(Dayton, OH) Edgar S. Cahn has been trying to improve the relationship between citizens and governments since 1964, when, as executive assistant to Sargent Shriver, he helped to implement the mandate to achieve the “maximum feasible participation” of the poor in anti-poverty programs. Later he founded the Citizens’ Advocate Center and co-founded the Antioch School of Law, helping to invent clinical law programs. And now, to illustrate his new book No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production Imperative (which I haven’t read), he has produced this great claymation video on engaging citizens. (I believe the metaphor of squares and blobs, referring to formal organizations and loose citizen groups, originated at the Kettering Foundation, which I am visiting today.)
(Dayton, OH) Edgar S. Cahn has been trying to improve the relationship between citizens and governments since 1964, when, as executive assistant to Sargent Shriver, he helped to implement the [...]
On a flight to Philadelphia, I am reading the secret documents from ALEC (the American Legislative Affairs Council) leaked to the Guardian. Although they contain some juicy details about declining [...]
On a flight to Philadelphia, I am reading the secret documents from ALEC (the American Legislative Affairs Council) leaked to the Guardian. Although they contain some juicy details about declining membership and internal controversies, I find some critical interpretations of these documents a bit overblown. For instance, ALEC will require its state chairs–who are also legislators–to pledge: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.” This is being treated as evidence that ALEC’s state chairs must put ALEC before their own constituents and consciences. To me, it just sounds like boilerplate.
But the documents do give a window into money and politics. Consider that:
Businesses have common interests in lower taxes and weaker regulation. But they face a Prisoner’s Dilemma collective-action problem. Generic “business-friendly” legislation benefits them all (a bit), yet fighting for such legislation costs each firm money and reputation.
The solution is one organization that collects dues from many members and acts in their common interest. But …
Members will be tempted to leave if their narrow interests aren’t prominent enough in the collective agenda. The internal documents show that Coventry Health Care dropped ALEC because it had “joined for a single issue” (presumably health insurance) and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals may have left “because only interested in diabetes related issue.”
By Robert Michels “Iron Law of Oligarchy,” any coalition will be taken over by a relatively zealous few with passionate commitments to ideological values. Dana Milbank writes, “When I first dealt with ALEC as a state government reporter 18 years ago, it was right of center but known for thoughtful policy research. But it has since adopted an aggressive agenda to pass legislation expanding gun rights and voter-identification requirements, and limit the reach of public-employee unions, social-welfare programs, consumer and environmental protections, and Obamacare.” Not all these issues are in the economic interest of corporate backers, and some have left as a result. The ALEC documents specifically note that many financial services companies left the coalition “Due to controversy.”
Further, ideological disputes may divide potential supporters. The Solar Industries Association “left [ALEC] because their bill did not pass the task force.” (I’ll bet their self-interest in federal support for renewable energy met ideological opposition within ALEC.) The Pioneer Institute was “kicked out of ALEC (?) because of education issue.” Pioneer opposes the Common Core standards on principled grounds that I don’t happen to share, although I respect them. But ALEC supports the Common Core, which has business backing. So ALEC expelled Pioneer.
A coalition can operate more effectively in secret, because members can solve some of their collective-action problems through private negotiations. For instance, if a bank agrees to support conservative social legislation in return for deregulatory policies, that will look terrible. But if such a deal can be arranged privately, it may work. Hence ALEC’s tradition of private meetings.
Even so, the collective-action problems are tricky, and the organization is vulnerable to rules imposed from outside. For instance, according to the documents, “ALEC does not wish to be perceived as a lobbying organization and therefore does not wish to register as a lobbyist in any state.” To register as a lobbyist would bring criticism on its corporate members and trigger disclosure requirements. This means that stronger campaign-finance and lobby-disclosure laws might hamper ALEC somewhat.
In any case, a business coalition that spends more than $1 million on its own staff’s salaries must consider the odds of raising money for any given cause. ALEC’s documents indicate that it is considering working on Native American Tribal Issues, but “there may be little to no private funding for this issue.” It is also considering issues that affect travel and tourism, but “individual companies that join will very susceptible to dropping ALEC if there is public pressure.” (Presumably, tourist industries rely on discretionary consumer choices and could alienate customers easily.)
