the debate shows why we need civic education

Imagine young Americans watching last night’s debate. Try telling yourself that we have a special problem with youth. Try telling yourself that young people’s understanding of the system, commitment to democracy, or civic and personal virtues represent particular deficits.

Young Americans do urgently need and deserve more and better civic education–meaning not only courses and curricula by that name, but a whole k-12 education that prepares them to be active and responsible citizens. This need is critical.

But the reason is not a decline in civic education since Donald Trump’s youth (or mine), nor a decline in young people’s knowledge, skills, and virtues. The evidence about how courses and requirements have changed over time is mixed and ambiguous, but we never offered much civic education. Outcome measures such as the NAEP Civics Assessment are remarkably flat. Certainly, American history is presented much better now than in my day, in part due to mountains of valuable scholarship.

Improving civics is an urgent need not because it used to be better but because older people have handed today’s youth a republic in disastrous condition. The fiasco of the debate serves as an apt metaphor for the whole system. One can assign most, or even almost all, of the blame for last night to Donald J. Trump; nevertheless, the debate encapsulates our whole era.

Civic education is not well positioned to address some aspects of the problem. For instance, presidential overreach is on Suzanne Mettler’s and Robert C. Lieberman’s list of Four Threats, but it is not something that civics can directly fix; nor is gerrymandering; nor is income inequality. Trump himself is a threat (according to me), and he must be dealt with at the polls and then perhaps in the courtroom, not in the classroom.

However, on their list are two problems that civic education can address: hyper-polarization and conflicts over who belongs in the citizenry. Students can learn to deliberate with people who disagree and can learn to understand, appreciate and include all their fellow Americans. Some would add misinformation as yet another threat, and it is also something that civics addresses.

Saving the republic is not the only reason to teach American history, government, and civics. These are intrinsically interesting and worthy topics. Learning about them enriches the mind and soul. And teaching social studies demonstrably improves reading scores. But saving the republic is a pretty good reason to focus on civics, now.

welcome to CivicGreen

Please check out CivicGreen, a project (and website) hosted at the Tisch College of Civic Life. Carmen Sirianni is the editor-in-chief; I’m the executive editor; and Ann Ward is the managing editor. The 15 or so other key people are listed here.

Per the website:

CivicGreen is a collaborative project among scholars and practitioners to enrich our democratic imagination and to expand our policy options for sustainable, resilient, and just responses to climate crisis in the United States in the coming decades. Our perspective is to locate civic engagement at the heart of work that needs to occur in communities of all kinds, across cities and regions, and among professional and other institutional partners that are key to solving problems for the long run.

CivicGreen is fundamentally about civic democracy at the intersection of green strategies to address our ecological and climate crises and to build healthy and sustainable communities for all.

I would add that the project is all about practical environmental solutions that engage the public. It’s less about public pressure to accomplish environmental policies (although pressure is essential) than about public engagement in the work of saving the climate.

Registration Open for UNCG’s 2020 Virtual Conference

The NCDD network has been invited to join the University Network for Collaborative Governance‘s Virtual Conference this year and have the opportunity of sharing collaborative discourse on the future of our communities!  The event will span three Fridays in October – the 26th and 23rd, and November 13th. This conference is great for those connected to a college or university, and interested in the tenets and implementation of collaborative governance. Make sure you register here by October 8th. Read below to learn more about the conference and find the original announcement here.

One last plug for today’s NCDD Online Engagement Showcase – you can still join this free event happening at 10am Pacific, 1pm Eastern, highlighting the many civic tech tools available for virtual engagement! Register ASAP here.

Reimaginings: What world do we want and how can collaborative governance help us get there?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we will be holding 6 virtual conference sessions in 2020.

As UNCG gathers virtually together in 2020, we have the opportunity – as individuals and institutions – to reimagine our communities post-COVID19 and amid mass callings for racial justice. This reimagining can also include climate change, environmental justice, healthcare equities and revitalizing our democracy. This year, our annual conference will be held over the span of three days (2 sessions each day), giving us the chance to gather as a network and share, reflect and learn. During this time, we will be asking ourselves what is the role collaborative governance and its practices can and should play in supporting our communities addressing the challenges and issues raised throughout 2020?

