Here is the outline of a course I’d like to take–or possibly design and teach some day:
- What is the social world? Is it, for example, a bunch of human individuals who interact? Perhaps not, since individuals’ identities and values emerge from social processes, while institutions also have intentions and agency. Do sex and/or gender (for instance) actually exist? Do cultures exist, or are they simplified labels that we impose on heterogeneous phenomena?
- Does it matter who studies the social world? On one hand, we might think that what we believe about society is just a function of who studies it. On the other hand, we might assume that social phenomena can be objectively known using procedures that are independent of who uses them. The truth probably lies in between. So how does the identity of the researcher influence the results of social science, and, more generally, how does power relate to truth?
- Facts and values: Are they distinct? How do they relate? Should we think of values as biases that may interfere with objectivity, or can they be valid as opposed to invalid? Should social science have values?
- What do various methods of social science assume about epistemology? For example, what must we believe about our ability to know in order to run a randomized controlled experiment, develop a game-theoretical model, survey a population and calculate distributions, or interpret a Balinese cockfight?
- What is and ought to be the role of social science in society? Should it be influential? When and how? Is everyone a social scientist, or does that phrase name a distinct group of experts or specialists? Should the goal of changing the world affect the research agendas and methods of social science? Who should govern (i.e., fund, regulate, organize) social science and how?
Mover and shaker org, Citizen University is holding two more of their exciting CitizenFEST events this coming fall and we encourage you to them check out! For folks in Texas, there will be one coming to you next week in Dallas on September 8th and for folks in Tennessee, you can catch the final one on October 13th in Memphis. CitizenFEST is a free and entertaining learning summit on strengthening civic power. You can read about the upcoming events, learn about what the May CitizenFEST was like, and check it all out on Citizen University’s site here.
Power + Character = Citizenship
CitizenFEST is a festive learning summit on how to exercise civic power, held in three communities across the country. Activists, artists, and everyday citizens come together for a unique blend of art, creativity, and the concrete skills of effective change-making. Our country needs more people to show up in more places to practice power in more ways. Join us!
How do you get your voice heard? How do you change a rigged system? How do you stir others out of apathy or connect with those with whom you disagree? We’ll tackle these questions and more in a day of skill-building workshops, artistic performances, and deep community conversations. Participants will leave with practical strategies of civic power to apply in their own work, new connections with community members, and new ideas and inspiration for the work at hand.
Our goal is to make registration as accessible and inclusive as possible, which is why it’s free to attend CitizenFEST!
September 8: Dallas, TX
in partnership with the Embrey Family Foundation and Ignite/Arts Dallas
Learn more and register here.
8:30 Registration & Breakfast
9:00 MORNING PLENARY SESSION
Welcome & Opening Performance
Keynote: Power + Character | Eric Liu, Citizen University
Panel: “Creating the Dallas We Need” | Giovanni Valderas, Assistant Director at Kirk Hopper Fine Art and visual artist; Brianna Brown, Texas Organizing Project; Vicki Meek, independent curator and artist; moderated by Kayla DeMonte, Citizen University
11:00 MORNING BREAKOUT
Power + Character Workshop – Citizen University
Music by S’anah Ras and DJ RonAmber. Tabling from local organizations
1:45 AFTERNOON BREAKOUTS
-Dr. Njoki McElroy
-Dallas Community Innovation Lab
-Panel: Texas Freedom Network, Creating Our Future, Dallas Area Interfaith, JOLT, moderated by Mercedes Fulbright
3:00 CLOSING PLENARY
Yoga N Da Hood, Mutual Aid Circles, performance, closing remarks by Eric Liu
4:30-5:30 Happy Hour Reception, music from DJ RonAmber
Gilley’s Dallas is ADA accessible. Please contact us if you would like further accommodations.
Parking will be free and available.
October 13: Memphis, TN
in partnership with The Fourth Bluff
Learn more and register here.
May 11-12: New Orleans, LA
in partnership with the Family Independence Initiative
Learn more about this past event here.
