The High School Civic Literacy Exam in Florida

Today, the state of Florida Department of Education released guidance on the High School Civic Literacy Exam to be piloted this year across the state. Some key details of this exam and the pilot administration:

  • It will be piloted in Spring of 2020 and is open to students in grades 9-12.
  • This year, it will not be tied to school accountability or student graduation.
  • IT IS THE SAME EXAM THAT WAS DEVELOPED FOR THE COLLEGE LEVEL. The good news here is that the State Board of Education is developing a rule that requires higher education institutions to accept passing scores achieved in high school as meeting the college requirement. This rule will be retroactive to include students that take it during this pilot year.
  • 100 questions, multiple choice, 60% to pass
  • The state encourages students enrolled in US Government and Economics courses (AP, Honors, and Regular) to take the assessment, but it is not tied to any course and is open to students 9-12.
  • The department will provide districts with the 100-question exam and an answer key via ShareFile.
  • Districts will administer the test in a process similar to other local assessments and may choose to deliver the test to students on paper, electronically, or a mix of methods.
  • The test duration is 100 minutes. Districts may choose to administer the test in two sessions; however, all students should be tested on the same number of items at the same time to help mitigate test security concerns.
  • The test may be scheduled at any time before the end of the school year and does not need to coincide with other statewide testing this spring.
  • Additional details will be communicated to district assessment coordinators in the near future.

Questions about the exam should be directed to Mike DiPierro at FDOE. They will be releasing a resource page soon, but you may also visit the various university pages for a collection of resources as well (such as UF or UCF, for example). The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship will be adding a module to Civics360 to help address this assessment for the 2020-2021 school year.



where to focus your political energies

Everyone should read Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change by my friend and colleague Eitan Hersh. It is a gentle and disarming critique of how many of us spend our time and energy as citizens. It comes with valuable suggestions for how to improve our impact. Read the whole thing, but for a teaser, see Eitan’s recent New York Times op-ed, “Listen Up, Liberals: You Aren’t Doing Politics Right” (subtitled “Politics is about getting power to enact an agenda. And the only way to do that is face-to-face organizing.”)

My response is to audit my own political activity to select work that meets these criteria: 1) The issues and problems are important. 2) I might be able to shift some people’s opinions or behavior by expressing my views to individuals who trust–or could trust–me. And 3) These people have–or could have–influence over decisions, e.g., by voting in an actually contested upcoming election, by changing their own organizations, by building new organizations, or in other ways.

Using those criteria, here are some possible foci for my own attention, ranked from most valuable (#1) to least worthy (#7). Your list will be different, because everyone has a unique set of assets and opportunities.

  1. Advocate for changes in the state and local policies and the available materials for civic education in US schools. This is not the world’s most important issue. (It isn’t the earth’s climate.) But I have been paid to work on it for decades and have some comparative advantages in terms of credibility, information, access, and networks. Then again, I must be careful not to be satisfied with working on this issue, for which I am paid and assessed. I should also be engaged on other issues in my own time.
  2. Advocate for affordable housing in Cambridge, MA, where I live. Dense and affordable housing in a city with excellent public schools would be good for the climate and for racial and economic justice. Housing is a salient and contested issue in our city. Most neighbors believe in affordable housing abstractly, but the proposed policies are deeply contested. I hold views on the matter, and if I invested my time, I might be able to make persuasive arguments to undecided voters within my own networks of trust, and expand those networks.
  3. Form relationships and exchange ideas with people in one or more other countries, especially countries that do not get a huge amount of attention in the US and about which I might have some direct knowledge. Even though the geographical scale is large, people can increase the odds of peace and understanding through informal diplomacy and by educating their own fellow citizens back home.
  4. Advocate for policies within Tufts, where I work. I do this every week while sitting in committee meetings or sending emails. Sometimes, the issues are significant. I have an increment of influence here. But I also face both practical and ethical limitations as a middle-manager. There are issues on which it is appropriate and important for me to advocate, and others that really aren’t in my domain. Drawing that line can be an ethical challenge for anyone who works within a Weberian organization.
  5. Advocate specific policies to presidential primary candidates and legislators. I am not going to accomplish anything by taking a stand on the major policy issues of the day, such as single-payer healthcare or Iran. But there are specific issues on which I might have some special expertise and credibility and an ability to be mildly influential. For example, I believe that a Green New Deal (of any scale) must incorporate citizen participation in order to be effective. This is something I could advocate.
  6. Take and express a view on the Democratic presidential primary candidates. Millions of others are also doing that, and almost every point that could be made has been made. Still, my social network includes a wide distribution of Democratic primary voters, from strong Democratic Socialists to committed centrists, and I suppose I might shift someone’s view by making a good point. (The reason I haven’t done this yet is that I am deeply torn and don’t know where I stand. Maybe I should just figure that out for myself and quietly cast my secret ballot on March 3.)
  7. Take and express a position on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump. The decision-makers are the members of the US Senate. My senators (Warren and Markey) are 100% likely to convict. Approximately 1 bazillion words have already been said or written about this topic. Among those words are many annoying ones that I could criticize all day. But everyone I know has already made up their minds. I have no special expertise, influence, or leverage. This is one of those bright, shiny objects that lures my attention and distracts me from actually improving the world.

