(Philadelphia) On Giving Tuesday, I am reluctant to name specific organizations to contribute to, other than my own employer (Tisch College) and the grant-seeking organizations on whose fiduciary boards I sit: Street Law, Discovering Justice, Everyday Democracy, and the Civic Series. But I do want to make a general argument that might influence your choices. As I showed in this post, “A total of $23 million–.0.43% of all democracy funding and a little less than one cent per American per year–has been spent on [nonpartisan] grassroots organizing for civic participation.” This kind of work should be a priority, especially for the small donors who form the grassroots base of democracy.
Friendly reminder about our December Confab Call this coming Thursday, December 5th from noon-1:30 pm Eastern/9 am-10:30 am Pacific. The call will be an opportunity for participants to learn about several resources for talking about guns and violence. We encourage you to join this free call and register today to secure your spot.
Before we go further and in case you missed our post yesterday, today is Giving Tuesday! If you appreciate our Confabs and Tech Tuesdays, conferences and the work we do to build up this vibrant network and the field of dialogue and deliberation – then we would love your support. Today there is a special offer, for folks who donate via our Facebook page, your donations will be matched! If you would prefer to not use social media, you are welcome to donate directly to NCDD right here. We know there are a lot of incredible organizations out there to support today and whether it is $5 or $50; we appreciate any contributions you can provide! Finally, on this note, we encourage folks who are not already NCDD members to check out the member benefits and join the Coalition!
So back to this Confab coming up… it has become an increasing norm in our society to experience mass shootings and this last summer our communities and nations grappled with another wave of violence. As often happens in these moments, people want a space to process what’s happened, and/or talk about what to do to prevent future tragedy. On Thursday, we’ll be featuring three organizations in the NCDD network and the resources they have developed for talking about this topic, learn more below.
National Issues Forums has developed materials several times on the topic. The most recent is their Issue Advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? From the advisory: “Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in places where people should feel safe—movie theaters, shopping centers, schools. Many believe these attacks are nothing short of terrorism. How can we stop mass shootings and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?” The issue advisory outlines three potential options for addressing this issue and encourages the public to deliberate on these and potentially other options.
Living Room Conversations‘ Conversation Guide on Guns and Responsibility seeks to help people come together across political or ideological differences to discuss this challenging topic. From the guide: “This conversation focuses on our own personal experience with guns and how these experiences have shaped our opinions. This conversation seeks to help us develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges surrounding gun ownership.” The guide offers a format for talking about guns in a way that helps community members hear one another’s experiences and how those impact their views about guns.
Essential Partners, the global leader in building trust and understanding across divisive differences, has led both regional and national projects around the role of guns in American life for over five years. In 2018, EP convened participants from across the United States for a two-day training in dialogue design and community building, followed by an experiment in digital peer dialogue facilitation. A partnership with TIME Magazine, Spaceship Media, and Advance Local, the in-person event took place in Washington, DC, during the March for Our Lives. Watch the TIME Magazine video, read the media coverage, view resources, and find out more about Essential Partners’ approach to this issue on their website.
On this call, we’ll be joined by presenters from each of these three organizations, who will share with us the resources and how they can be used to discuss the challenging topic of guns. Join us to hear more and have your questions answered about how to convene a conversation in your community.
This free call will take place on Thursday, December 5th from noon-1:30 pm Eastern, 9 am-10:30 am Pacific. Register today so you don’t miss out on this event!
About NCDD’s Confab Calls
NCDD’s Confab Calls are opportunities for members (and potential members) of NCDD to talk with and hear from innovators in our field about the work they’re doing and to connect with fellow members around shared interests. Membership in NCDD is encouraged but not required for participation. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!
It’s risky to generalize about k-12 civics. In the USA, there are no national standards for civics, state standards tend to be incoherent and not firmly enforced, and textbooks divide the market. Some teachers in some classrooms present highly critical accounts of US politics. Others are committed to American exceptionalism and celebratory narratives. The whole woke-to-MAGA spectrum is represented.
Many k-12 teachers try to avoid adopting positions in the classroom by presenting only hard facts about the constitutional process or by organizing deliberative discussions in which many perspectives are honored. Yet even an ostensibly neutral approach must reflect choices about the most important questions, topics and themes.
It is also risky to generalize about the discipline of political science, which encompasses more heterogeneous subfields than most disciplines. Whole subcultures of political scientists strike me as pro-regime, while others are radical. (See this post for some observations about the balkanized profession.)