The Politics of Homeownership (Citylab)
Homeowners are more active in national and local politics than non-owners. This disproportionate involvement can potentially limit the economy and further divide our politics. Continue Reading
Republicans' anger at McCain speaks volumes about America's
tribal politics (Washington Post)
Over the past few decades, Americans have fled to the political poles, leaving fewer in the once vibrant and decisive middle. Increasingly, those partisan voters are being driven more by fear and loathing for the opposition party than admiration for their own party's leaders - a phenomenon that political consultants call "negative partisanship."Continue Reading
How the Democratic Party Can Turn the Sun Belt Blue (The
From Florida to Texas, November's elections provide an opening for Democrats to shift the balance of power-and make up for lost ground in the heartland. Continue Reading
If You Want Less Displacement, Build More Housing (Citylab)
Blocking new development doesn't keep people from moving in. It often prices residents out of the neighborhoods they're trying to preserve. Continue Reading
Divided By Wealth: 13 Places In America With The Worst Income
Income creates a disparity in every U.S. city, but the gap is markedly bigger in some areas versus others. A 2018 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently identified U.S. states, cities and counties most divided by wealth. Continue Reading
Investing to end poverty: On fostering economic growth and
mobility in Philadelphia (Generorcity.org)
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's community development advisor and outreach manager, Noelle St.Clair, writes about new models of moving capital for social good. Continue Reading
Before Cuomo-Nixon debate, Hofstra announces civic engagement
campaign (Long Island Business News)
A new civic engagement campaign called 'Hofstra Votes' aims to educate members of Hofstra University's community and surrounding area about pertinent political and policy issues. Continue Reading
City Council Begins Work On 2019 Participatory Budget Options
In NYC Council District 22, residents of Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Sunnyside, cast ballots last April on how to allocate $1 million in discretionary funding for community proposals ranging from improvements to the children's room of the Queens library's Steinway branch to lighting upgrades at Astoria Houses Community Center. Continue Reading
New York spends more per student than any other state. A new
study suggests it should spend more. (Chalkbeat)
Education advocates have insisted the state has skimped on funding its schools. But New York State already has the highest per-student funding rate of any in the country - could moving that number up make a difference? Continue Reading
Newark's new superintendent shares his big plans with 7,000
district employees (Chalkbeat)
School hasn't started yet in Newark, but the district's students and staffers are already learning that their new boss intends to do things differently. He ordered every district employee to call several students' families in the coming days to remind them about the start of school on Sept. 4. And he summoned all 7,000 or so of those employees - everyone from teachers to custodians to central-office staffers - to the Prudential Center in downtown Newark on Tuesday for a meeting that was part pep rally, part strategy session. Continue Reading
Making the preschool magic last as children get older (Hechinger
Although intensive family supports can be costly, research shows the need is clear. Trauma and stress, brought on by factors like poverty, food and housing insecurity, and violence in the community can impede the brain's development and lead to long-term mental and physical health issues. Schools like Christopher House try to reduce the impact of these negative experiences by addressing them head-on, providing early interventions in the form of high-quality education and family supports. Continue Reading
Community colleges try new 'pathway' to student success (The
Orange County Register)
California's community colleges are embarking on the most far-reaching reform they have ever adopted, in a bid to tackle their biggest challenge: to improve on historically low rates of student graduation and transfers to 4-year colleges and universities. Continue Reading
Google Launches New Tools To Help U.S. Veterans Find Jobs And
Promote Businesses (Forbes)
"Through Grow with Google, our initiative to help create opportunities for all Americans, we hope to use our technology to help veterans understand the full range of opportunities open to them across many different fields. Right now those opportunities are getting lost in translation." Continue Reading
America's Education 'Deserts' Show Limits of Relaxing
Regulations on Colleges
The market for higher education is strongly local, with sparse options for many potential students, so merely giving them more information may not work. Continue Reading
Complete care: Hospitals tackling social
determinants set the course (Modern Healthcare)
Individual behaviors are the largest contributors to premature death, accounting for 40%, according to a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine story, while healthcare made up just 10%. Continue Reading
Tech Giants Pledge to Ease Patient, Provider
Access to Health Data (Wall Street Journal)
Major tech companies committed Monday to removing technological barriers that have hindered patient and provider access to health-care data online. Continue Reading
Moody's report shows trouble on horizon with
"unsustainable path" for nonprofit hospitals (Fierce Healthcare)
Nonprofit and public hospitals in the U.S. are increasingly facing a pretty daunting financial picture.
