Introducing Kid Citizen, a New Engaging Civics Resource for K-5 Learners

 

KC
Good afternoon, civics friends. As you know, the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship has a great many resources for elementary civics, including our Civics in a Snap lessons.  There are, of course, other great resources available for elementary civic education as well, and I am excited to share with you one that could be simply fantastic in helping that youngest generation of students understand civic life. That resource is Kid Citizen. Our own Michael Berson, professor of Social Science Education at the University of Central Florida and a fellow here with FJCC and the Lou Frey Institute, has been heavily involved in the development of Kid Citizen, and he shares with us this overview of the program.

KidCitizen introduces a new way for young students (K-5) to engage with history through primary sources. In KidCitizen episodes, children interactively explore Congress and civic engagement through historical primary resources, and connect what they find with their daily lives.

KidCitizen episodes capitalize on the active and social nature of young children’s learning. They use primary sources for rich demonstrations, interactions, and models of literacy in the course of innovative hands-on activities that make academic content meaningful, build on prior experiences, and foster visual literacy and historical inquiry.

KidCitizen also includes cloud software tools that let educators create their own episodes and share them with students. Using KidCitizen tools, educators can create activities using primary source photographs that are especially relevant to their students and community. The KidCitizen tools runs on the Muzzy Lane Author platform.

KidCitizen episodes run on PCs, Macs, and iOS and Android mobile devices. The episodes can be accessed from the KidCitizen website http://www.kidcitizen.net . All are free to play, and a teacher’s guide accompanies each episode. KidCitizen is part of the Congress, Civic Participation, and Primary Sources Project, and is supported by a grant from the Library of Congress.

You will definitely want to check out this new resource. I look forward to sharing this with my own future citizen’s teachers!


why study social justice?

I just finished teaching a philosophy course in which the primary question was “How should I live?” We spent some time reading and thinking about personal and internal questions, such as what constitutes happiness and truthfulness and whether those are possible and desirable states. We also talked about political justice, reading a fairly standard canon of Mill, Rawls, Nozick, and Scanlon, plus Bayard Rustin, Kwasi Wiredu, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Steve Biko, Audre Lorde, and Susan Bickford. The premise of those readings was that it might be important to know what justice is when choosing how to live a good life.

Meanwhile, my students were introspecting about the principles that guide their lives and how those principles are organized into networks of moral ideas.

The students, as they recognize, emphasize attitudes toward concrete other people in their lives plus values related to learning: empathy, openness, and hard work. The kinds of ideals that figure in political theory–liberty, equality, welfare, and democracy–are mostly absent or marginal from their maps of their own animating ideals.

They offered several explanations for this gap between what I’d assigned and what they perceived when they looked inward. Some thought it was evidence of their own privilege: they don’t have to think about freedom because they take it for granted. (For the same reason, they don’t list “having enough to eat” as a guiding principle.) Others thought their introspective maps were developmentally appropriate: their job right now is to learn and revise their views, not to hold onto principles. Some were skeptical about the validity of any abstract principles of justice. And some thought that their own views reflected political discouragement or disenfranchisement at a hard time in our history. They don’t strive directly for democracy because they don’t believe that they can.

The question arises, Why should we study and conduct research on justice? Why should justice be part of any curriculum, and specifically a curriculum whose leading question is about the good life for the individual students?

I think my colleagues in academia (writ large) would divide on that question.

For some academics, justice seems irrelevant to their professional work or is a mere matter of opinion. “Who decides what’s good or bad?” is a frequent question. It suggests that we scholars and students shouldn’t try to define justice and defend our stances in academic contexts, publications and classrooms. The most we should do is to study and explain why various populations define justice in various ways.

For some academics, commitment to justice is measured by the degree of one’s distaste for the prevailing political and economic system. The way to assess whether a colleague is oriented to justice is to see how strongly she or he opposes the status quo. One way to demonstrate such opposition is to study various concrete forms of injustice. Thus justice-oriented scholars are those who investigate and teach situations that should be abhorred.