what kind of a good is education?

In Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice is Really About (University of Chicago Press, 2019), Sigal R. Ben-Porath and Michael C. Johanek write that education is a private good, a public good, and a positional good. These concepts are worth unpacking because they are central to debates in education policy, and policy more generally.

Elinor Ostrom argued that pure public goods meet two criteria: they are non-excludable and non-subtractable. The former means that it is practically impossible (regardless of your goals) to keep people from benefitting from the good. The latter means that using some of the good does not use it up; the same amount is left for others.

A classic example of a public good is national defense: if the US maintains a military deterrent against foreign invasion, then everyone in the US benefits, and my security does not detract from yours. Another example is any basic discovery about nature. As Jefferson wrote: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

For Ostrom, a pure private good meets the opposite criteria: it is excludable and subtractable. For instance, a bowl of rice can (practically speaking) be reserved for one person, and if that person eats a bite of it, less rice is left. Even if I leave it in the lunchroom for anyone to take, it is still a private good because I could have excluded it and subtracted from it.

This twofold distinction permits goods that are neither public nor private. Some goods are excludable but non-subtractable. An example would be Netflix: the company can keep you out unless you pay, but one person’s use (hardly) subtracts from anyone else’s. These are called “club goods.”

And some goods are subtractable but non-excludable. For instance, the fish in the ocean are definitely subtractable: over-fishing can wipe them out. But it is practically very difficult and expensive to block individuals from fishing. An even more important case is the earth’s capacity for absorbing carbon. It is subtractable but non-excludable. These are called “common pool resources.”

Using Ostrom’s four-way distinction, what kind of a good is education? This is a complicated question, because education involves a range of inputs, outputs, and contextual factors. Many are neither purely subtractable nor non-subtractable. For instance, adding another student to Tufts’ enrollment doesn’t really subtract from anyone’s experience or the value of Tufts diploma, but adding 10,000 students would. Spaces at Tufts are somewhat subtractable and completely excludable. We offer something between a club good and a private good.

As a rough guide, here are some preliminary categorizations of some (not all) educational goods.

Ostrom’s framework is meant to be exhaustive, and I believe it is. But you can also tag specific goods with additional labels:

A positional good: This is a good whose value is relative to the value of other people’s goods of the same kind. For instance, if one candidate for a job holds a BA, and all the other candidates hold Associates Degrees, the college grad has an advantage that is a positional good. In a competition with MAs, the same person would have a positional disadvantage. Positional goods must be excludable but may not be completely subtractable. (My holding a BA does not reduce the supply of BAs). These are often club goods.

A luxury or “Veblen” goods: These are goods for which the demand increases as the price rises. People sometimes want things because they are expensive–consumer brands are examples. Admission to US private universities may be a Veblen good, although that’s a critical claim. It’s certainly the case that colleges are more desirable the more selective they are, and if you consider the “price” of admission to be tuition plus the applicant’s accomplishments, then college is a classic Veblen good. Most students want to attend colleges that are harder to get into.

What to make of these distinctions depends on your ideological positioning. I start with the stereotypical liberal stance, but I am uncertain about it and interested in shifting. That position says that education is importantly but not exclusively a public good because of the words in the bottom-right square (above). Insofar as it’s also a private good, we don’t want to leave markets to generate it all by themselves, because some families won’t be able to afford it and disparities will create problematic positional goods. Yet education is, in part, a private good, and we wouldn’t be able to generate it without some involvement by markets.

