History

The Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship integrates two rich histories and initiatives in civic engagement and democracy building in a vibrant center with local, regional, national, and international reach.

The former Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning at Augsburg College included a constellation of programs and themes that honor the legacy of Congressman Martin Olav Sabo ’59. These included public and community service, service learning, public policy, deliberative practices, urban debate, and community development work. The Sabo Center was founded on lessons that come from Representative Sabo’s work, focused on the role and character of citizenship in a vibrant democracy:

  • Civic engagement is a result of good citizenship
  • Successful political process depends on deliberative practice
  • Political leadership is a vocation in democracy
  • The art of politics is about how to get things done
  • Good decisions should be guided by values

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship, which moved in 2009 from the Humphrey School (then Institute) of Public Affairs to Augsburg, has roots in the Citizenship Education Program of the southern civil rights movement (which founder Harry Boyte participated in as a college student). The former director of the Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning, Nan Skelton—who pioneered a number of policies as former Assistant Commissioner of Education in Minnesota during the administration of Governor Rudy Perpich—brought rich educational and organizational experiences to the Center.

The Center’s conceptual framework

The Center launched the international youth civic education initiative, Public Achievement, in 1990, drawing upon:

  • The tradition of citizenship schools in the civil rights movement
  • The Jane Addams School for Democracy—a partnership made with new immigrants based on recognizing the tremendous talents and cultural contributions immigrants make to an evolving democracy
  • A number of initiatives that revitalize the democratic narrative and purposes of higher education

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship’s conceptual framework of citizenship as public work is widely recognized across the world as a conceptual advance in democratic theory and practice. The public work approach emphasizes that every career—a business owner, nurse, scientist, teacher, IT entrepreneur, and others—can be a “citizen professional” who contributes to the well-being of communities and the society.

At Augsburg College, public work has become integrated into a number of departments, including education and nursing. A number of students and faculty are involved in Public Achievement, which has been adopted by universities across the United States and by partners around the world including Japan, Northern Ireland, Poland and Eastern Europe, Gaza and the West Bank, Israel, and South Africa.