By this standard, my curriculum would be deficient, since we did not go deeply into the empirical facts about poverty, racism, or tyranny. Moreover, we read authors chosen for their divergent views. By the time you see that Hayek and Nozick would like less government than we have, and Rawls and Scanlon would like more, you could perhaps conclude that we have about the right amount of government. I’m not saying that splitting the difference would be valid logic, but the question is whether ideological diversity might have the psychological effect of making students confused or complacent.

I belong to a third category of academics, for whom being seriously concerned with justice means asking what it is and what we can do to promote it. Both parts of that question are topics for research. One can study what justice is by critically investigating the available theories and their relationship to concrete facts. One can also study strategies and tactics for promoting justice. Those two topics intersect, because a goal without any plausible strategy is not much of a goal; and a strategy without a defensible account of its purpose is not worth undertaking. I criticize what’s called “ideal theory” in political philosophy because its focus on end states–without serious consideration of strategy–yields misleading results.

Speaking of privilege, I am privileged to move across communities with quite different ideological centers. One day recently, I was at a conference where libertarian economists were well represented and may have predominated. A speaker showed a photo of FDR and said something like, “Since we’re all classical liberals, I can count on you to hate this guy.” I suspect the speaker overestimated the ideological uniformity of his audience; I may have had some company in deeply admiring Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it was certainly a different context from the Tufts classroom where, on the very next day, we discussed this fascinating exchange between Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter activist Julius Jones about how to diagnose and address racial injustice in America. The center of gravity in that room lay somewhere between Clinton and Jones, with only one student openly asking whether the assumption that those two people share–that America is deeply racist–is a given.

The disadvantage of posing the question “what is justice?” in a truly open way is that one can discourage action. For instance, I think that the pending tax bill is awful, but I also have questions about some arguments against it. There’s a strong equity-based argument for curtailing the charitable tax deduction, and there’s even a case that the Republicans have generated new federal revenues while passing a deeply unpopular tax cut for the upper stratum, which is likely to be repealed. The net result, as early as 2019, may be a larger stream of revenue than would have had been possible without this bill. But making such critical points (if anyone paid attention) could dampen enthusiasm for the opposition, and there’s a plausible case that the tax bill is on its way to passage because of relatively weak popular opposition. I wouldn’t want to undermine anyone’s motivation to protest by posing awkward questions.

The advantage, of course, is learning. I feel challenged and enriched by the conference at which libertarians were well represented. I think I understand better the relative advantages and disadvantages of three ways of understanding what works in the real world: talking with people, conducting scientific research on impact, and observing price signals. The last category is valuable for reasons that you won’t notice if you hang around all the time with lefties.

In the end, we need both commitment and critical analysis, both true openness to alternative views and effective, coordinated action. We need utopian vistas and hard-nosed tactics. The balance is very hard, but there must be at least a place for abstract and dispassionate inquiry into the nature of justice.

[See also: social justice should not be a clichéwe are for social justice, but what is it?a method of mapping moral commitments as networks.]

Submit Your Nominations for 2018 Brown Democracy Medal

It’s that time again! The McCourtney Institute for Democracy – an NCDD member org, is now accepting nominations for the 2018 Laurence and Lynne Brown Democracy Medal. For the fifth year running, this medal celebrates those working to advance democracy. The winner will be awarded $5,000, have their work published, and will present at Penn State in the fall of 2018. Nominations must be submitted by January 8th, 2018! We encourage those in the NCDD network to apply, and check out the details in the post below or you can find the original here.


Call for Nominations for the 2018 Brown Democracy Medal

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State is accepting nominations for the 2018 Brown Democracy Medal. The Medal and $5,000 are awarded annually to individuals or organizations doing the best new work to advance democracy in the United States and around the globe. The Brown Medal recognizes recent work that is significant but under-appreciated. The medal helps bring new ideas and innovations the public recognition they deserve.

Award Review Process

The award is open to any significant contribution in democratic research, reform, practice, or theory. All nominations will be considered according to the review criteria set out below.

Nominations for the 2018 medal will be accepted through January 8, 2018.