The UNCG Conference is open to all people interested in collaborative governance and connected to a college or university. UNCG has student and working professional memberships.

Thematic Questions

  • In a period where we need to be careful about coming together in person, and yet the need for collaborative discourse is more needed than ever, what are ways we can create a sense of community and belonging through our work?
  • Post-Covid19, how can our centers / universities support communities in imagining and creating a better world?
  • What do emerging anti-racist practices and policies mean on individual and institutional levels for the field of collaborative governance?
  • What can we learn from each other about the lenses and approaches we are applying to ourselves, our work, and our organizations/institutions? How are we reaching out to others to listen, learn and grow? As we recognize and acknowledge, how do we move forward?
  • How are our various practices and the roles we play most useful or valuable in this time to deal with these issues?
  • How do we challenge ourselves to be more useful and relevant in helping our communities address these issues and create shared solutions?
  • What role can UNCG play to help our members do their work, listen, grow and learn?

Agenda Overview

Friday October 16th

  • 12noon EST – 3pm EST (Opening Session / Panels in response to questions, breakouts following)
  • 4pm EST – 6pm EST (Network Get Together – catch up with each other)

Friday October 23rd

  • 12noon EST – 3pm EST (Lightning Talks / Case S
    tories followed by discussion)
  • 4pm EST – 6pm EST (Business meeting and Committee Sessions – Research / Scholarship, Teaching / Training, Practice / Engagement)

Friday November 13th

  • 12noon EST – 3pm EST – Open Space on Aspirational UNCG work for 2020
  • 4pm EST – 6pm EST Closing Discussions: Reflections on 2020 election and what it means for our field

For more information about the meeting, visit the annual conference webpage.
To pay your annual dues, click here.

You can find the original version on this on the UNCG site at

Nathan Schneider’s Bounty of Fresh Ideas for Cooperatives

How can cooperatives serve as vehicles for social change, especially in online spaces?  What practical interventions could check the anti-social behaviors of Big Tech?  These are two questions that I explored recently with Nathan Schneider, professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, in Episode #8 of my podcast, “Frontiers of Commoning.”

Nathan is a long-time journalist and scholar focused on social-change movements of resistance, nonviolence, and system-change. Much of his work has focused on the new opportunities that cooperatives and digital technologies can provide in today’s world. He has been especially active in promoting platform cooperatives as a vehicle for moving beyond predatory business models like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit.

For Schneider, the history of cooperatives is a source of great inspiration and practical instruction.  “Cooperatives are nothing new,” he told me, citing Gandhi’s embrace of coops as a strategic tool to emancipate Indians from the British. “But it is a form of doing business that has shaped our world that doesn’t get enough credit.” For example, people often don’t appreciate that coops were a big element of the civil rights movement, he said.

Credit: Emily Hansen

Martin Luther King Jr. supported African-Americans in starting credit unions, in part because cooperative banking enabled them to become more independent from oppressive local circumstances.  “I interviewed a civil rights elder in Mississippi,” said Nathan, and asked him if coops were around in the 1960s. And he said, ‘Who do you think was getting people registered to vote?’”

Sharecroppers always risked getting evicted from the land if they dared to assert their civil rights or become politically active. But members of coops are secure enough to take risks and join movements, he said. “This is a geography of our world that we don’t see.”

Schneider has made it his business to try to bring this geography to the foreground. There is so much talk these days about putting people over profits, rejuvenating local business, and strengthening community control, he said. Cooperatives are a natural response.

Nathan sees two primary strategies for moving coops into the American mainstream. One is a frankly political approach in the manner of Populists of the 1880s and 1890s, who used coops to shake the foundations of the political establishment. Another strategy is a less adversarial, consensus-driven approach that builds on shared national mythologies such as ownership.  He cited Louis Kelso’s invention of the employee stock ownership plan as an example. ESOPs were a legal and organizational innovation that has enabled employees to build personal equity in their workplace while improving the general work culture. 

Schneider recognizes that ultimately coops can be a powerful movement force only if they can threaten the power of capital. The classic examples are credit unions that have posed competitive challenges to banks, and rural electrical coops that took business away from utilities. It is this rich history of cooperatives overcoming staunch opposition that gives Nathan optimism about the future power of platform coops, among other cooperative initiatives.