There can even be such a thing as too much money. The documents suggest that ALEC is a little wary of advocating on behalf of casinos, because “according to Opensecrets.org, the gaming industry contributed directly over $64 million in the 2012 elections and $32 million lobbying expenses. … This industry could potentially out fund other industries at ALEC.”
(By the way, I love the irony that ALEC consults opensecrets.org–a good-government watchdog group–to fine-tune its own lobbying agenda, but it does not disclose any of its own activity as either campaigning or lobbying.)
Although I have itemized some challenges confronting industry when it attempts to influence government, the challenges are much worse for, say, homeless people or poor families. So none of the above is meant to suggest that the political system is fair. The ALEC documents still offer interesting insights into our political economy.
These are some notes for a presentation I will make later today at the New England Association of Schools & Colleges conference. NEASC is one of the six regional accrediting [...]
These are some notes for a presentation I will make later today at the New England Association of Schools & Colleges conference. NEASC is one of the six regional accrediting associations in the US. It works by “developing and applying standards, assessing the educational effectiveness of pre-school, elementary, middle, secondary, and postsecondary educational institutions.”
As measurement and accountability have become more important at all levels of education (from pre-K to graduate school), the measurement of civic outcomes has generally been forgotten. It is not clear that civic education has been dropped as a result. All states still have some kind of civic education requirement at the k-12 level. Most colleges still have programs that emphasize service or activism. However, levels of attention, innovation, and investment have clearly suffered because we do not measure civics very seriously.
Measuring anything valuable and complicated is a challenge, and trying to improve any form of education by imposing measures from the outside is always somewhat problematic. But measuring civic education raises special challenges:
- Civic engagement is intrinsically interpersonal. Being a citizen means relating to other citizens and to institutions. Measures of individual civic performance (such as multiple-choice tests, essays, or surveys of individual behavior) may miss the point altogether.
- Citizens engage on current issues that are often local. That means that the topics of their engagement vary and change rapidly. Standardized tests of civics–simply because they are standardized–must emphasize abstract and perennial questions (such as the US Constitution) and omit equally important current and local matters.
- Civic engagement can be either good or very bad, depending on the means, methods and objectives of the participants. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” But Mussolini and his fellow fascists started as a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens. They changed the world for the worse. Measures of activity or impact that are value-free fail to distinguish between fascists and Freedom Riders.
- In many fields, we can decide what students should learn by assessing whether they are prepared to succeed in their chosen profession or in the labor market more generally. For instance, good engineering education makes good engineers, and good engineers are those who succeed in engineering jobs. Likewise, good citizens succeed in democracy and civil society. But what “success” as a citizen means is controversial. That is what radicals, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, patriots, cosmopolitans, Greens, and others argue about: what we owe to each other (and to nature and future generations) and how we should relate to the community and the state.
- When assessing education overall, it makes sense to ask whether it enhances the long-term well-being of the students, which can be measured in terms of earnings, health, or psychological flourishing. Some evidence suggests that being an engaged citizen boosts such outcomes. For instance, being able to define and address problems with peers is a civic skill that can also pay off in the labor market. Contributing to your community can make you happier. But the relationship between being an excellent citizen and flourishing as an individual is complex. In his great book Freedom Summer, Doug McAdam shows that the volunteers paid a severe personal price for their efforts to register Black voters in Mississippi in 1963. They were worse off than a comparison group in terms of happiness, career success, and health ten years later. That is no argument against the Freedom Summer program, which wasn’t meant for their benefit. It was one part of a glorious struggle against Jim Crow. To measure it in terms of the developmental benefits for the participants would have been a travesty.
I think it’s essential to measure civic education in an era of assessment and accountability–if only so that educators and students can track their own progress. Assessments must be interactive, not private and individual. Evaluation must consider ethics and values; it is not enough to act or to affect the world–you have to make it better. The question of what to measure is somewhat controversial because it relates to questions about what kind of society we should have. But there is a lot of common ground and room for compromise. In any event, we should decide what makes a good citizen not by asking what skills pay off in the marketplace or what civic activities boost students’ welfare. We must start with a theory of the good democratic society and then ask what skills, values, knowledge, and commitments we need from the next generation of citizens.
