- The Conservative War on Prisons: “Right-wing operatives have decided that prisons are a lot like schools: hugely expensive, inefficient, and in need of root-and-branch reform. Is this how progress will happen in a hyper-polarized world?”
- Raise The Crime Rate: “Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.”
- The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people? ”Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.—more than were in Stalin’s gulags.”
Here’s a bet I’d like to make: a good introduction to philosophy course will do more to increase students’ critical thinking abilities than a good course in logic or critical thinking.
Here’s what I think I’d need to get this bet off the ground:
First, we’d need a stable student body and a randomly selected assortment of students. I offer my own university and our required course in Logic as a possible set of human subjects for our researches.
Second, we’d need a stable measure of critical thinking. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking test used by employers is probably a stealth IQ test, while the Collegiate Learning Assessment is valid when applied to individual performance, only at the institutional level. Something like the British A-levels in critical thinking might be appropriate. For now, I think the CLA is good enough: we’re testing an institutional approach, after all! So: the second step is to institute pre- and post-testing on the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
Third, we’d need to split students randomly into a control group, getting the best critical thinking and logic instruction available, and a test group, getting good philosophy instruction with a few papers. I usually run my intro classes with three papers: an analysis paper where they’re tasked with reconstructing an argument, an opposition paper where students take up a position they oppose and defend it against objections, and a synthesis paper where they try to offer a novel argument based on the semester’s readings. (It’s about fifteen pages total.)
So, here’s my bet: the students in the test group of sections of Introduction to Philosophy would beat the students in the control group in the Logic sections on the CLA score-improvements at the end of the term.
Land grant colleges once promoted citizenship throughout the curriculum that combined "practical studies" and "liberal arts." Graduates saw themselves as working, in their jobs not mainly off-hours, as citizens with other citizens in communities. As John Hannah, President of Michigan State put it in 1944 in an address to the Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities, "Our colleges should not be content with only the training of outstanding agriculturalists, or engineers, or home economists, or teachers, or scientists, or lawyers, or doctors, or veterinarians... the first and never forgotten objective must be that every human product of our educational system must be given the training that will enable him to be an effective citizen...."
Dr. Shonda Craft, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, a land grant university, helps revive this tradition for the 21st century. Craft's research focuses on health disparities using community-engaged models, with an emphasis on sexual health.
Boyte: How did you get interested in citizen professionalism?
Craft: The key moment was when I was in transition from being an undergraduate to graduate student. As a psychology major in college, working with adolescents detained in the criminal justice system, I was interested in the home lives and communities that kids were coming from. I had a long history of community experience. I was able to take community experience and bring it into therapy, which I saw as not just about applying a theory, or symptom reduction. I was thinking about what is my impact on this person's family. I became wellness minded. My definition of health started growing. I sought out others for conversations about how professionals could think outside of box, how they could work in ways more integrated within the community.
Boyte: Was there resistance?
Craft: "Some advisers in graduate school saw what I was doing as 'volunteer work' and argued that I should focus more narrowly on academic studies. But I learned to advocate for myself and develop a narrative about community engagement. I always wanted to make a difference. I disagreed with the idea of being a detached scholar."
Boyte: What is citizen professionalism?
Craft: The Citizen Professional model, developed by Dr. William Doherty [Professor, University of Minnesota], is a way of engaging professionals and community members to collaborate without the typical hierarchical relationships. It also addresses issues traditionally defined as individual problems from a more community-focused perspective.
Citizen professional is who I am. Just because I have an advanced education does not remove me from community, shouldn't keep me from being grounded, or connected to people without similar credentials. It means people taking their strengths and applying them in new areas. People have different things to contribute. For me it's also about language, how do you define community. I don't agree with defining community as a place to study or a 'target population.'
Citizen professionalism is a way of life. If that looks like I'm bucking a trend, it comes naturally.
Boyte: Would you describe the SMART group you've helped to organize?
Craft: Today's conversation about teen pregnancy is rife with finger-pointing. It emphasizes low self-esteem and uncontrolled hormones, parents with poor monitoring skills, or schools who have usurped the moral duties of families to peddle condoms and eschew abstinence. Recent movies such as Juno and television shows such as 16 and Pregnant have popularized, even idolized teen pregnancy.
I worked with a group of teens and professionals to launch a project based on a more community-focused perspective. In March 2009, the Citizen Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project began at South High School in Minneapolis. It was an attempt to provide 'proof of concept' that a democratic model of citizen professional work, typically utilized with adults, could also be successful with young people. The 'citizen teens' included female and male students who had been identified by their teachers as leaders in the school. The 'citizen professionals' were representatives from University of Minnesota, school social workers, and community health advocates who served as facilitators of the process.
The adults participated alongside the teens in deep conversations about how teen pregnancy impacts girls, boys, children, families, and communities. Initially, the girls group and the boys group had separate conversations. Then the groups joined and began to formulate a set of messages and strategies for sharing their work with others. They dubbed the group SMART (Sexually Mature And Responsible Teens), which set the tone for how these citizen teens would be described by adults and peers who witnessed their action steps and heard their messages. "SMART shared messages such as:
• Teen pregnancy is a problem for teens, children, families, and communities.
• Know what kind of relationship you want and deserve.
• You might think you are ready for sex, but are you ready for the consequences?
• There are other ways to show love besides sex.
• Consider abstinence as an option, and you can say 'no' at any time.
The project drew to a close in April 2012, and ended on a high note. The teens appeared on a local radio program focused on health issues, were interviewed for a story that was aired on Minnesota Public Radio, and told their stories for a forthcoming DVD being produced by the University of Minnesota that chronicles their work.