The latest evidence: A report from Moody's Investors Services this week shows the growth of expenses is outpacing the growth of their revenue. That gap is putting the sector on an "unsustainable path," Moody's reported in its research announcement. Continue Reading
We shared a post last week from NCDD member org and sponsor, The Jefferson Center, about their recent partnership with The New York Times to attend the annual New York Times Athens Democracy Forum in September. As part of this, they are hosting a Twitter chat under the hashtag #DemocracyChat on Monday, September 10th at 11 am CT. This will be an opportunity to share your thoughts on the current state of democracy and how to strengthen it moving forward. You can read the announcement below and find the original on Jefferson Center’s site here.
Join Our #DemocracyChat!
Want to share your ideas about how democracy is working today, and the steps individuals, journalists, governments, and companies can take to strengthen it? Join our Twitter chat on Monday, September 10 at 11:00 am CT with the hashtag #DemocracyChat! Add to Google Calendar, Outlook, or iCal here.
We’ll discuss topics including…
- How technology is changing the way politics work
- How democracies can preserve human rights, while populist movements are on the rise
- The responsibility of companies to uphold democracy
In just a few weeks, our team is heading to Greece to participate in the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, “Democracy in Danger: Solutions for a Changing World”. As an official Knowledge Partner, we’ve been working with the New York Times team to bring our Citizens Jury method of deliberation to Athens. We’re moderating a key breakout session, where senior journalists from the NYT will sit down with business leaders, policymakers, and other experts from around the world to discuss democratic solutions.
We know (sadly) that not everybody is able to join our conversation in Athens. We still want to know how you’re thinking about the state of modern democracy.
New to Twitter Chats? Twitter Chats happen when a group of Twitter users meet online at a specific time to discuss a specific topic with a designated hashtag. In our case, that hashtag is #DemocracyChat. As the host, the Jefferson Center (are you following us on Twitter? You should be!) will host questions to guide the discussion marked as Q1, Q2, Q3… and so on. You can answer these directly with A1, A2, and A3 at the beginning of your tweets.
To help keep you organized, you may want to use a website like TweetChat so you only see tweets related to the hashtag, which will make the chat easier to follow. Just type in #DemocracyChat to start, and TweetChat will integrate with your Twitter account.
We’re excited to hear your ideas! See you on Twitter soon.
You can find the original version on this announcement on The Jefferson Center’s site at www.jefferson-center.org/join-our-democracychat/.
Today is the first day of classes in my seventeenth year of teaching. I have taught a lot over those years–sometimes as much as a 5/5/1 (5 courses in Fall, 5 in Spring, and one over the summer.) My sense from that time is that the value of a philosophy course is largely not derived from excellent lectures on my part–but rather from an engaged seminar discussion. This is sometimes called “Socratic” but I happen to think that Socrates provided a terrible model for contemporary faculty.
Still, I think students learn more from what they do and say and write in the classroom than from what I do, say, and write. The kind of reading, note-taking, and preparation I do to give a lecture helps me understand material deeply–and it’s precisely that kind of reading and preparation that I want my students to cultivate themselves. In that spirit, I have developed a kind of “in-class” presentation which is both how I think of my own best classes, and also allows students to easily step into the role of “guiding discussion” themselves.