Martin Luther and Martin Luther King

In my course on the thought of Martin Luther King, as we explore various influences on MLK, we are spending some time on the influence of Protestant theology, and specifically, the debates within American Lutheranism that King encountered when he attended Crozer Theological Seminary and then BU’s School of Theology.

One motivation for assigning Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Howard Thurman–along with Martin Buber and some excerpts from the Bible–is to help us understand how King thought. In other words, there is a biographical reason to read these works. But I also believe that it’s our obligation to try to understand justice and injustice, and we inevitably do so by working critically and creatively with the materials we inherit. For Christians, those materials include the highly heterogeneous inheritance of scripture and doctrine, from which many ideas can be made. So, although I am secular, I find it useful to watch Christian theologians work with those inherited materials, and their insights often translate.

One topic for theology in any of the Abrahamic faiths is: Why is there evil in a world created by an omnipotent and omniscient God? And what is the solution to this evil?

For MLK, the specific versions of these questions are: Why does racism (and poverty, and war) exist? What is the solution? Note that it’s a choice to use religious terms like “sin,” and it’s worth thinking about whether these words can and should be translated into secular terms, such as “inequity.”

Howard Thurman puts the question more forcefully (Jesus and the Disinherited, p. 7): “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?” Is this impotence intrinsic to Christianity or a betrayal of it?

In the background is Martin Luther’s view that we all sin. (Even if you didn’t commit any sinful acts, you would have sinful thoughts and sins of omission). No one merits salvation. Salvation is by grace, through Jesus Christ, and enabled by “faith alone.” This faith is individual: an inner state. There is no solution to sin in this world, although you will not intentionally and grievously sin if you are faithful.

Translated into politics, this doctrine can promote acceptance of injustice in this world and an emphasis on individual faith, although Protestant thinkers have not all reached such conclusions.

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) preached “The Social Gospel.” For him, sin has a social cause; it’s not just individual. In Theology for the Social Gospel, p. 60, he writes, “sin is transmitted along the lines of social tradition.” “Sin is lodged in social customs and institutions.” An explicit example (p. 79) is racism, which doesn’t come naturally but is “lodged” in customs.

For instance, to steal is to break the Seventh Commandment. But people steal because of private property, scarcity, and inequality. The cause is root is “profitability.” With alcoholism and militarism, the mechanism is social authority, which explicitly favors wine and war (pp. 63-5).

The solution is social reform. Social reform can be fully successful on earth. At a minimum, Rauschenbusch endorses “the feasibility of a fairly righteous and fraternal social order” (p. 102)

The Christian Bible is compatible with this view. To put it bluntly, Jesus wants social reform. Individual salvation and conversion really mean social commitment (p. 98). Faith really means hope in social change and a commitment to work for it (p. 101). Sanctification is accomplished by cooperative work. And prayer has pragmatic value. God is a real interlocutor, but the reason to pray is to receive divine encouragement for social work (p. 105)    

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) distinguishes moral “man” (we could say, “individuals”) from immoral society. This is a way of finding both good and evil in the created world.

Individuals can strive for unselfishness, and this is a valid ideal for us as individuals. Selflessness is an intrinsic goal. For instance (per Moral Man and Immoral Society, p. 263), Jesus doesn’t command us to forgive our enemies as a strategy for social change but as “an effort to approximate complete moral perfection, the perfection of God.”

If individuals would all be altruistic, society would not have to coerce and punish. There would be no need for law. And when human relations are “intimate,” love can generate justice (p. 266)

But individuals will never all be altruistic at large scales, so we need coercion: law, power, and conflict. (This is a version of original sin.)

Whereas people should strive to be unselfish, laws must be made just. Justice and altruism fit together uncomfortably. The tension is permanent. But we need both.

Specifically, African Americans have been patient and peaceful, but this has not accomplished justice (p. 268). One specific problem has been the temptation of privileged minorities of Blacks to defect to the dominant group (p. 274).  Pacifism is “altogether unrealistic” (p. 269) and selfishness is inevitable (p. 272). Thinking that society can be made moral encourages fanaticism (p. 277).