But I’d still tentatively hypothesize that the center of gravity in political science stands apart from the center of gravity for k-12 civics, especially if we look at mass-market textbooks and state standards documents for evidence about civics. And I’d suggest that these are the three main gaps:
- Political science has haltingly recognized a wider range of perspectives on American political history and institutions, giving more attention to women and people of color as political thinkers and critics. That has meant more attention to critiques of the US system, but also alternative ideals and visions of progress. Again, this generalization ignores woke high school teachers and conservative or traditionalist political science professors, but I’d still venture the generalization.
- Political science has widely embraced versions of the New Institutionalism. I have written a primer on that movement, but in essence, it finds that institutions rarely operate as intended because they have their own logics and incentives. This means that it is unlikely that the US government would work as its authors planned. James Madison was an early and brilliant institutionalist who designed constitutional provisions to prevent certain kinds of corruption and failure. But the New Institutionalism has vastly expanded the list of threats, and few political scientists would argue that the US Constitution’s design addresses all these threats in a satisfactory way. Much of the high school curriculum is designed to teach students why the framers designed our system to work as it does. Many political scientists would emphasize that it does not, and could not, work as intended but rather faces serious perils. By the way, here I am not referring to intended “features” of the original Constitution, such as white-male dominance. I am referring to unforeseen “bugs.”
- Political science has experienced the behavioral revolution. Human beings evolved to make decisions without full consideration of relevant facts and information, employing heuristics and biases and rationalizing our biases with cherry-picked reasons. It’s common in civics curricula to present a model of the citizen as an independent thinker who decides on the best policy and chooses the candidates who come closest to those views. At least according to political scientists like Achen & Bartels (Democracy for Realists, 2016), this model is a myth. Citizens inevitably join up with large groups and vote to demonstrate loyalty to their groups.
The solution to this gap is not to move k-12 civics all the way to the center of gravity of professional political science. For my taste, the professional discipline is too cynical, not sufficiently normative or interested in problem-solving. Exposing students to cutting-edge political science is unlikely to make them more active and efficacious citizens. A big dose of New Institutionalism plus Behaviorism could kill anyone’s interest in politics unless the insights of those movements can be combined with some creativity and optimism.
At the same time, to ignore the findings of modern political science is increasingly untenable. We need new combinations.
See also: don’t let the behavioral revolution make you fatalistic; the New Institutionalism, deliberative democracy, and the rise of the New Right; on teaching the US Constitution; is our constitutional order doomed?; we should be debating the big social and political paradigms; and constitutional piety.
This week is Giving Tuesday, a day of giving back to the organizations that give to our communities year-round. We at the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) ask you to consider supporting our coalition’s work to bring more valuable conversations to communities across the country and the world. We work to increase access to resources for dialogue, deliberation, participatory democracy, and more. Our purpose is to foster connections between individuals and organizations passionate about having more informed and productive conversations; strengthening relationships in order to reduce information and skills from being siloed.
NCDD envisions a future in which all people–regardless of income, position, background or education–are able to engage regularly in lively, thoughtful, and challenging discussions about what really matters to them, in ways that have a positive impact on their lives and their world. We envision a society in which systems and structures support and advance inclusive, constructive, dialogue and deliberation.
NCDD is a small outfit, with just three part-time staff, and we rely on the support of our network and friends to help us continue to educate people on dialogue and deliberation, and to build this national coalition. Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500.
On Giving Tuesday (tomorrow, December 3rd), Facebook will match a total of $7 million in donations. Starting at 8am Eastern/5am Pacific, donations made through our Facebook page, will be matched – so please give what you can and help NCDD continue to support this network of innovators! Important to note: Facebook will be covering processing fees, so 100% of your donation will go towards NCDD (!!). If you don’t use Facebook, you can always make a donation of any amount on our donation page.
For seventeen years, NCDD has worked hard to gather visionaries and practitioners dedicated to raising the quality of discourse across many key issues and questions. Many of you have been a part of that – and we’re immensely grateful for you!
As you reflect back on your years of association, we’re curious: how much has this network meant to you? Has it made a difference for good in some way? In what ways can we continue to drive NCDD together to support each other doing this work?
Please consider a #GivingTuesday donation to help us continue this work into the new year. More than ever before, we could use the help and support – and would be so grateful for your assistance!
We recognize there are a lot of fantastic organizations out there to donate to on Giving Tuesday, but we hope you consider donating to NCDD, which plays such a critical role in building capacity for improved democracy, conversation, and connection (which, we argue, is actually the most important issue we face right now as a country). It is really tough for organizations like NCDD to fundraise and be sustainable because it is a network of organizations, practitioners, and volunteers. Most of the members understandably have to focus on their own organizations and efforts. But networks like NCDD are critical to build a community of practice and grow the field.
If you don’t know very much about us, we encourage you to check out some of the great benefits of NCDD and become a member. If you are already connected, please consider donating, even just a little bit, especially since it can be matched this morning.
Thank you for your support this Giving Tuesday and every day!