During the semester each student takes responsibility for a “provocation,” a written and oral project whereby they start off the class. This works best in small seminars under 15, but it can scale up to 30 with careful management. Each class period a student takes responsibility for kicking off our discussion of the reading with a short paper that briefly summarizes the argument, pulls a choice textual selection for discussion, and asks a provocative question or two, and then explains why this question meets three critera: (1) it is personally interesting to the student, (2) difficult to answer because it turns on a deep philosophical disagreement/confusion or rests on tricky empirical issues, and (3) important for directing further study and/or its answers will have implications for other relevant questions.
I always make sure to model these provocations for students myself, and indeed this afternoon I’ll be doing so using an article by Danielle Allen:
Danielle Allen’s “The Life of a South Central Statistic” is an excerpt from her book Cuz, which describes her cousin Michael Allen who was incarcerated as an adolescent for a string of robberies and thefts. Danielle Allen describes how Michael was locked up under the then-new three strikes policy in California (which also enhanced sentencing for carjacking) and how prison changed him—and how the relationships he formed there eventually led to his murder. Though he worked as a firefighter while incarcerated his criminal record kept him from taking firefighting up as a career upon release, and he fell into the drug trade. Though she lays some blame at the feet of the California legislature for meting out such a harsh sentence, Danielle Allen also describes the violence of organized drug trafficking as a “para-state” with twice the resources of the CIA operating in American cities to exploit and kill men like her cousin.
One of the more striking passages in the article is this one:
“California’s legislators had given up on the idea of rehabilitation in prison, even for juveniles. This is a point that critics of the penal system make all the time. Here is what they don’t say: legislators had also given up on retribution. Anger drives retribution. When the punishment fits the crime, retribution is achieved, and anger is sated; it softens. This is what makes it anger, not hatred, a distinction recognized by philosophers all the way back to antiquity. Retribution limits how much punishment you can impose.
The legislators who voted to try as adults sixteen-year-olds, and then fourteen-year-olds, were not interested in retribution. They had become deterrence theorists. They were designing sentences not for people but for a thing: the aggregate level of crime. They wanted to reduce that level, regardless of what constituted justice for any individual involved. The target of Michael’s sentence was not a bright fifteen-year-old boy with a mild proclivity for theft but the thousands of carjackings that occurred in Los Angeles. Deterrence dehumanizes. It directs at the individual the full hatred that society understandably has for an aggregate phenomenon. But no individual should bear that kind of responsibility.”
In the quoted paragraphs above, Danielle Allen seems to suggest that the political morality of deterrence is worse than revenge. Is the purpose of criminal punishment to prevent crime? Does this treat a person like an aggregate–a statistic–as she suggests?
This fascinates me because I am tempted to believe that the only reasonable use of state violence to punish is to deter worse behavior, but such efforts are often accused of dehumanizing the perpetrator. Yet revenge seems more dehumanizing, doesn’t it? Perhaps this is difficult to answer because the manifold justifications for punishment all speak to us at different times in terms of different crimes: when we see the individual harm to a victim we are much more likely to demand the satisfaction of our anger in revenge—but when we think about the ways that a deterrence theory might prevent some crimes from even happening it seems better than having more crime and more retribution for those crimes! I wonder whether there are techniques that could be used to combine these theories: perhaps there are ways that revenge is itself deterring—for instance it signals that crimes are unacceptable. But still there is more to deterrence than renaming revenge: for instance it might be the case that some crimes are difficult to prevent, while other crimes—which cause less harm overall—can be prevented best with really graphically shameful punishments. (For instance, perhaps slumlords are best deterred by being required to stand shamefully in front of their badly maintained buildings holding a sign indicating their violations.) There’s a lot of further study warranted here—and plenty of room for both empirical assessment and more principled philosophical exploration of the related themes.
This provocation barely touches the surface of the interesting themes raised by the article and Allen’s book. But it’s enough to get a conversation started, and I usually come prepared with four to six passages and questions like this for an hour-long class. Quite often I find that even students who are randomly assigned to provoke on some topic develop a semester-long fixation on the themes that arose during their provocation–just because the deep thinking and preparation required to write this short assignment and share it with others gives them a sort of endowment effect with those issues. Here are some more provocations on Allen:
- Michael was technically a “violent” criminal but his victims weren’t really hurt. He was also a teenager, and perhaps less culpable than an adult in a similar situation. What should we make of his age in assessing his culpability?