The winner will give a talk at Penn State in fall of 2018, when they will receive their award. Between the spring announcement of the winner and the on-campus event in the fall, the Institute will provide the recipient with professional editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 page) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. In the fall, Cornell University Press will publish the essay, which will be available at a very low price to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation. Essays from the previous winners are available through Cornell University Press and other online outlets.

To assure full consideration, please send all nomination letters before January 8, 2018 to democracyinst@psu.edu. Initial nomination letters are simply that, a one-to-two page letter that describes how the nominee’s work meets the criteria for this award and what distinguishes it from other work on democracy. Both self-nominations and nominations of others are welcomed. In either case, email, phone, and postal contact information for the nominee must be included.

A distinguished review panel will screen initial nominations and select a subset of nominees for the second round. Those nominees will be required to provide further documentation, including: a brief biographical sketch of the individual or organization nominated; two letters of support; and a basic description of the innovation and its efficacy. The review panel will scrutinize the more detailed applications and select an awardee in the spring of 2018.

Review Criteria

The democratic innovation selected will score highest on these features:

  1. Novelty. The innovation is precisely that—a genuinely new way of thinking about democracy or practicing it. The award is thus intended to recognize recent accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The innovation will likely build on or draw on past ideas and practices, but its novelty must be obvious.
  2. Systemic Change. The idea, theory, or practical reform should represent significant change in how we think about and practice democracy. Ideas should be of the highest clarity and quality, empirical studies should be rigorous and grounded in evidence, and practical reforms must have proof of their effectiveness. The change the innovation brings about should be able to alter the larger functioning of a democratic system over a long time frame.
  3. Potential for Diffusion. The idea or reform should have general applicability across many different scales and cultural contexts. In other words, it should be relevant to people who aspire to democracy in many parts of the world and/or in many different social or political settings.
  4. Democratic Quality. In practical terms, while the nominees themselves may well be partisan, the spirit of this innovation must be nonpartisan and advance the most essential qualities of democracy, such as broad social inclusion, deliberativeness, political equality, and effective self-governance.

Individuals or organizations who are Penn State alumni or employees, or who have worked closely with the Institute, are not eligible. Returning applicants may notice that our process has changed from previous years, when awards alternated between democratic theory and practical innovation.

Questions and Further Information

Any questions or requests for more information should be sent to .
The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State (http://democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu) promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad.

Letter from the NCDD Board of Directors

Dear NCDD Supporter,

With so many crucial and important issues facing society today – from health crises, to disconnection, to mass shootings, to nuclear threats – even if we could talk about these issues together, it would be a deadly serious time….

But, of course, we can’t even do that some days.

XS Purple NCDD logo

As you know, the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is a gathering place for people who know it doesn’t have to be this way – and who are doing something concrete about it. While so many others fret and philosophize about the current polarization and hyper-partisanship, this organization and its members offer practical answers that have been shown to make exactly the difference this country needs.

In the very moment this country could benefit the most from the collective skill set of this community of “domestic peacekeepers” (NCDD member Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations), however, most people remain caught up in the rhetoric of the “professional polarizers” (NCDD member Liz Joyner, Village Square).

We believe it’s time for that to change. It’s time to raise the profile of the work of our network in a way that far more Americans know about it. The Board and NCDD staff have been discussing a number of ways to do just that over the next several years:

  • Collaborative efforts to lift up the stories of NCDD members and the communities they work with making these changes. Highlight that this work happens at every level – neighborhood, local, regional, state, national, and global; in public and private sectors.
  • Bringing this network together with journalists, social justice organizations and activists, government officials, and others whose work and goals can be enhanced by better public engagement, dialogue and deliberation.
  • Fostering partnerships between NCDD members, libraries, and other community institutions to expand the public’s access to D&D.

But everything takes resources. What we can do will depend on having sufficient resources to do it. If you believe it is time for these kinds of changes in our country, please consider making a donation to these efforts – so we can get what we offer as a community in front of more and more Americans.