But that doesn’t make Niebuhr a hard-nosed realist. He argues that a society needs people who strive for individual goodness. Retaining the inner ideal of unselfishness is “not a luxury but a necessity of the soul.” (p. 277)

Howard Washington Thurman (1899 – 1981) begins by noting that there are many sermons about the Christian obligations of the rich. But what does Christianity say to the oppressed?

God could have taken any human form to save the earth. God chose to be a poor Jew during the Roman Empire, a member of a “minority” (p. 17). Jesus was someone without legal privileges (p. 33) Why did God choose this vessel?

Because Jews were persecuted. Jesus’ sacrifice was not only a death that was an opportunity for a miracle; it was specifically a political persecution. Jesus was unjustly executed by the state because he was poor and a member of a minority group. He preached to the disinherited, not to the powerful.

Jesus’ lot is “the position of the disinherited of every age … This is the question of the Negro in American life.” (p. 23). Thurman explores the “striking similarity” of ancient Jews to modern Blacks (p. 34)

Anyone who is disinherited faces these four choices:

  1. Nonresistance > Imitation (the path of Herod and the Sadducees)
  2. Nonresistance > Separatism (the Pharisees)
  3. Resistance > Armed (the Zealots)
  4. Resistance > Nonviolence (Jesus) “a technique of survival for the oppressed” p. 29

Hence Jesus and God stand with the disinherited. As in the title of Thurman’s early article: “Good news for the disinherited.”

These are some of the materials from which the young Martin Luther began to stitch his own cloth.

See also: the I and the we: civic insights from Christian theology; notes on the metaphysics of Gandhi and King; how to think about the self (Buddhist and Kantian perspectives); and the kind of sacrifice required in nonviolence.

Announcing February Confab feat. Hidden Common Ground

We are excited to announce the February Confab Call, which features the Hidden Common Ground initiative. This free call takes place Thursday, February 20th from 2-3 pm Eastern/11 am-12 pm Pacific. Register today to secure your spot.

Hidden Common Ground is a joint project of USA TODAY, Public Agenda, the Kettering Foundation, and National Issues Forums.

Are there aspects of public issues where Americans can agree and work together to solve problems? Let’s tackle this question in Hidden Common Ground, the national election year public deliberation initiative.  At the heart of the initiative are National Issues Forums in communities and online across the country about compelling public issues: health care, immigration, the economy, and divisiveness.  USA TODAY will provide press coverage and commentary, Public Agenda will publish issue-based research, and Kettering Foundation will develop nonpartisan discussion guides.  Since there are too few opportunities for Americans to discover their “hidden common ground,” participating in the year-long initiative is vitally important.

Please join us to learn more, to explore local partnerships and media connections, and to access free materials to use in your communities.

Presenters for this Confab Call include:

Betty Knighton, President, National Issues Forums Institute; Senior Associate, Kettering Foundation

Kara Dillard, CGA Operations, National Issues Forums Institute; Assistant Professor, James Madison University School of Communication Studies

Darla Minnich, CAO, National Issues Forums Institute

This free call will take place on Thursday, February 20th from 2-3 pm Eastern, 11 am-12 pm PacificRegister today so you don’t miss out on this event!


About NCDD’s Confab Calls

Confab bubble imageNCDD’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!

The New Animism and Commoning

Rajesh Pamnani via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

As I have learned about the social life of trees and the intimate bonds that indigenous peoples have with various lifeforms and rivers -- as I pore through recent ecophilosophy that explains aliveness to the western mind -- I’ve concluded: We really ought to be talking more about animism and commoning.

Scientific rationalism and economistic thinking may be the dominant forces of our time, but they aren't so good at creating social purpose and meaning. Which may help explain why evidence of a new animism keeps popping up as a way to re-enchant the world, often finding its voice through commoning. This should not be too surprising, suggests ecophilosopher Andreas Weber, because the biology of life points to reality itself as a commons.

Commons are realms of life defined by organic wholeness and relationality. They stand in stark contrast to a modern world whose hallmark is separation -- the separation of humans from “nature”; of individuals from each other; and a separation between our minds and our bodies.

To be sure, animism has a problematic history. Early anthropologists generally projected their own worldviews onto tribal peoples, denigrating them as backward. As staunch Cartesians and moderns, they saw body and mind as utterly separate. So anyone who ascribed a living presence to animals, mountains and natural forces could only be seen as "primitive" and "superstitious."