- Michael’s lover–and murderer–was a trans woman named Bree and there are all sorts of issues raised by her time in a men’s facility in California. Should Bree have been housed with women? What would have happened to Michael then?
- Michael had a loving and supportive mother but her struggles with abusive partners may have contributed to his fate. Could she have done anything differently? And how do our public policies exacerbate these circumstances?
- Some of Michael’s difficulties upon release are closely tied to the stigmas he faced during reentry. But others are tied to the fact that he fell in love with Bree while incarcerated–they are the results of the deliberate decisions of an adult man struggling to manage social expectations, economic needs, and an obviously abusive relationship with someone who he loved helplessly. What should we make of his story?
- I find Allen’s discussion of the para-state endlessly fascinating and I wonder whether this is something that prison abolitionists should spend more time working on. Why does she name it a “para-state” and what should we say about the violence that arises from it? Does she partly exonerate the United States for its racist, mass incarcerating policies thereby?
It’s not often enough that there are dedicated times to practicing a vital life skill like active listening, but Ben Franklin Circles are just the opportunity. This recent article, written by Danyel Addes – one of the NCDD2018 planning team members, talks about the valuable space that BFCs offer to strengthen our listening skills and truly hear another person out. Make sure you check out the free upcoming webinar on August 30th at 2pm EST, “Sharing Airtime: Current BFC hosts share advice for balancing participation and encouraging deep listening.” We encourage you to read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.
Ben Franklin Circles: Creating the world by listening
In her June 2018 Host Profile, Kim Crowley a BFC Host from Connecticut wrote that some of her circle group members had “mentioned difficulties with listening while others in the group are talking.” She explained that as a host, “It made me realize that providing support around listening skills may be important for every group I facilitate.”
Sometimes our efforts to nod attentively and assure people we are listening is a purposeful strategy that we employ in the service of efficiency and multitasking. But what about the times that we genuinely want to listen but find it unexpectedly difficult? How long are you able to listen to someone without thinking about your own opinions, how you want to respond, or what you are going to say next? Why is this so hard to do?
These questions feel particularly relevant to Ben Franklin Circles. At least once a month, circle members make a concerted effort to go somewhere specifically to listen to others. The last time I paid attention to how much time I spent listing vs. how much time I spent thinking about what I wanted to say, I realized I was missing out on many of the contributions of my peers, contributions I had come to hear. Ben Franklin Circles have helped me realize that I have far less control over my ability to listen then I had assumed.
A short article by Eric Westervelt from 2014 provides some context for this experience. Westervelt spoke with writer Julian Treasure, whose observations I think about often while in conversation with fellow BFC group members (yes, sometimes while they are speaking).
Treasure observes that “it would be some sort of shock horror story if a child left school unable to read or write. But we do not teach explicitly, or test in the main, either speaking or — much more importantly — listening…. Listening is a skill. This is not something that is just natural that we can expect everyone to be brilliant at just because we are human. It is something we have to work out. Listening is an activity. It’s not passive. We are creating the world by listening all the time.”
Professor Laura Janusik adds, “There’s this assumption that, just because we can hear, that means we can listen effectively. That’s like suggesting that just because we can speak we can speak effectively. And we all know that is absolutely not the case.”
When I catch myself “failing” to be able to listen, it helps to remember that this is a difficult skill that I’ve never really had a chance to practice.
Most of us can imagine how we would practice an athletic skill like a jump shot or an artistic pursuit like ceramics. It can be hard to imagine what that looks like when it comes to listening. Luckily, there are creative ways to do this.
A few years ago in a workshop, I was told that the facilitator would time us and we would each have 2 minutes to speak. I expected the following conversation to be stressful and awkward. But soon after we started I realized that knowing exactly when my turn was coming and how long it would last, freed me up from thinking about those things and allowed me to do a better job of listening as each person spoke. It made the whole conversation more fun and more enjoyable.