In my recent book, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, I argue that citizenship fundamentally means: (1) deliberating with other citizens about what should be done, (2) actually working with other people to address problems and reflecting on the results, and (3) forming relationships of loyalty and trust. That theory derives from my study of politics, not primarily from a theory of education or youth development. I argue that the US political system depends on these three aspects of citizenship, all of which are in decline for deep, structural reasons. If I am right, these are the attainments that we should try to teach, and our measures should capture whether people can (1) deliberate, (2) collaborate, and (3) form civic relationships. If I am wrong, the counterargument should be a different theory of what our society needs from its people.
My friend John Gastil and David Brinker and Robert Richards of Penn State University have evaluated citizens’ deliberations of budget issues that were conducted online (using Google Hangouts and Spreecast [...]
My friend John Gastil and David Brinker and Robert Richards of Penn State University have evaluated citizens’ deliberations of budget issues that were conducted online (using Google Hangouts and Spreecast discussons) as well as face-to-face. They did this work on a subcontract from us, and I summarize their findings on the Democracy Fund’s website today. They found, among other things, that people learned the most information from videos or text explanations. People absorbed somewhat less factual information if they deliberated instead of watching or reading explanations, but they gained more commitment to civil dialogue.
Meanwhile, Gastil’s Democracy Institute has established a national award for “exceptional innovations that advance the design and practice of democracy.” “The Penn State Democracy Medal will celebrate the best work being done to advance democracy in the United States or around the globe.” Nomination letters must be emailed by December 10, 2013 to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found here.
The post new from Penn State: a study of online deliberation and an award for democratic innovation appeared first on Peter Levine.
This is from a Connected Planet article in 1997: Ah, spring – the time of year when students decide to skip classes en masse and sit outside enjoying the sun [...]
This is from a Connected Planet article in 1997:
Ah, spring – the time of year when students decide to skip classes en masse and sit outside enjoying the sun and fresh air. For the students of the University of Phoenix Online Campus, however, that ritual loses something in the translation: To duck their professors, all they have to do is turn off their PCs and unhook their modems.
But it’s a tradeoff that they’re willing to make in order to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees on a part-time basis from the comfort of their own homes. The University of Phoenix opened its doors to its first 12 on-line students in 1989, and it now boasts 2500 students, 250 faculty members and eight degree program. …
However, one education industry analyst wonders how much credibility an on-line degree really has in the marketplace. “I would imagine there would be a bias against on-line degrees of any kind,” said Rick Hesel, principal at Art & Science Group. “Face-to-face contact with the faculty is considered to be a mark of quality, and because this program doesn’t have that, I think both employers and prospective students would be wary.”
But that could change soon, as the big names in education get into the on-line arena, Hesel said.
“Once you see Harvard or other prestigious MBA programs getting into it, all bets are off,” he said.
And Hesel believes that will be sooner rather than later.
Contrast that with the talk of a “MOOC Revolution” in (for instance) this 2103 Tom Friedman article. Friedman, like many others, presumes that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are very new, rapidly spreading, highly promising, originating in institutions like Stanford and Harvard with distinguished educators like Michael Sandel, and motivated by the goals of better and more accessible education. But, as Aaron Bady argues in Liberal Education, even the word “MOOC” is now almost six years old, and the basic practice dates to 1989. Even then, students were assigned to online discussion groups and showed videos of lectures. MOOCs did not originate at luminous, global intellectual powerhouses but at the University of Phoenix, which is now rapidly shrinking and faces widespread criticism for achieving a loan default rate higher than its graduation rate. Dispersion of the MOOC model has been slow and halting due to poor reputation and questionable impact. The prediction that “Harvard and other prestigious MBA programs” would soon adopt MOOCs turned out to be 16 years premature.
As Bady argues, there is no reason to rush to adopt MOOCs. We are not going through a “MOOC revolution.” Rather, we have extensive experience and it is not encouraging. To be sure, online courses have educational potential; a CIRCLE paper outlines some advantages. But we must avoid the hype. If college administrators were asked whether they wanted to implement the University of Phoenix’s 1989 model instead of Stanford’s latest MOOC, I doubt they would feel as excited.