But today’s animism (as seen through western eyes) is different. It sees the experience of life as a dynamic conversation among the creatures and natural systems of the Earth. It is about surrendering an anthrocentric vision and seeing the world as “full of persons, only some of whom are human,” in which “life is always lived in relationship with others,” as religious studies scholar Graham Harvey has put it. Animism is “concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationships with other persons.” It resembles the “I-thou” relationship of respectful presence proposed by theologian Martin Buber.

For me, two recent readings have brought animism into sharper focus for me.

The first is a piece in The Guardian by British nature writer Robert Macfarlane (November 2, 2019) that points to “new animism” on the rise. He starts by mentioning a number of “rights of nature” laws that have been enacted around the world. Ecuador and Bolivia are the the most famous cases, but did you realize that the City of Toledo, Ohio – on the banks of Lake Erie – approved a referendum in 2019 that gives “legal personhood” to that troubled lake? Lake Erie now joins the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India and the Whanganui River in New Zealand in enjoying legal standing in their respective nation-states.

Macfarlane explains the significance of the Lake Erie Ecosystem Bill of Rights:

Embedded in the bill is a bold ontological claim – that Lake Erie is a living being, not a bundle of ecosystem services. The bill is, really, a work of what might be called “new animism” (the word comes from the Latin anima, meaning spirit, breath, life). By reassigning both liveliness and vulnerability to the lake, it displaces Erie from its instrumentalised roles as sump and source. As such, the bill forms part of a broader set of comparable recent legal moves in jurisdictions around the world – all seeking to recognise interdependence and animacy in the living world, and often advanced by indigenous groups – which have together come to be known as the “natural rights” or “rights of nature” movement.

Macfarlane goes on to say that a “’radical re-storying’ is presently under way across culture, theory, politics and literature, as well as law” that can be seen in “the creative protests of Extinction Rebellion; in the “new animist” scholarship of Isabelle Stengers, David Abram and Eduardo Kohn” and the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer. I would add the ecophilosophy of Andreas Weber (“Biology of Wonder” “Matter and Desire”) and Stephan Harding (“Animate Earth”). 

All these efforts, says Macfarlane, “seek to recognise something we had turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of nonhuman interlocutors,” in the words of Amitav Ghosh.

I have also been quite taken by Eduardo Kohn’s 2013 book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human. Kohn boldly asks the modern mind to show humility in how it thinks about and represents “nature.” It asks that we try to see the more-than-human world as a vast living system of “biosemiotics” – embodied, living organisms that are constantly creating meaning as they interact with each other.

Kohn warns that we moderns are “colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality…. Without realizing it we attribute to nonhumans properties that are our own, and then, to compound this, we narcissistically ask them [nonhumans] to provide us with corrective reflections of ourselves.”

So in our modern world of separation, we assume that “nature” is all about individuals striving to survive a dog-eat-dog market competition, ignoring the deep symbiosis and cooperation that is a major part of all biological life. We also assume that the natural world is inert, unfeeling, and without meaning – a mute backdrop for the drama of humankind. 

Kohn spent four years doing ethnographic fieldwork among the Runa of the Upper Amazon in Ecuador, an experience that forced him to rethink the meaning of “real.” He brilliantly argues that our planet is alive, literally, and therefore we humans, as biological beings, are deeply implicated in “a complex web of relations that [he calls] an ‘ecology of selves.’”  

Whether an organism presents as a threat to others, a sometime-cooperator, or a distant support through the landscape, living creatures must always invent a "self." The whole process of generating and sustaining living selves creates “meaning” embodied in the shape, behavior, and expression of an organism. Or as Kohn puts it, “All life is semiotic and all semiosis is alive.”  Life and meaning cannot exist without each other.

Hence the explanation for the book’s title. Kohn argues that forests think as its constituent living organisms interpenetrate each other in highly complicated ways, giving rise to an ecosystem of selves, whether plants or animals or microorganisms.

That’s what is so difficult for we moderns to understand -- the aliveness and relationality that pervades our planet! It’s not just humans who are alive and having thoughts. All sorts of living organisms are creating selves and meaning, independent of human observation and activity. “The rain forest, writes Kohn, is “an emergent and expanding multilayered, cacophonous web of mutually constitutive, living, and growing thoughts.”