All contributions are welcome, whether they are $10 or $1000. Please visit www.ncdd.org/2017-funddrive to make your tax deductible donation today! Or, consider joining or renewing your membership in NCDD. You will be helping NCDD reach our $15,000 goal, which will be such a boost to these efforts in 2018. Thank you so much for supporting NCDD.

Sincerely,

NCDD Board of Directors:

Martin Carcasson, Chair
Susan Stuart Clark
Simone Talma Flowers
Jacob Hess
Betty Knighton
Wendy Willis

Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends

Living Room Conversations released the guide, Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends, which we found Fall 2017 (original publish date unknown). The guide give excellent pointers on how to hold living room conversations with family members taking into consideration all the challenges that family can bring. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

This year we’ve been hearing from all sorts of people that they want to use Living Room Conversations skills to help heal family relationships​. People have experienced loss of or harm to treasured relationships because of politics. And now with the holidays coming up they are considering how to navigate. Does love supersede politics? For most people it does. But there is still confusion and hurt to manage. How do we do this? How can we listen to each other and hold the tension of our differences?

People have reported going home and having better conversations with relatives and friends they disagree with after having Living Room Conversations. There are skills that we get to practice in Living Room Conversations that are easy to take home. ​Some have invited relatives to join them in Living Room Conversations. Like with any Living Room Conversation you only invite people you believe will be able and willing to abide by the conversation agreements and follow the structure. People have a natural intuition about what friends and family to invite. We all know family members that aren’t good at taking turns being curious or listening with respect. We also tend to know when family is good at it, or might be, with gentle reminders of the conversation agreements

For years we’ve told people that family is one situation where we are not fully confident that Living Room Conversations will work. Why? Because family is known for breaking host and guest social norms. Because family knows each other’s triggers and because family relations often require more of us. Emotional stakes tend to be higher, conversations are colored by history and it can feel easier to take the proverbial gloves off and fight dirty, unconstrained by the politeness we give others. But in most instances, we can love our family, even when we don’t like what they believe!

We are thrilled to have more and more people doing the Relationships First and other Living Room Conversations in order to hone their relationship skills and thinking. Some people come away with a new appreciation for the power of listening or new curiosity about why people they love think the way they do or new insights about the power of a asking questions without​ ​judgement​. There are very few quick fixes in the world of relationships. Building trust and understanding takes time. This is slow and satisfying work.

INTRODUCTION
It’s no secret we sometimes disagree with families and friends. What seems secret is how to handle it when we do! At Living Room Conversations, we specialize in structuring challenging conversations so they are safe and enjoyable using our Conversation Agreements and Conversation Guides. Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to family and friends as respectfully as people in Living Room Conversations talk to strangers? We realized it could be useful to share our Conversation Agreements more broadly for the holidays. They are good to keep in mind for kinder dinner-table conversations. True, others may not be following the Conversation Agreements but sometimes good practices can be contagious and you can have the satisfaction of feeling better about your own part in the conversation.

CONVERSATION​ ​AGREEMENTS
These are the Living Room Conversation Agreements:

  • Be curious and open to learning​. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. Enjoy hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. ​Human beings tend to judge one another; do your best not to. Setting judgments aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated.
  • Find common ground and note differences. ​Look for common ground you can agree on and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. ​Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.
  • Be purposeful and to the point. ​Notice if what you are conveying is or is not pertinent to the topic at hand.
  • Own and guide the conversation. ​Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and that of the conversation. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed.

THE​ ​BASICS
Listening is powerful. It doesn’t mean you agree. Just giving someone your full attention is a valuable gift. People rarely change their beliefs in a conversation; but people often expand understanding through conversation. Focus on learning and sharing rather than debating or convincing. To do so you can:

  • Ask thoughtful questions, inspired by whatever honest curiosity you feel
  • Try to understand, not convince or persuade
  • Share personal stories and experiences, not data points
  • Notice if there are areas of agreement.
  • Assume good intentions and extend the benefit of the doubt
  • Thoughtfully end the conversation when you are triggered or tired
  • Share appreciation for having the conversation

CORE​ ​SKILLS

  • Generous listening. Listen deeply, without an intention to respond, refute, or defend. Just listen.
  • Assume good intent. Give the person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Genuine curiosity. Show curiosity by asking questions and learning more about the person’s life experiences that have shaped their perspective.
  • Respectful engagement. Showing respect and kindness can diffuse a great deal of tension and it’s often contagious.