To help push that goal along, Schneider has been developing a number of nitty-gritty, operational initiatives, some of them through the Media Enterprise Design Lab, a practice-oriented research center for community ownership and governance in media organizations.  The Lab collaborates with entrepreneurs, startup projects, and activists to explore new financial schemes, software tools, and educational gambits. 

Schneider has a great personal interest in finding new ways to expand democratic ownership and governance in online projects. One such effort is a cooperative “accelerator,” Start.Coop, led by a number of cooperative leaders, including Greg and Howard Brodsky. The project helps startups find investors and project development assistance, and learn more about cooperative practices and culture.

Nathan has played a big role in developing a new financial strategy known as “Exit to Community.” Normally, the founders of traditional startups who become successful see little choice but to sell out to Wall Street or a big technology company. Exit to Community aims to provide a practical alternative. it lets entrepreneurs who want to move on, or raise more money, to sell their enterprises to community members. This can help keep a business more purpose-driven, socially minded, and community-based. 

Schneider has been dismayed at the state of governance within open source software communities, which he describes as a regime of “implicit feudalism” with little participatory governance, at least formally. To help remedy this, he developed the CommunityRule website to provide a rudimentary “governance toolkit” for digital communities. The idea is to help groups choose fairer, more enlightened arrangements for governing themselves while avoiding the pitfalls of concentrated control and founders behaving like "dictators for life."

The full podcast interview with Nathan Schneider can be downloaded here.


Free NCDD Online Engagement Showcase Tomorrow – 9/29!

Did you know?! NCDD is hosting our first ever Online Engagement Showcase and it’s happening tomorrow! We’ve teamed up with the wonderful Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University to host this exciting free event happening on Tuesday, September 29th from 1:00-3:00 PM Eastern/10:00 AM-12:00 PM Pacific on Zoom and QiqoChat. RSVP at this link in order to save your spot!

The Online Engagement Showcase will feature synchronous tools and platforms that can help you with your virtual engagement. In this uniquely formatted event, you will have the opportunity to learn about numerous platforms in a booth format in QiqoChat, where participants can learn more about each tool they choose to. Presenters will be available in private zoom rooms for participants to engage with, ask questions, and learn more!

Some of the presenters will include:

  • Axis Workshops
  • Common Ground for Action
  • Ethelo
  • GroupMap
  • QiqoChat
  • And more!

Join us for this first event in what we hope will be a recurring series featuring these and other platforms and tools in the future! To register go to – this will take you directly to QiqoChat.

Our event flyer is linked here – please use this to spread the word with your networks: Showcase-Announcement!

NCDD is extremely grateful for the partnership of the Center for Public Deliberation on this event. We’ve been working on a resource to share of the different tools and platforms out there as well – stay tuned!

what if the traditional and student-centered pedagogies go together?

I’m helping with the evaluation of a civic education curriculum. I don’t want to go into details because this is an unpublished evaluation for a specific organization in a particular context. However, I have observed an interesting pattern and wonder what explains it and whether it generalizes.

We asked both the students and the teachers about various pedagogies. For instance, the students were asked to evaluate statements like these (among others):

  • Memorizing facts was the best way to get a good grade from teachers my classes.
  • Teachers lectured, and the students took notes.
  • Students were encouraged to make up their own minds about issues.
  • Teachers encouraged students to express their opinions during class.

Their teachers were asked about the same list of pedagogies, but the questions for them were phrased in terms of how much they used each approach.

The goal was to distinguish various approaches and then correlate them with things like the number of correct answers to factual questions, students’ skills, and their beliefs about democracy. Then we could see whether, for example, students who discussed issues more in class were more confident about their skills for discussion. The findings wouldn’t be causal, but they would be suggestive.

In the actual data, the most teacher-centric and the most student-centric approaches (if you can accept those descriptions) correlated. For instance, there was a positive correlation (0.29) between “Teachers encouraged students to discuss political or social issues about which people have different opinions” and “Memorizing facts was the best way to get a good grade from teachers in my classes.” Likewise, there was positive correlation (0.28) between “Most students felt free to express opinions in class even when their opinions were different from most of the other students” and “Teachers required students to memorize facts or definitions.” The correlations were even larger in the teacher data.