The question is, Can we tune into that frequency, the “vast ecology of selves” that are inscrutable to modern epistemologies and ways of knowing? Can we moderns allow ourselves to enter into the logic of how forests think? Can we learn to see the relations between plants and soil, for example, or between human and jaguar, as forms of living representation and meaning, even if they lie beyond linguistics?

We are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as separate and apart from “nature” – as the apex predator that can reshape “nature” however we wish – that we have trouble situating ourselves within the flows and constraints of a living planet. We presume to be masters of “nature” – a presumption ratified by language itself. Western cultures have a strong preference for using generic, abstract nouns whereas indigenous cultures tend to use precise verbs that name relationships and interactions with living systems. Indigenous languages reflect the idea that “there exist other kinds of thinking selves beyond the human.”

I resonate to the new animism because, like the commons, it is about honoring relationality as a core reality of life. That’s an idea that Silke and I tried to feature in our new book Free, Fair and Alive.  We wanted to reconceptualize the commons as a living social system of relationships, not merely as an economic vehicle for “managing resources.”

Commoning is all about the peer construction of relationships, including with the large ecosystems in which we live. Fortunately, the new rights of nature laws, scholarly literature on animism, and the proliferation of countless commons are fueling the great OntoShift that is needed. Aliveness and the relationality it requires are getting their due recognition.

new CIRCLE poll of Iowa youth

Here is one finding from CIRCLE’s survey of young Iowans, released today. The differences between younger and older Iowa Democrats on Sanders v. Biden are pretty striking.

Although people always overestimate their chances of participating in future elections, 35% of young Iowans say they are “extremely likely” to participate in the presidential caucus. That suggests a substantial increase in youth turnout compared to past years.

The release is on CIRCLE’s awesome new website, also launched today and valuable to explore.

It’s Election Time Again! A Mock Primary Election Resource for You!

mock election

One of the most important components of a quality civic education involves allowing students to engage in simulations of democratic practices. So on that note, please consider having your students take part in the upcoming mock primary election, sponsored by the Lou Frey Institute and the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections!

This mock election is 100%, and open to all K-12 schools in Florida. The platform is provided by DoubleClick Democracy, and is simple and easy to use. 

If you are interested in using this platform with your district, school, or class, contact the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship’s Action Civics Coordinator, Chris Spinale, and he will get you set up!

Let’s get these kids practicing those skills necessary to thrive in a democratic republic!

Ivo Andric, Bosnian Chronicle, Or, The Days of the Consuls

Ivo Andric,* the 1961 Nobel Laureate in Literature, wrote the book variously translated as Bosnian Chronicle or The Days of the Consuls during WWII. It depicts his hometown, Travnik in Bosnia, during the years 1807-1813. I read it as translated by Joseph Hitrec (New York, Arcade, 1963).

Andric introduces scores of characters clustered in seven main groups: the “Begs” (Ottoman chiefs), the Vizier’s court, the French consulate, the Austrian consulate, the Franciscan monastery, the bazaar, and the Sephardic Jewish community.

He describes relationships between pairs of people within these clusters and from one cluster to another. For the most part, these interactions take the form of bilateral meetings and conversations, but there are other formats as well. For instance, an important character in the French consulate, Desfosses, has a largely wordless flirtation with the wife of the Austrian consul. At various points, the French consul sees across the darkened town the candlelight from the Austrian consulate and from a Moslem mausoleum: a physical manifestation of links between clusters.

These interactions create a dense lattice, and I have the sense that they are arranged carefully, with symmetry and other forms of rhythm. I have not taken the time to explore the whole pattern carefully, but, for example, the Prologue and the Epilogue both describe conversations among the Begs, who otherwise rarely speak to anyone. There are 28 chapters, and the 14th tells of the sexual crisis between Desfosses and the Austrian consul’s wife, thus linking the French and Austrian consulates in a debacle of misunderstanding.

In the first chapter, the newly arrived French consul, Daville, receives a cold welcome from the people of Travnik. His “little cavalcade passed through the town arousing little or no interest among the Travnichani. The Moslems pretended not to see it, while the Christians dared not show undue attention.”

In the final chapter, Daville and a Travnik Jew named Solomon experience a moving moment of near-contact just before the Frenchman rides out of Travnik for the last time. Solomon generously assists Daville with money because he wants to convey his own experience to the departing Frenchman so that he can be understood, because this would “make everything we have to bear more tolerable.”