POTENTIAL​ ​PITFALLS

  • Insults or name-calling. Using unflattering names or making derogatory remarks about people that the other person cares about (including political leaders) are fighting words.
  • Overgeneralizing. Beware of using words like “you always” and “you never.” They are seldom true, and these words tend to feel attacking.
  • Leading questions. Steer clear of asking questions designed to “trap” the person or lead them to a pre-determined answer you want to hear.
  • Talking more than listening. It is rare to make progress on understanding a different perspective while doing the majority of the talking.
  • Facts, figures, and data-points. Few things shut down a good conversation faster than cold, hard, facts…and alternative facts! Focus on concerns and experiences rather than data.

Additional​ ​Skills​ ​to​ ​Build​ ​Connection

  • Set the stage. Establish your interest in an enjoyable, productive conversation rather than a debate or argument.
  • Listen for values and desired outcomes. Most of us have core values that overlap (health, safety, prosperity). Identifying these can help strengthen the relationship.
  • Verify and acknowledge feelings. Ask about, and seek to understand what the other person is feeling about the topic. They may have very personal experiences that shape their perspective. Be aware of these feelings and acknowledge them.
  • Use humor, if possible. Be willing to laugh at yourself when and where appropriate. Humor can lighten the mood and make the conversation enjoyable.
  • First-person language. Own your feelings and express them as “I felt ______(feeling) when you ______ (describe specific behavior and when it occurred). For example, “I felt frustrated when you said I was unrealistic this morning.”
  • Explore and reflect rather than disagree directly. For example, starting sentences with “I am wondering….” can be very productive if it is sincere.
  • Find common ground. Look for and acknowledge areas of agreement.
  • Use engaging language. See how often you can replace “but” with “and”
  • Ask open-ended questions. This allows others to think out loud and may offer a better path for understanding their perspective.
  • Keep a light tone. When judgement creeps in, your tone will give you away! If this happens, own it, apologize and ask another question. FIRST​ ​AID Families know where all the buttons are. What happens if you get triggered? Avoid responding when you know you are triggered and feel yourself being defensive and/or needing to be right. Sometimes, letting go of the conversation is the best course of action. A break for a short walk or new activity or change of subject can help restore equanimity. Try the following to change the direction of a conversation and/or mend a conversation that has turned destructive:
  • Let’s change the topic. Tell me, how is your garden (or other hobby)?
  • This is a heated conversation. Our relationship is more important to me.
  • I feel bad when we argue. Let’s stop for now.
  • I’m sorry we argued. I care about you.
  • Our relationship will always be more important to me than our differences.

OTHER​ ​CONSIDERATIONS
When we stand in self-righteous anger, i.e. “how can you believe THAT?” we find ourselves separated. Some people — including family members — would prefer to be right than to be connected.

Sometimes we see family as a reflection of ourselves. We may feel an obligation to make them see “the error of their ways.” And we may want to be clear that we are not flawed in that way, too. It can be much harder to avoid judging and remain curious with family–even when we know this is the most effective way for us to connect with them.

With family, not arguing and not pushing back can feel like a betrayal of our own beliefs. It can feel like selling out just to keep peace at the dinner table. But listening with genuine curiosity is not selling out or taking the easy road. There is deep value in taking a more respectful and curious approach. When we connect in this way mutual listening is far more possible. And remember: again and again we hear from Living Room Conversation Guide users who have friends and family with very different views that love​ ​comes​ ​first​. Let’s let it!