In a brief TED talk, Julian Treasure offers suggestions for individuals who want to improve their ability to listen. His first suggestion, Silence, will be familiar to members of Ben Franklin Circles, who know that Silence is one of Franklin’s virtues.
For years, I didn’t realize I was missing out on a life skill that now feels incredibly vital and valuable. I am thankful that (for those of us looking for them) Ben Franklin Circles can offer many opportunities to develop a listening practice, as individuals and as a community.
Danyel Addes is a Program Manager at the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in NYC.
You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/ben-franklin-circles-creating-the-world-by-listening.
Newly published–and free without a subscription through November — is The Good Society‘s Special Issue on Reintegrating Facts, Values, Strategies, vol. 26, no. 2-3 (2017). Guest edited by me.
Table of Contents
- Editor’s Note (pp. iii-iv) – Trygve Throntveit
- Guest Editor’s Introduction: On Reintegrating Facts, Values, Strategies (pp. 195-201) – Peter Levine
- Civic Competence, Self-Governance, and the New Epistocratic Paternalism: An Ostromanian Perspective (pp. 202-217) – Paul Aligica
- Working Toward Transpositional Objectivity: The Promotion of Democratic Capability for an Age of Post-Truth Politics (pp. 218-233) – Anthony DeCesare
- Cooperative Democracy and Political-Economic Development: The Civic Potential of Worker Coops (pp. 234-254) – Susan Orr and James Johnson
- Democracy as Group Discussion and Collective Action: Facts, Values, and Strategies in Canadian and American Rural Landscapes (pp. 255-273) – Timothy J. Shaffer
- Facts, Values, and Democracy Worth Wanting: Strategic Public Deliberation in the Era of Trump (pp. 274-289) – David E. Meens
- Giving Birth in the Public Square: The Political Relevance of Dialogue (pp. 290-304) – Lauren Swayne Barthold
- Exploring the Epistemological Challenges Underlying Civic Engagement by Religious Communities (pp. 305-322) – Mary E. Hess
- William James’s Psychology of Philosophizing: Intellectual Diversity, Selective Attention, and the Sentiments in Our Rationalities (pp. 323-337) – Paul J. Croce
- Forgiveness after Charleston: The Ethics of an Unlikely Act (pp. 338-353) -Larry M. Jorgensen
- Justice, Human Dignity and Human Rights (pp. 354-369) – Karol Edward Soltan
As we announced recently, NCDD is in the midst of an effort to raise $10,000 for our Scholarship Fund to bring as many students, youth, and people needing support as possible to the NCDD 2018 conference. Will you consider making a tax-deductible donation today to help us bring twenty-five individuals to NCDD who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend?
In just over one week we’ve raised nearly 25 percent of our goal, and that means we already can support conference registrations for 10 students! However, we have 23 applicants for scholarships currently, many of these students and youth, and we need your support to help us get them all to NCDD 2018! Please help out if you can – no amount is too little, and every little bit helps! If you’d like to help support their attendance at NCDD 2018, please contribute to the scholarship fund here and enter “Scholarship Fund” in the “Donation Note” field!
Your tax-deductible donation will go directly to helping us provide travel reimbursements, shared hotel rooms, and registration for scholarship hopefuls. Plus, anyone who donates $50 or more will have their contribution acknowledged in the printed conference guidebook!
We want to say a special “Thank You!” to our champions who have already donated a combined $2,433:
- Carolyn Penny, University of California at Davis
- Jim Hight, Independent writer and consultant
- Michael Shannon, President, Northern NJ Community Foundation
- Martha Cox, San Diego Deliberation Network, League of Women Voters of California
- Jim S.
- Gail Stone
- Larry Schooler
- Caroline Lee
- Cassandra Hemphill
- Nancy Kranich
- John Steiner
- Jeff Prudhomme
- Marla Crockett
- Rachel Eryn Kalish
- Jacquelyn Pogue
- Evelyn Thornton
Thank you for helping us make attending NCDD 2018 a reality!