Story Stream
recent articles

“The teaching of civics and American history must be framed as a welcome to all who would seek to be engaged citizens,” says Pete Peterson, dean of The Pepperdine School of Public Policy (SPP). Civic education, he notes, should produce “humble and passionate citizens who take seriously their political and civic responsibilities throughout their lives.”

Rather than seeing the American Founding as irredeemably corrupt, as some critics do today, Peterson agrees with leaders of the civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who conceived of our founding principles as “ideals to be realized.”

Based at Pepperdine, one of “America’s leading Christian institutions,” the SPP prepares future leaders, Peterson says, “through a curriculum that balances ‘Great Books’ coursework in history and philosophy with the latest methods of policy analysis” – essentially a “graduate civics education.” Graduates will be able “to quantitatively evaluate a policy proposal” and situate it within historical circumstances, which is why SPP offers core classes such as “Great Books in Ethical Leadership” and “Roots of American Order.”

The SPP offers a two-year Master of Public Policy program, which famed social scientist James Q. Wilson was instrumental in starting, as well as three joint M.A. degrees. Its Washington, D.C. program features events and opportunities to receive a professional certificate. The D.C. Scholars Policy Program offers four-week seminars hosted at Pepperdine’s Foggy Bottom campus, where up to 20 scholars learn from seasoned policy experts.

Citing Alexander Hamilton’s dictum in “Federalist 1” that republican government is founded upon “reflection and choice,” Peterson suggests that civics should be taught by conducting a conversation where citizens can “discuss topics of policy and politics in a civil way.”

He notes that the SPP prides itself on its “holistic approach” to education through “its commitment to viewpoint diversity – both inside the classroom and through our events.” These virtues drew Peterson to the program when he was a student 15 years ago. “Conservative and liberal students are both welcomed and challenged here,” he notes, “and are taught the critical thinking skills they need to explore another’s perspective as they examine their own.”

“With our emphasis on small class sizes and seminar-style classes, students learn the skills of persuasion and civil discourse even as they discuss today’s most divisive political issues,” Peterson continues.

He says that since opening its doors in the fall of 1997, the program has produced more than 1,000 graduates, many serving around the world in all levels of government and in nonprofit and policy-related business sectors.

The cornerstone of the SPP’s civic education efforts for the public is its Project on Civics Education through Primary Texts, a program founded by long-time professor Gordon Lloyd that explores key topics such as the American Founding, the Constitutional Convention, and the New Deal. The program features copious links to primary texts, grouped into six areas of study. According to Lloyd, the program’s purpose is not to instill a deep nostalgia for the past but to consider today’s political discussions in light of “fundamental conversations about human nature, the role of the citizen, and the role of governing institutions.”

Other efforts include The American Project, which looks at the history of the political Right through conferences, hosting notable speakers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Glenn Loury, and publishing an ongoing series of essays at RealClearPolicy “guided by the conviction that by getting back to first political principles we can better understand and respond to our present political moment.”

The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership works to engage California residents in policy decisions that directly affect them, and “The Pepperdine Policy Review” publishes essays, op-eds, and book reviews by top students. The SPP also highlights books written by faculty members such as Lloyd, Ted McAllister, and the late Bruce Herschensohn, as well as working papers.

The Education Policy and Impact initiative gives future policymakers the knowledge and skills needed to reform America’s schools. And the Homeland Security Advisory Council program provides important training and coursework in crisis management and disaster-response fields to current and future leaders.

In early 2022, Peterson says, the SPP will launch the Master of Public Policy and Leadership, a new online degree program for mid-career students.

Under Peterson’s leadership, The Pepperdine School of Public Policy continues to mold responsible, patriotic public servants.

Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.