Most of the student outcomes–especially their ability to answer factual questions–correlated positively with all of the pedagogies. Students were more likely to know the facts if their teachers lectured and if they discussed issues–not surprisingly, since these two pedagogies correlated with each other.

One interpretation is that some students just got more of everything than the others–their “dosage” was higher. But I don’t think so, based on what I know about the intervention. Besides, the questions weren’t phrased in a way that should measure dosage.

Another interpretation is that these approaches should and do complement each other. I can certainly see why good teachers might say both “I encouraged students to express their opinions during class” and “I placed great importance on students learning facts.” (These responses were correlated at 0.8).

A third interpretation is that these questions don’t yield valid data, because teachers and students are not very aware of the pedagogies they experience, and are especially unaware of how their experiences compare to others’.

I’m wondering whether the positive correlation between apparently contrasting teaching styles is commonly observed.

Judith Sargent Murray: Founding Mother of the Women’s Rights Movement

Check out the National Constitution Center’s biographies of the Founding Fathers!

It’s Founders Month! According to the Florida Department of Education,

Section (s.) 683.1455, Florida Statutes (F.S.), designates the month of September as American Founders‘ Month and s. 1003.421, F.S., recognizes the last full week of classes in September in public schools as Celebrate Freedom Week.

So what does this mean for our schools and kids and teachers? Basically, it’s time to do some learning about the men and women who have helped shape this state and this country. Here on our Florida Citizens blog, we’ll be doing a brief overview of a particular Founder, Framer, thinker, or shaper of this nation and how they made an impact.

image of JSM

Judith Sargent Murray was born in pre-Revolutionary Boston, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant family. It as fortunate for us, as it was for her, that her parents believed in educating their daughters as well as their sons. Unfortunately, this education was limited to reading and writing; Sargent Murray had little opportunity for advanced education. Instead, she took advantage of her father’s vast library and educated herself in history, civics, philosophy, literature, and so much more. This education, so much of it self-taught, she put to work as a writer and thinker and, most importantly, advocate for the rights of women and the equality of the sexes.

For Judith Sargent Murray, the way in which we consider the roles and educations of boys and girls was unjust, stifling, and wrong. In her seminal work, ‘On the Equality of the Sexes‘ (1790), she raises doubts about the argument that men are inherently the intellectual superiors to women:

“Yet it may be questioned, from what doth this superiority, in thus discriminating faculty of the soul proceed. May we not trace its source in the difference of education, and continued advantage?…As their years increase, the sister must be wholly domesticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of science”

In other words, the only reason men can claim superiority to women is because we do not give women the same education and opportunities as men! This theme would reappear throughout her work over the years, and she never ceased believing that America offered a great opportunity for a reconsideration of the role and education of girls. The new nation, after all, needed women who would raise the next generation to believe in and understand the American spirit and model, a ‘Republican motherhood‘ that required educated, passionate, and (to a degree for its day) liberated women.

Sargent Murray practiced what she preached, educating the children in her house as she believed they deserved and as was right. She also wrote hundreds of essays and letters and articles, many of which were published under pen names in such a way as to hide the fact that she was a woman, for she feared her arguments would be automatically rejected. She was a ‘Founding Mother’ of the pursuit of equal rights, an advocate for the American project, and someone who encouraged the new nation to live up to the ideals it promised. You can learn more about the philosophy of wonderful Judith Sargent Murray from this keynote powerpoint.

Grab the PowerPoint featured at the top of this post: JSM

Applications for Libby Kingseed Memorial Award Due 9/30

We want to take a moment to recognize exceptional individuals in our field by extending this invitation from NCDD member org, National Issues Forums Institute, to submit your applications for the Elizabeth “Libby” Kingseed Teaching with Deliberation Memorial Award Libby’s commitment to civic education and deliberation continue to be an inspiration; and it is in this spirit that NIFI has created this award to grant $500 to any K-12 teacher working to implement deliberation or deliberative pedagogy in the classroom.