But the very desire that filled him so intensely all of a sudden, to convey and impart something more, some important and sweeping truth about his own life and situation and the indignities which the Travnik Atiases had had to endure all these years, prevented him from finding the right manner and the words needed to express, briefly and adequately, what now choked him and started the blood pounding in his ears. And so he began to stammer out, not the things he was so full of and which he longed to express—how they struggled and managed to preserve an invisible strength and dignity—but only the disjointed phrases that came to his tongue.

The narrator explains in detail what Solomon would have said to Daville “had he known how, had he been a man used to speaking his thoughts,” instead of one who, “even in his crib [had not been allowed] to cry out loud, let alone speak freely and clearly during his lifetime.”

In other words, the novel begins and ends with a rift between Daville and the people of Travnik–the first an intentional shunning, the last a pitifully unsuccessful effort to communicate.

Solomon is not the only one who yearns to be heard. Daville, too, seeks

something that neither life nor books could give: a compassionate fellow spirit who would be willing to listen and would have an endless capacity for understanding, to whom he might talk openly and receive lucid and honest answers to all questions. In this dialogue he might then, as in a mirror, see himself for the first time as he really was and learn the true value of his work and determine, without ambiguity, his own position in the world.

The narrator is interested in why almost all of the bilateral conversations are unsatisfactory. For instance, when the wives of the Austrian and French consuls meet,

their talk was bound to falter. When two people converse, one word usually sparks another and together they light a flame, but here the words missed one another and went off in different directions.

Or a married European couple who wash up in Travnik:

But what they needed most urgently, it seemed, was to talk and quarrel, for they neither listened to nor cared to understand each other.

Or a group of ne’er-do-well Travnik Moslems:

they hummed or talked in undertones, with sluggish tongues, disconnectedly, without particular reference to one another’s words. … They looked at one another with unseeing eyes, they listened without hearing …

Or the two European consuls:

A conversation with the Colonel was, in fact, an exchange of data—which were invariably accurate, interesting, and copious, on any and all subjects—but hardly an exchange of thoughts and impressions. Everything about these talks was impersonal, dispassionate, and general. Having said all he wanted to, the Colonel would leave with his rich and precious bag of facts, as fresh, neat, cool, and upright as he had come, and Daville would be left just as lonely as he had been before, his craving for a good talk unappeased. A discussion with the Colonel left nothing for the senses or the soul; one could not even recall the timbre of his voice. His conversation gave the partner no clue to his inner personality, and invited no confidence from the latter.

In chapter 12, soon before the embarrassing sexual encounter between Desfosses and the Austrian consul’s wife (chapter 14), we are introduced to the four doctors of Travnik: one each from the French consulate, the Austrian consulate, the Franciscan monastery, and the Jewish community. The occasion for introducing them is a tragedy that strikes the most morally appealing character in the novel, Mme Daville (who is the opposite of her Austrian counterpart).

Each doctor has a different relationship with his patients and with the other physicians. Each holds a different theory of human health and fate. The best relationship forms between the Franciscan and the Jew, who “had been inseparable friends and confidants” for 20 years. “The Travnik bazaar had long become used to seeing Mordo and Fra Luka huddling and whispering together, or browsing through herbs and medicines.”

The doctor in the Austrian consulate, Cologna, seems initially as inscrutable as the silent Jewish healer, but for the opposite reason: “he talked too much and constantly modified what he said.” However, in chapter 15 (symmetrical with 13), Desfosses initiates an interview with Cologna in which the latter suddenly becomes both eloquent and sincere in describing himself as a man caught between cultures. At the end of his speech,

The doctor dropped his arms with an air of utter hopelessness, of anger almost. There was no vestige left of that queer, elusive “Illyrian doctor” Desfosses had known. Here stood a man who thought his own thoughts and expressed them forcefully. Desfosses burned with the desire to hear and learn more; he had quite forgotten his own feeling of superiority of a little while before and the house he was in and the business on which he had come.

This is one of the fleeting moments of connection that are distributed on the network of misunderstandings that structure the novel.

Many characters–and sometimes the narrator–employ the categories of Europe and the Orient, or East and West, or Europe and the Levant. Such distinctions are problematic in general. To be more specific, some Bosnians have accused Andric of anti-Moslem prejudice in novels like Bosnian Chronicle.