Some family and friends may not be ready for a thoughtful conversation and that is perfectly ok. At Living Room Conversation we choose conversation partners based upon their ability — and commitment – to abide by the conversation agreements and enjoy an exploratory conversation. At a holiday gathering you may be the only person following conversation agreements. Choosing who to engage with, in what setting, and at what level is wise. For some people listening might be the only thing you want to do with them…moving on to others where you believe some mutual curiosity and appreciation might be productive. Also, recognize that a family gathering might be a place where some topics are simply not welcome. Be gentle with yourself and others. Sometimes the simple act of breaking bread together is enough.

About Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations are a conversational bridge across issues that divide and separate us. They provide an easy structure for engaging in friendly yet meaningful conversation with those with whom we may not agree. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground, and sometimes even allow us to discuss possible solutions. No fancy event or skilled facilitator is needed.

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/home-for-the-holidays/

youth in the Alabama Senate race

CIRCLE estimates that 23% of young Alabamians voted in yesterday’s special election. Just for a rough turnout comparison, 21.5% of youth in the United States as a whole voted in the 2014 election. We would normally expect turnout to be lower in a special election with only one person on the ballot than in a national Congressional election, and also lower among Alabama youth than youth across the country because just 40% of young Alabamians have any college experience (and college is correlated with voting). Thus I would call the turnout pretty good compared to expectations.

According to the Exit Polls, youth supported Doug Jones over Roy Moore by 60% to 38%. The older vote was dramatically different, with Moore winning people over 45 pretty easily. CIRCLE suggests two interesting contributing factors. First, young Alabamians are more diverse. “More than a third of the state’s young people are Black, and … Black voters of all ages went overwhelmingly for Jones (96%) in yesterday’s race.” Second, Moore may not have “garner[ed] overwhelming support even among youth who identify as conservative or Republican.” CIRCLE has previously found that “some Republican-leaning youth break with older voters on same-sex marriage and other social issues that were central to Moore’s campaign in Alabama. In addition, CIRCLE analysis of the Pew Research Center’s Political Typology dataset finds that only 5% of young people who lean toward or belong to the Republican party are “Steadfast Conservatives” (compared to 25% of Republicans or Republican-leaners aged 30+) while 31% are “Young Outsiders” who may feel less committed to the party and its candidates.”

More detail is on the CIRCLE website.

NCDD Member Explores Creating Brave Spaces

What does it look like to create not just safe spaces for conversation, but brave spaces? NCDD member, Mary Gelinas explored this is her recent blog post, Creating Brave Spaces, which challenged if it’s possible to be both safe and uncomfortable? (Spoiler alert, it’s possible.) As we navigate a myriad of conversations, especially during this holiday season, it’s important to keep in mind the needed bravery to stay within the harder conversations. We encourage you to read the post below or find the original version here. Also, let us know in the comments section, “What ground rules do you think would help one of your meetings be a brave space?”


Creating Brave Spaces

Setting ground rules or conversation guidelines seems to be the sine qua non of meetings these days. Having ground rules can create a safe space for people to interact, but they can also interfere with authentic conversation because people conflate safety with comfort. Is it possible to be both safe and uncomfortable?

My husband and business partner Roger James and I believe it is and that it is essential to be able to be both safe and uncomfortable without reverting to self-protective behaviors. When we react to discomfort by fighting, fleeing or freezing, we do not have the conversations we need to have to solve tough problems or create the organizations and communities we want to create. It is often in exploring our differences—uncomfortable for many of us—that we deepen our understanding of one another so we can find a way forward.

What’s the difference between safety and discomfort? Earlier this month Roger provided a good example in a workshop we led during the Campus Dialogue on Race at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. After noting that we were married he said, “We have difficult and uncomfortable conversations but I never feel unsafe.”

To tackle tough issues, in addition to tolerating discomfort, we also need to be brave, to stay present and engaged in the face of fear and unease. It takes courage to take risks and say what might be hard for others to hear, to listen to people’s painful experiences, and to hear things that contradict our opinions and challenge deeply held beliefs about the world and us. This is especially true when the conversation involves issues of inequality, inequity, racism, sexism, or agism, i.e., topics related to power and privilege.