Boyte: What have you learned? What's next?
Craft: Clearly, this project is proof that teens are ready, willing, and able to maturely discuss and act on teen pregnancy. The SMART group wants to regenerate this. A key lesson is that as much as we tried to be collaborative, we didn't consult the power structures enough. People in power in the school weren't familiar with our group, how it worked, and that created tension. We learned the importance of paying attention to the politics of the environment.
The Citizen Professional model is important to make visible in school cultures. Young people and parents need real power and voice, not surface power. Moving forward, I would like the citizen professional model to help create space for power.
Harry Boyte is National Coordinator for the American Commonwealth Partnership, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
In spite of high poverty, tight budgets, sub-optimal parent participation and ill preparation, there are schools that produce extraordinary students and remarkable stories of success. What makes these schools work so well, and can it be replicated in others?
Public Agenda spoke to principals, teachers, students and parents at nine of Ohio's high-poverty, high-achieving schools. We wanted to know:
- How do they define the keys to success?
- What are some specific strategies and decisions that may contribute to their success?
- How do they sustain success?
- What helps them weather tough times?
Our hope is that the insights and ideas that emerged from this qualitative study stimulate a fresh, open and constructive dialogue on improving K-12 education in Ohio and nationally.
The study was supported by the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Ohio Department of Education and The Ohio State University. The nine schools included primary and secondary schools and were a mix of traditional public schools, magnet schools and a charter school. Read the stories of each of the nine schools by downloading the report.
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We need active citizens who learn to work across differences if we are to see much change in the Washington culture or the country. This will mean deepening citizenship to understand it as expressed through work, not simply off-hours activity. To accomplish this will take a movement across education.
From the very beginning Obama made citizenship a cause. In Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2007, announcing his first campaign for the presidency, he said, "This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose." Again on November 7, he argued that "the role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government."
Last January 10, an event called For Democracy's Future, hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement, advanced the president's civic vision. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that policy will include preparing young people for "citizenship," as well as "college" and "career." The Department invites discussion about implementing its report, "Advancing Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement."
Adding a C for citizenship to preparation for "college" and "career" has been a long-time goal of groups like Campus Compact, the American Democracy Project, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Civic Mission of the Schools Coalition.
A next step is to integrate the "three C's." Education needs to prepare students through college for citizen careers. This will move citizenship from a poor cousin to the center of the family.
There is growing pressure for higher education to focus on "workforce development." And research reinforces the observation of UCLA educational theorist and researcher Mike Rose: "Young people who find little of interest in the traditional curriculum can be intrigued by the world of work."
Pioneers in combining academic study with work preparation have shown the power of this approach, especially for low-income and minority young people. They also show its potential to make learning and work both bigger, about communities and the democracy, not simply "jobs."
In the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, a public school on a 78-acre farm in the southwestern corner of the city, students learn math, science, English and writing through the processes of planting, harvesting, marketing, and selling vegetables. Juniors and seniors enroll in a class that focuses on the city's flower garden show, learning horticulture, animal science, agricultural mechanics, economics, food science, communications and business.
"Connecting work and academics makes a huge difference in terms of ways students look at education," says Lucille Shaw, assistant principal. "Through all of their academic classes as well as technical studies students can blend and apply concepts." Students also learn "we're all in this together," Shaw says. "What is this going to do to better my life, and help someone else?" With a student body more than 60 percent African-American and Hispanic, the Ag School has won national attention for its success in college preparation and student achievement -- 87 percent graduate and go to college. Fifty-nine percent meet or exceed the Prairie State Achievement exams which test for reading, English, math, science, and writing, compared to 28 percent in the Chicago district as a whole.
Such examples confound narrow definitions of intelligence, sharp divisions between kinds of knowledge -- and a narrow focus on "jobs." They respond to young people's desires "to be somebody, to possess agency and competence, to have a grasp on the forces that affect them," as Mike Rose puts it. They revitalize traditions like "civic business owner" and "citizen teacher" recently described.
But today, education that prepares students to think about expressing their citizenship through work is rare.
Land grant colleges, called "democracy's colleges," once had an ethos of civic learning that permeated every kind of work preparation. Their cooperative extension agents undertook public work in communities across the country, aimed at "building rural democracy."
By the 1950s, the tie between citizenship and work had largely disappeared. "Civic professionalism" had shifted to "disciplinary professionalism," in the phrase of historian Thomas Bender.
Today, most institutions distinguish between professional and workforce preparation, on the one hand, and liberal arts, sciences, and civic learning on the other. The National Conference on Citizenship, which assesses the civic health of communities, includes no indicators connected to work or the workplace. The assumption is that citizenship is off-hours service or voluntary activity.
Yet in a time when "jobs" are widely discussed, work-related ideas like education for "civic agency" and "civic professionalism" begin to appear. David Scobey, dean of the New School of Public Engagement, has recently called for a new emphasis on work and its civic implications throughout higher education:
"We need to think about work as a key arena of reflective preparation, doing for work what we did for service learning. We should enable all students to reflect on their work experience and be intentional about it. We need a totally new model of where work fits into students' growth, bringing together civic learning, work and student courses of study."
The White House meeting last January also launched the American Commonwealth Partnership, a coalition of educational and civic groups that works with the Department of Education in order to deepen civic mission from "activities" to "identity" of whole institutions. It incubates initiatives like "Citizen Alum" and "Civic Science" advancing a citizen-centered view of democracy.
ACP is a vehicle for answering Scobey's call. We need a new generation of citizen workers in every field.
Harry C. Boyte is National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.