The Lou Frey Institute/FJCC Advisory Council of Educators is looking to launch!

As an organization, the Lou Frey Institute and FJCC want to ensure that we are supporting our teachers and the broader civic education community to the best of our ability. In pursuit of this, we are launching a new advisory council of Florida middle school civics educators! This group would provide us with guidance and feedback on our work, and also provide experts that we can turn to to support projects and activities we are working on.

We are seeking about 30 Florida middle school civics teachers, with a variety of experience, that will provide us with demographic and regional diversity and ensure that we putting out the best resources for civic education that we can. Are you interested? Please complete the application. We would love for you to be a part! Questions? Email Steve at any time!

Help the Lou Frey Institute/FJCC support you! Complete our survey!

Good afternoon, friends. Many of you are familiar with our resources at Civics360 and Florida Citizen. And it is those latter resources we would like to ask you to help us with today. As we start our revision work to align our materials to the upcoming 2023-2024 K-12 civics benchmarks, we would be grateful for your feedback on our lesson plans and related materials.

It should only take a few minutes, and even if you aren’t a Florida teacher, we want your feedback if you use our lesson plans. You can complete the survey/feedback form here. Thanks so much for taking the time to help us improve!

the progress of science

My colleagues and I in Tisch College’s small but mighty Civic Science program recently read and discussed these three works together:

  • Arendt, Hannah. “Man’s Conquest of Space.” The American Scholar (1963): 527-540.
  • Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  • Polanyi, Michael. 1962. “The Republic of Science.” Minerva 1 (1): 54-73.

Polanyi is interested in how scientists coordinate. A “multitude of scientists, each of whom is competent to assess only a tiny fragment of current scientific work,” must collectively decide what to study next, which methods to use, what findings to publish and cite, and what the results mean. You become a scientist by joining a “network of mutual appreciation extending far beyond [your] own horizon.” This network is governed by the community of science through such means as blind peer-review and citation. These tools play the same role as prices in a market: they communicate information about what is valued without resort to a central authority, which would lack sufficient knowledge and would be untrustworthy.

Science is “an association of independent initiatives, combined towards an indeterminate achievement. It is disciplined and motivated by serving a traditional authority, but this authority is dynamic: its continued existence depends on its constant self-renewal through the originality of its followers.” Science is not exactly goal-directed, because no one knows what it will discover. But it is value-driven, because the “explorers strive toward a hidden reality, for the sake of intellectual satisfaction.”

Polanyi developed the idea of “spontaneous order,” which Hayek used to advocate for minimally regulated markets. But Polanyi distinguished himself from classical liberalism. “It appears, at first sight, that I have assimilated the pursuit of science to the market. But the emphasis should be in the opposite direction. The self-coordination of independent scientists embodies principle which is reduced to the mechanism of the market when applied to the production and distribution of material goods.” In other words, science is better than a market because the motives of all the independent but coordinated decision makers are superior to those of buyers and sellers.

Polanyi paints a comfortable picture of constant progress–the steady accumulation of knowledge. In contrast, Kuhn focuses on scientific “revolutions.” He observes that all the scientists working at a given time tend to share one overall “paradigm,” composed not only of foundational beliefs but also of methods and instruments. These paradigms “shift” occasionally when the current one ceases to explain the data. Kuhn introduces a modest kind of relativism by suggesting that scientists at any given time see the world through, or with, a paradigm that will later become obsolete. Yet nature or reality plays a substantial role in changing our paradigms. It is because the earth really moves around the sun that the Ptolemaic system falls to the Copernican system once scientists have obtained enough data to shake the former view.

Both of these theories are progressive and take an essentially benign view of science. They seek to explain the apparent fact that science is successful. Arendt’s stance is very different. She notes that “physicists split the atom without any hesitations the very moment they knew how to do it, although they realized full well the enormous destructive potentialities of their operation.” This is an example of the fundamental amorality of science. “The scientist qua scientist does not even care about the survival of the human race on earth or, for that matter, about the survival of the planet itself.”

Not only does science yield catastrophic practical results–including the possible extinction of the human race–but it also alienates us from nature and ourselves. As scientists discover aspects of reality that are deeply counter-intuitive (for instance, invisible living organisms in our noses; distant ancestors that were apes and even bacteria; light as both wave and a particle), knowledge becomes unmoored from experience. Science culminates with the figure of “the astronaut, shot into outer space and imprisoned in his instrument-ridden capsule where each actual physical encounter with his surroundings would spell immediate death.”

For Arendt, the problem is built into the logic of science and the mentality and motivation of scientists. (It is not nature’s fault that we study it as we do.) Polanyi admires scientists’ motives and defends their refusal to look at ultimate consequences. Results should be “emergent” rather than planned. The contrast between these two authors raises interesting questions about the motivations and underlying commitments of actual scientists.

But the governance of science is a different issue from the mentality of scientists. I think Polanyi errs in assuming a well-functioning system. What about bias, status hierarchies within labs, replication crises, selling out to industry? Kuhn might offer some insights about why revolutions are sometimes necessary. Meanwhile, Arendt misses the problem of collective action. An individual physicist could opt not to study atoms ca. 1935 because that research might lead to atom bombs. But this physicist would reasonably believe that other scientists–possibly Nazi scientists–would go ahead with the research anyway. To stop scientific investigation of a particular topic is a problem of governance.