Two ground rules that contribute to creating safe spaces but not necessarily brave ones are:

Agree to disagree. People can use this rule to avoid or retreat from a disagreement. If we are brave enough to stay with the frisson of a conflict—not get overwhelmed by fear or anger—we will no doubt learn something new and deepen our understanding of what the disagreement is really about. More constructive ground rules are “Listen to understand, first” and “Speak the truth without blame or judgment.”

Respect. This is ubiquitous in lists of ground rules and is the least controversial or discussed. But what does it really mean? When someone proposes this, ask, “What does respect look like? What would each of us be doing and saying to follow this ground rule?” Ask for examples of how anyone could challenge or disagree with someone else in a respectful manner. There are multiple, cultural understandings of what “respect” means. Talking about it surfaces these perspectives and helps people understand one another better. It also sets the stage for a common definition of “respect” that helps create a brave space.

What ground rules do you think would help one of your meetings be a brave space?

* I am grateful to Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens whose article “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” inspired this blog.

You can read the original version on this article at www.gelinasjames.com/creating-brave-spaces/.

100Kin10 as a model of education reform

The Clinton Foundation recently hosted a small roundtable discussion led by Chelsea Clinton and made up of funders and civic education organizations. The purpose was to learn about the 100Kin10 model. Although 100Kin10 is concerned with STEM education, it is also a model for reform in other areas, such as the one that concerns me professionally: civic education.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

I’d be open to arguments against the target he set, but I’ll assume for the sake of this post that it was a good one. It wasn’t the President’s own idea but resulted from previous research and discussion. Thus the story really begins before the 2011 State of the Union, with the research and advocacy that influenced President Obama.

With the President ‘s term running out, a group of 28 organizations came together to form 100Kin10. They included unions and districts that bargain with unions, education schools and alternatives to ed. schools (like Teach for America), companies, and foundations. New groups could be added to the network by nomination after a vetting process. Membership does not require ascribing to any particular model of science education, any specific strategy for getting to 100k, or any philosophy of education–groups must simply share the goal of 100,000 new STEM educators and be committed to seriously assessing quality.

The network has a very lean central node. Lots of money circulates in the form of grants or contracts from one network member to another, but the 100Kin10 team doesn’t collect and redistribute that money. Members of the network make commitments to advance the cause, and they do their actual work in a decentralized way.

100Kin10 has promoted consistent measurement by helping to develop assessment tools. There’s an agreement not to share the data with funders. That encourages members to use the tools and reflect candidly on what their data tell them.

The network has made strong progress toward the numerical goal set by President Obama. However, members have become increasingly aware that meeting the 100,000 target will not solve the problem. More teachers will still be needed as the years go by. Besides, there is more to improving STEM than hiring more and better STEM teachers.

I am a critic of “root cause analysis” because I believe that complex problems never have one or a few determinative causes. Problems are almost always systems of interlocking causes and consequences. With a similar view in mind, 100Kin10 asked a large number of experts and stakeholders to identify reasons for the chronic shortage of strong STEM teachers. Respondents came up with around 100 causes, each of which could plausibly be seen as the “root.”

If the respondents had been asked to identify the single most important factor, they would have been biased by their own vantage points and organizational missions. Instead, they were asked whether changing one factor would affect another specific one–in other words, whether each given pair of factors was causally related. These data were collected to produce a network map of causation.

As with most networks that develop in nature, this one was skewed. The rule of thumb is that 20% of nodes will have 80% of the links. I don’t know whether the 100Kin10 map follows that 80/20 distribution precisely, but it looks roughly like that to the eye. This means that by changing 20% of the variables measured in this complex system, we can directly move 80% of the whole system. Therefore, 100Kin10 has recently focused on encouraging members to shift their attention and discretionary efforts to the most central nodes. That is a powerful form of social analysis and leadership.

We could do something similar for civics. The goal would not be 100,000 qualified civics teachers, but some other broad and compelling outcome. Many of the steps would be similar. However, we would have take some differences into account:

Incentives: STEM education pays off for the individual who gains skills and credentials, and for firms and communities that gain more qualified workers. Thus the case for STEM is economic. The case for civics has to be different–probably patriotic and democratic (with a little “d”).