(I take this overall argument from Bady, but I found the 1997 article quoted above.)
(New York City) One of the recommendations of our major recent report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement,” is to experiment with lowering the voting age to [...]
(New York City) One of the recommendations of our major recent report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement,” is to experiment with lowering the voting age to 17 in local and state elections. Voting for the first time at 18 is a bit problematic, because that is just when many people have left the communities in which they grew up for work or college. They are suddenly in networks of other 18-year-olds, in which everyone is new to politics, and less connected to older adults. On the other hand, if you could vote at 17, you could register in school and learn about the political system and how to vote in your social studies class.
In November, Takoma Park, MD tried it. Their 16- and 17-year-old residents voted in the city’s municipal election. Their turnout was 16.9%, nearly double the 8.5% turnout rate of eligible residents 18 and up.
This is a tiny data point–one election in one small community. A possible explanation for the respectable turnout is that it was the first time; there was a “buzz” about the new right to vote. We know that the first presidential election in which 18-21′s could vote, 1972, set a turnout record never since matched. But the more optimistic explanation is that Takoma Park kids heard about the election in school and were encouraged to vote. That could happen every year.
This is a interesting pair of graphs produced by an economist named Hannes Schwandt. Graph A shows people’s reported life satisfaction at each age (the square dots) and their expectations [...]
This is a interesting pair of graphs produced by an economist named Hannes Schwandt. Graph A shows people’s reported life satisfaction at each age (the square dots) and their expectations for how satisfied they will be five years later (open dots). Most young people expect to see dramatic improvements in the near future, whereas older people expect to be worse off after five years. But their actual (self-reported) satisfaction does not climb and then fall off in old age. Quite the contrary: it falls and then rises. Graph B shows the error in their predictions: they are substantially too optimistic until about age 50, and then too pessimistic from age 60+ (although life takes so many directions in the last decades that a few people err on the side of excessive optimism).
Schwandt thinks that the U-shaped curve in our subjective life-satisfaction results from errors in expectations. Although people of all ages hold diverse views, many young adults feel that they are not yet getting what they want from life (money, security, positive impact, love, sex, or whatever). Many expect to get all this in five years. In middle age, the same people are disappointed not to have seen their expectations met and rate themselves dissatisfied. This is the notorious Midlife Crisis. They also expect life to get worse–it won’t offer important new satisfactions or successes, but their health will decline as their years run out. Instead, life does offer new rewards in the later decades, and so people are pleasantly surprised. Mean self-reported satisfaction is the same at age 70 as it was at age 30 (and much higher than it was at 50).
For those of us who work primarily on issues of youth, this is a challenging theory. It suggests that young people’s expectations are often so high as to cause distress later. This pattern certainly does not affect everyone. We found that before teenagers enter YouthBuild, just 30% expect even to live to old age. YouthBuild raises their hopes to the point that 90% of its graduates expect to live past 65. That is clearly a success. The U-curve may be a “first world problem,” affecting people whose teenage years have gone reasonably well. It is still a problem, however, and I have never seen an effort to address it. Maybe encourage young adults to read Stoic or classical Indian philosophy?
(St Louis) The traditional model of paying reporters by selling subscriptions and advertisements is broken. John W. Henry paid $70 million for the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & [...]
(St Louis) The traditional model of paying reporters by selling subscriptions and advertisements is broken. John W. Henry paid $70 million for the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, less than the $110 million he pays Justin Pedroia of the Red Sox (which he also owns). When one second baseman is worth more than two newspapers, you know the news business is in trouble. Yet information about public issues is a public good, and the people who collect it have to be paid and supported, or we will be an ignorant and manipulable electorate.
Yesterday, in DC, I got a chance to visit the newsroom of the Center for Public Integrity. It is a full-scale news operation with a whole staff of seasoned reporters. The newsroom is quieter than most because CPI’s reporters do more number-crunching than traditional newspaper journalists do and spend less time calling people for quotes. Their business model also differs from that of traditional newspapers, in that CPI raises grants and donations for investigative journalism and then gives away the results. You can read CPI’s stories on their own website, but a lot more people read them as syndicated items in other publications or come across their findings in other reporters’ work.