Applications will be accepted until next Wednesday, September 30th; so make sure you apply ASAP! Learn more about Libby Kingseed and the award in the post below, and find the original post here.

Elizabeth “Libby” Kingseed Teaching with Deliberation Memorial Award

The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) is now accepting applications for the Elizabeth “Libby” Kingseed Teaching with Deliberation Memorial Award at this time. A fund established to commemorate and in memory of Libby Kingseed.

Application Process

  • September 30, 2020: Deadline for applications
  • November 2, 2020: Applicants will be notified of the selection committee’s decision
  • Grant Period: December 1, 2020 – November 30, 2021

This grant is not open to organizations. The $500 annual award will be granted to an individual.

Click here to complete the online application form. If you have questions, please contact Darla Minnich at dminnich[at]nifi[dot]org.

About the Grant

The Elizabeth “Libby” Kingseed Teaching with Deliberation Memorial Award recognizes the commitment that she had to civic education, especially her support of teacher networking, experimentation, and reflection on the use of deliberation in the classroom. We anticipate presenting up to three awards to eligible K-12 educators engaged in deliberative practices.

This $500 award is open to any K-12 teacher who is inspired to implement deliberation or deliberative pedagogy in the classroom and who is new to using the practices. The teacher should have a demonstrated commitment to fostering the civic development of students, though it is not necessary that they be a civics or social studies teacher. All K-12 teachers are encouraged to apply.

In addition to completing an application, candidates will be asked to provide:

  • A plan for how deliberation will be used to support student learning, including the resources that will be needed and a draft unit plan.
  • An identified mentor OR evidence of completion of a course or workshop focused on deliberation or deliberative pedagogy
  • Prior to the end of the grant period, awardees will be required to submit a two-page written reflection on what they did and what they learned.

Libby Kingseed was a program officer, and archivist at the Kettering Foundation. Libby was a passionate leader of the foundation’s K-12 civic education research. She worked closely with teachers using National Issues Forums in the classroom. Libby recognized the need for civic education to be included in the education of children in order to help them understand how to be active, engaged citizens in the future.

You can find the original version on this on the NIFI site at“libby”-kingseed-teaching-deliberation-memorial-award.

Founders Month: George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights!


Check out the National Constitution Center’s biographies of the Founding Fathers!

It’s Founders Month here in Florida! According to the Florida Department of Education,

Section (s.) 683.1455, Florida Statutes (F.S.), designates the month of September as American Founders‘ Month and s. 1003.421, F.S., recognizes the last full week of classes in September in public schools as Celebrate Freedom Week.

So what does this mean for our schools and kids and teachers? Basically, it’s time to do some learning about the men and women who have helped shape this country. Here on our Florida Citizens blog, we’ll be doing a brief overview of a particular Founder, Framer, thinker, or shaper of this state or this nation and how they made an impact. Today, we look at George Mason!

Sept 29 Mason
It’s American Founders’ Month in Florida. Today, we have one of the most important, but perhaps least remembered, Founders: George Mason.

Why does George Mason matter? After all, he was one of only three delegates to the Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the Constitution. But it is, indeed, that very refusal that tells us why George Mason matters: He is the Father of the Bill of Rights.

It was Mason’s vocal objections, and his work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, that led to the drafting and incorporation of the Bill of Rights into our Constitution.

Even with the promise from the Federalists to include a Bill of Rights, Mason fought hard against ratification of the Constitution; his arguments failed to persuade enough Virginians to vote against ratification however. And his fervent and sometimes angry opposition to the Constitution in some ways destroyed his relationships with those who he fought beside for independence. In a letter to his son, he wrote that

You know the friendship which has long existed (indeed from our early youth) between General Washington and myself. I believe there are few men in whom he placed greater confidence; but it is possible my opposition to the new government, both as a member of the national and of the Virginia Convention, may have altered the case.

Indeed, Washington himself was bitter about Mason’s opposition, and they never reconciled before Mason’s death in 1792. Despite his opposition to the Constitution, however, is to George Mason that most Americans owed their first tastes of liberty under the new government and his Bill of Rights. You can learn more about George Mason from this excellent lesson provided by the Bill of Rights Institute. 

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured at the top of this post: George Mason AFM