This essay argues that higher education, the authoritative knowledge institution of the age, is a source of growing divisions in the country and also of the dominant theory of power as controlling, politics as partisan warfare, and democracy as customer service. Turning John Dewey’s dictum that “education is the midwife of democracy” upside down, higher education trains professionals in every arena to see fellow citizens as clients and consumers to be acted upon, not cocreators of a common life. If higher education feeds the problem, its civic reconstruction is essential for remedy. Such reconstruction needs to draw upon and adapt older understandings of power as “poder,” the capacity to act; politics as cross-partisan, negotiating the differences and pluralities of a common life; and democracy as the work of an inclusive “we the people” building a better version of that common life. In such a framework, higher education becomes a genuine commons, a site and catalyst of public resources cocreated and sustained by multiple stakeholders.

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