This is the emerging nonprofit model for journalism in the public interest.
I am in St. Louis for the big annual gathering of social studies teachers, the National Council for the Social Studies conference. Last fall, the NCSS released a new voluntary [...]
I am in St. Louis for the big annual gathering of social studies teachers, the National Council for the Social Studies conference. Last fall, the NCSS released a new voluntary framework for state standards entitled College, Career, and Civic Life (C3). For full disclosure, I helped write it. One part that seems especially important to me is the section near the end about “taking informed action” (shown below). I will be discussing why this is important and what it means in classrooms.
At each level, we ask students to analyze a problem, then consider options for addressing the problem, and then make deliberative decisions about what they will do. The scope of action expands from the classroom in grades k-2 to beyond the school by 12th grade.
These standards were written by a large group, but they are consistent with my personal view that good citizens deliberate. By talking and listening to people who are different from ourselves, we learn and enlarge our understanding. We check our values, strategies, and facts with other people. We form ideas about topics that we didn’t even consider before we talked and listened. We also make ourselves accountable to our fellow citizens.
But (I argue) deliberation is not enough. Talking without ever acting is pretty empty. You can say most anything without learning from the results or affecting the world. Deliberation is most valuable when it is connected to work or action. At least sometimes, we should be part of groups that talk about what we should do, then actually do what we have talked about doing, and then reflect on the experience, holding themselves ourselves for the results. This is both the best way to improve the world and the best way to learn to be a good citizen.
Concretely, “taking action” can mean many things: not just community service, and definitely not just political activism (which is hard for a public school to recognize), but also managing and leading student groups, organizing public events, and creating and sharing knowledge.
As Meira Levinson and I argue in the new issue of the NCSS journal, taking action is nothing new.* There is a great old tradition of American students being asked to deliberate and then act as part of their social studies classes. If anything, I suspect the prevalence of action has declined because high schools now mimic colleges (which makes social studies into History or Poli Sci 101 for teenagers) and because conventional standardized tests cannot measure students’ facility at deliberation and action. The new framework, if taken seriously, would require a whole new approach to assessing students’ work.
*Meira Levinson and Peter Levine, “Taking Informed Action to Engage Students in Civic Life,” Social Education, vol. 77, no. 6 (Nov/Dec, 2013) pp. 337-9
(Frederick, MD) Within the past week, I have read two good manuscript chapters about the Dreamers and how they have used social media to change the public debate about naturalization [...]
(Frederick, MD) Within the past week, I have read two good manuscript chapters about the Dreamers and how they have used social media to change the public debate about naturalization and citizenship rights–even though they are young, not rich, and not even legally citizens. That kind of example suggests that the Internet strengthens the disadvantaged.
On the other hand, we have all read about the NSA’s monitoring of electronic communications, domestic and foreign. One of the most telling episodes in that story was Google’s outraged discovery that the NSA taps its data. Google has–and the NSA wants–a detailed profile of almost every Internet user in the world, valuable for marketers and spooks. This kind of example suggests that the Internet strengthens the strong.
It could do both, depending on context; and the balance may shift over time. To what extent various parties are empowered is an ongoing empirical question. But I would suggest a conceptual distinction to help guide the inquiry.
Part of politics is authoritative decision-making about rules or goods. That makes it substantially zero-sum. For instance, a win for the pro-choice side is a loss for the pro-life side. (However, everyone may gain from having a peaceful and efficient process for deciding contentious issues.) Insofar as politics is zero-sum, all parties will use the new technologies to try to win. It is an open question who will gain, relative to the others. Those who increase their share of power could be the traditionally weak, the traditionally strong, or both at the expense of the middle.
Some authoritative decision-making is not zero-sum. For example, the passage of same-sex marriage legislation is a loss for its opponents, but not if they decide that they like same-sex marriage (as millions have done). A shift in actual beliefs can enable a win-win outcome. The new electronic media are certainly changing the ways that public opinions shift. Again, it is an open empirical question whether this is a good thing. We have recently seen a rapid change in opinion favorable to gay rights but also a substantial erosion of belief in climate change.