I cannot judge his whole oeuvre and I could easily have missed bias in this novel, but I read it in a different way. I think the East/West distinction is an error on the part of the characters and works as a red herring for the reader. Human faults and frailties are evenly distributed across the communities of the novel. Their common problem is a failure to connect, and such categories as East and West contribute to that that failure. To be sure, the Ottoman government is tyrannical, but the problem is tyranny, not the Turks as a people. (And some of the Ottoman officials are much more appealing than some of the Christians.)

Apparently, the 1961 Nobel committee considered E.M. Forster along with Andric (and others). The comparison seems fitting, since Forster’s catchphrase, “Only connect,” could also be the motto of Bosnian Chronicle. But I think that gaol is much harder in Andric’s world than in Forster’s.

*His name should be spelled with a diacritical mark under the “c,” but for reasons that I can diagnose but not fix, my website won’t display diacriticals.

Summer Peacebuilding Institute Scholarship Deadline: 1/31

Our friends at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) sent out a reminder yesterday via their newsletter that SPI 2020 scholarship deadlines are quickly approaching on January 31st! This phenomenal program offered by NCDD member org, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, is an opportunity to learn from leaders in the D&D field about conflict transformation, restorative justice, and more. Courses can be taken to improve your skills or for academic credit (and they now offer an M.A. in Restorative Justice program).  Read more in the post below and on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute site here.

Summer Peacebuilding Institute – Dedicated Scholarship deadline January 31, 2020

To build a more peaceful and just world, we need to work effectively at community and local/regional levels in every country, starting with our own. SPI 2020 training courses offer the skills you need personally and professionally to make this happen.  Join us for an exciting time of shared learning across national boundaries. All courses are offered for training or academic credit.

This year we are offering a wide variety of courses on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Trauma awareness
  • Leadership
  • Social media and violent extremism
  • Transforming harmful community spaces through collaboration
  • Racial healing and challenging systemic racism
  • Restorative justice
  • Circle processes
  • Building personal and organizational resilience
  • Designing facilitated processes
  • Using media and the arts for peacebuilding and security

Click here for more information on all courses at SPI 2020, instructor bioscosts, and information about our annual Community Day event on February 14, 2020, that creates a one-day, SPI in miniature.

Scholarships and Fellowship Opportunities
We know that personal and organizational budgets are sometimes stretched tight and many of you may have difficulty fully financing your time at SPI. We have several scholarships and a fellowship to help those with need. Many of our scholarships do not have a deadline, but the deadline for our dedicated scholarships and our fellowship is January 31, 2020. Scroll down or click here for more information on scholarship and fellowship possibilities.

Still not sure if you should attend the Summer Peacebuilding Institute? 

Click here to watch a short video of SPI participants, faculty, and staff talking about “the magic of SPI.

Click here to apply online for SPI 2020 (Note, you must complete the application before you can apply for a scholarship).

Scholarships and Fellowships

Several varieties of scholarships and a fellowship are available to help individuals and organizations with tight budgets. Apply early as our scholarship pool is limited.  See information below for requirements for individual scholarships or click here for information about all scholarships and fellowships.

The deadline for the dedicated scholarships and the Winston Fellowship is January 31, 2020 (Please note that there is no deadline for the matching or partial scholarships or the organization mini grant.  These are given out until the funds are exhausted).  

Dedicated Scholarships
SPI receives some donations with defined parameters for distribution. The qualifications for each scholarship differ, as does what is covered. Click here for information on all dedicated scholarships. The deadline for applying is January 31, 2020.

Winston Fellowship
All-inclusive fellowship covering international airfare, lodging, and participation in three training courses. Intended to train individuals new to the fields of peacebuilding, justice, or trauma work. Requires a post-SPI internship with an organization in your local community. Click here for more information. The deadline for applying is January 31, 2020.

Matching Scholarships
Covers fees for an additional session of SPI if participants are able to pay for at least one session and any transportation costs. Offered on a rolling basis as long as funds are available. Click here for information.

Partial Scholarships
Up to $500 toward training fees if participants are able to pay all other fees for at least one session. Offered on a rolling basis as long as funds are available. Click here for information.

Organization Mini-Grant
Discount of 1/3 of the training fees for organizations that send three or more people to SPI. E-mail the SPI office by clicking here for information.

Email for more information on these scholarships.

You can find the information on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute website at