Politics: STEM is not without political controversy. (Should evolution be taught? Should resources be distributed to the poorest students, or to schools that demonstrate success?) However, civics is more pervasively political. Political opponents disagree in principle about what should be taught. Civics can also have immediate partisan implications by affecting who votes. To be clear, turnout is not the central goal of civics, but it could be an ancillary effect, and that makes it “political” (in a bad sense). On the other hand, there is more consensus about the core purposes of school-based civics than we sometimes assume.

Outcomes: The debate about what counts as a good outcome for students is more controversial in civics than in STEM. Disagreements go beyond simple left/right debates. People who share other views about politics may still disagree about the importance of civic knowledge versus civic action, or appreciating the constitutional system versus critically assessing it, or local citizenship versus global citizenship. (For my own part, I believe that an absolutely central goal is to increase students’ sheer interest in politics, because without a sense of intrinsic motivation to stay involved and informed, they will forget what they learn in civics class or fail to update it as the world changes.)

The role of the classroom: In education generally, there’s a live debate about how much the school, the classroom, and the teacher matter compared to the economy and social context beyond the school walls. People who believe that we can educate our way to social mobility are rightly challenged by critics who argue that the economy must be reformed to generate real opportunity. That debate is even more fundamental in civics, because it’s fairly clear that the political context beyond the classroom is unsatisfactory. In civics, the context starts with the school as a community (is it a just and loving place or a pipeline to prison?) and extends to the democracy as a whole, because our formal institutions are clearly flawed. I’m one who believes that good civics teaching is beneficial even under conditions of injustice, but we need to consider the critique that civics just accommodates students to an imperfect system and that reform should focus elsewhere.

These are differences between civics and STEM. They are mostly differences of degree, not profound gaps, and they do not suggest that reforming civics is impossible. In fact, civics has a great deal of momentum right now because of a broadly shared sense of civic crisis. (See our recent White Paper, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk and Civics is Part of the Solution.) It’s exciting to contemplate something like 100Kin10 for civic education.

Davenport Offers Local Gov’t Public Engagement Certificate

We are excited to share, NCDD member org , the Davenport Institute, in partnership with the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, recently launched a professional Certificate in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government [non-academic] and are offering the workshop this Jan 19-21, 2018. NCDD members receive a 20% discount on the training, so make sure you register by Jan 7th at the latest to receive this great benefit. Excellent for anyone involved or working with local government, or in graduate school for local government/public policy. They are accepting applications until the class is full, so sign up while you still can! You can read the announcement below or on the Pepperdine School of Public Policy’s website here.


Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership: Professional Certificate in Advance Public Engagement for Local Government

Are you a local government practitioner in search of a New Year’s Resolution? Do you know someone who is?  Why not make 2018 the year to become a champion of resident engagement?

Join us in Malibu, California on January 19-21 for a three-day intensive workshop.

In an age where trust in government (and indeed in all institutions) is at an all-time low, and indifference toward local government is at an all-time high, the very future of local representative democracy requires leaders with a new skill – an ability to break through cynicism and mistrust and engage residents in local policy.

From public safety, to city budgets and spending, to planning and environmental policies, today’s challenges need leaders who can re-vitalize public involvement and lead residents engaged in the difficult work of self-government.

This program is designed for local government and private-sector practitioners serving local governments as well as for graduate students focused on local government. Concepts covered include:

  • Getting engagement right from the start
  • Leading edge techniques for creative public engagement
  • Engaging marginalized communities
  • The role of technology in public engagement
  • Facilitating difficult conversations
  • Leading public engagement from where you are.

For more information and to apply visit: http://publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/certificate-public-engagement.

Applicants who are accepted to the program can receive a 20% discount when they use the code “NCDD” during registration.

You can read the announcement on the Pepperdine School of Public Policy’s website at www.publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/certificate-public-engagement.