Some politics is win-win or constructive interaction. For instance, when people collectively create Wikipedia, they are producing a public asset, and that is a political outcome. Yet, leaving aside some very hot struggles about particular Wikipedia pages, this effort is not adversarial.
When politics is collaborative, some may gain more than others. For instance, Wikipedia doesn’t do you much good if you can’t read. But it needn’t actually hurt anyone, and it may confer its benefits broadly. It enriches the commonwealth.
The Internet clearly has constructive outcomes like this. On the other hand, even Wikipedia uses carbon to run. That is a negative externality, and it is only an example of such. If Craigslist killed the daily newspaper, that was another casualty.
I have deliberately reached no conclusions here but have simply suggested that if we want to think about who is empowered by the new electronic media, it is worth dividing the topic into three parts: rivalrous politics, persuasive politics, and collaborative politics.
Let’s say you want to conduct research in a way that is “anti-oppressive.” Certain techniques and emphases will seem valuable. But a preliminary question arises: Who is oppressed? And that [...]
Let’s say you want to conduct research in a way that is “anti-oppressive.” Certain techniques and emphases will seem valuable. But a preliminary question arises: Who is oppressed? And that raises the deeper question: What is oppression?
In an article entitled “Anti-Oppressive Research in Social Work: A Preliminary Definition,” Roni Streier, an Israeli academic, offers a helpful summary of Anti-Oppressive Social Work Research (AOSWR), which turns out to be a well-established movement.* AOSWR emphasizes “the systemic study of oppression and the development of knowledge that supports people’s actions to achieve freedom from oppression.” It selects for investigation “the most oppressed populations that are largely excluded from main spheres of public and economic life and disconnected from social services.” It “reject[s] the dominant traditions of social science research” in favor of “more qualitative, ‘bottom-up’, interpretive methods.” It demands safe, reciprocal, mutually respectful partnerships between the researchers and the participants, working together to produce knowledge. And it yields research that will be owned by the communities being studied and that will lead to action.
I read all of this happily enough. Although I don’t want all research to be “community based” and participatory, I like the kind of work that Streier describes. But then she offers a case study: research on and with low-income Jewish women in Jerusalem.
I do not know this community. In fact, one limitation of my study trip to Israel and the West Bank last year is that I met secular middle-class Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, and West Bank Palestinians, but no ultra-orthodox. Thus I cannot be sure that poor Jewish women in Jerusalem are ultra-orthodox–although I suspect most are–nor do I understand their daily lives, values, and aspirations.
But I would not start by defining them as “the most oppressed population” in their geographical area. Perhaps biased by secular Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, I would view them as a community complicit in oppressing Arabs and strongly favored by Israeli state policies regarding welfare, education, and the draft. My instinct, if I were an anti-oppression scholar with an interest in this community, would be to stand apart from them and critically assess their privileges. To be sure, they are poor and they are women, but what jumps out at me is their political power.
On the other hand: I may be wrong in my diagnosis. And even if I am right, understanding how and why they think as they do might be helpful. Just because they have power, one should understand how to influence them and negotiate with them. That is a case for investigating this population with an open mind. But it doesn’t sound like “anti-oppression research.”
So the unavoidable question is: who’s oppressed? That breaks down into many subsidiary questions, of which a few are:
- What is the relevant community? If one defines the community as Israel, then perhaps poor Jewish women are oppressed. If one defines it as Israel plus the Occupied Territories, then these women move far up the scale. Which geographical scope to use is highly controversial (but that does not mean that judgments of the matter are arbitrary opinions).
- In what ways can people be oppressed? Individuals were chosen for this example on the basis of income or wealth and gender. But if they are really ultra-orthodox, then their families are foregoing income in favor of religious study and intense communalism. Are they “poor”? Does that matter?
- What do they want? Self-interest is not self-evident; human beings want all kinds of things, including subservient positions within their own communities and limited freedoms. If a group of highly-religious women favor traditional gender roles, does that make their circumstances OK? Should our research about them be “bottom-up” and driven by their values? Or would anti-oppression research aim to broaden their options?
*British Journal of Social Work (2007) 37, 857–871