largely youth oriented, tell a different story about youth engagement in politics.  Can we point to new forms of engagement that might redefine youth as political activists and redefine public-spiritedness outside traditional forms of civic engagement?


Submit a 1,500-word essay or a two- to four-minute multimedia piece that addresses the following: are youth today "political dropouts"?  Are they disengaged bystanders or active citizens with a new understanding of citizenship, or something entirely different? In what ways could/should education encourage youth engagement?

Three first-place winners will be chosen along with honorable mentions from Bard’s network institutions.

Successful submissions will include:

  • Creativity: a departure from arguments that use clichés about citizenship with a focus on innovative approaches to the question
  • Quality of Presentation: readable, viewable, thoughtful and clear

Student submissions are encouraged from the Bard network of institutions, including: Al-Quds/Bard Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences; American University of Central Asia; Bard in Berlin; Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson); Bard College at Simon’s Rock; Bard High School Early Colleges (Manhattan, Queens, Newark); Bard Early College of New Orleans; Bard Prison Initiative campuses; Smolny College/Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University; and our other partners.

For questions regarding the contest contact CCE Associate Director Erin Cannan at
WinnersThree first-place winners will be chosen.
  • Each first-place winner will win $500 and the opportunity to attend an international student conference where they will present their essays.
  • An honorable mention award of $50 will be given to the best submission from each Bard network institution.
  • Each first-place winner will receive a Bard Center for Civic Engagement Excellence Award.
  • All winners and honorable mentions will have their entries featured on the Center for Civic Engagement website.
  • DeadlineFriday,  November 15, 2013 at 11:59 p.m.CLICK HERE FOR THE ESSAY SUBMISSION FORM.