Polanyi is too cheerful about the actual governance of what he calls the “republic of science,” but Arendt (despite being a great republican political theorist) strangely neglects it. I suspect this is because she views republics as autonomous political entities that have plenipotentiary power within their geographical borders. She would subsume scientists to their respective republican states. She misses the possibility that science is a republic of its own, overlapping political borders. But then the question is how that republic should be governed.

See also: science, UFOs, and the diminishment of humankind; The truth in Hayek; adding democracy to Robert Merton’s CUDOS norms for science; vaccination, masking, political polarization, and the authority of science; mixed thoughts about the status of science.

a richer sense of cultural interchange

Some people (I have no idea how many) presume that cultures belong authentically and originally to specific groups of human beings, and when we see aspects of a culture diffuse from their source, that is usually a sign of appropriation (wrongly taking someone else’s property) or else imperialism (imposing one’s culture on others).

These are real phenomena that deserve critical analysis–and sometimes recompense or other kinds of solutions. But they are by no means the only conditions under which ideas (concepts, values, aesthetic principles, styles, stories, technical solutions, artifacts, etc.) diffuse. People also:

  • Peacefully propagate their ideas to others
  • Advertise and sell their ideas
  • Exchange ideas voluntarily
  • Voluntarily exchange goods that also have cultural significance and influence
  • Borrow ideas respectfully
  • Borrow ideas competitively
  • Subversively borrow ideas from more powerful groups
  • Accidentally misunderstand others’ ideas, thereby creating new ones
  • Collaborate voluntarily to create new ideas
  • Discover forgotten ideas from their own past that resemble ideas that are popular elsewhere
  • Create new cultures or nations (ethnogenesis), which usually involves (selective) memory plus imagination and creativity
  • Choose to accentuate their own roots in specific places and times instead of other roots, thus adjusting their sense of who they are
  • Literally intermarry
  • Combine ideas from diverse sources

Sometimes, these processes are good, sometimes they are bad, but they are not automatically one or the other. And they are not exceptional. Once you recognize them, you see them happening all the time, all the way back through history. And that undermines the premise that specific ideas authentically belong to specific groups in the first place.

See also: what is cultural appropriation?; when is cultural appropriation good or bad?; the Oberlin cultural appropriation controversy, revisited; the ethical meanings of indigeneity; diversity, humility, curiosity.

Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference is just a few weeks away!

Good afternoon, friends! Just a reminder that the FCSS annual conference is coming soon, here in Orlando. You can expect some excellent exhibitors, some wonderful speakers, an engaging Friday night awards banquet, and an interesting day of sessions at the conference. Check out some of the sessions below!

Healthier Discussions in the Social Studies Classroom

Socratic Seminar | Gulf High School

In the session, “Healthier Discussions in the Social Studies Classroom,” educators will explore the concept of “classroom climate” and learn about strategies to identify the current climate and adjust the temperature as needed to best meet the needs of students. This workshop covers conversational strategies ranging from small talk to debate to handling disagreements and draws from established counseling and conflict-resolution practices. Attendees will learn about the disagreement pyramid, monitoring emotional temperatures in the classroom, and helping students build comfort with classroom debates.

The Constitution and Reconstruction: The 14th Amendment Throughout History

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution - Wikipedia

Participating teachers will examine the historical foundations of the 14th Amendment, establishing the context necessary so they can share with their students the need, development, and implications of the amendment. Educators will evaluate various stories told of the Reconstruction era, using some of the National Constitution Center’s newest online interactives and other online educational materials, to determine the role that storytelling plays in history and civics education. Educators will develop meaningful tools to foster discussion and civil dialogue on complex and difficult historical topics.

Navigating the Civic Literacy Assessment: What do you need to know, what should you do?

This session will introduce participants to the state of Florida’s Civic Literacy Test, mandated for grades 9-12 and for college students in the 21-22 school year. Participants will collaboratively explore resources provided by the Lou Frey Institute/Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. These resources will support both teacher professional development through free online course training and students through free online instructional modules. Presenters will offer their experience and expertise in preparing for the assessment and creating opportunities for engagement throughout the course of the school year.

Using the Holocaust to Teach Civics

Poland's Twisted Holocaust Law | Human Rights Watch

With the current Holocaust Mandate and new Civics standards, Civics can be fused with Holocaust Studies to encourage active citizenship. With this presentation, I will present via PowerPoint the Holocaust Mandate and show the connection with the new Civics standards. With this I will walk through a sample lesson using resources from the Florida Holocaust Museum and FJCC. This sample lesson will discuss best practices according to key Holocaust/Genocide experts and academic experts. Participants will be able to examine the lesson design of a Holocaust Lesson that teaches a Civics tenant. Participants will walk away with a lesson plan of a civics tenant and sample resources that I will supply.

Social Emotional Learning Strategies for Elementary Social Studies

What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)? • Region 13's Blog

This presentation will incorporate research based conclusions on SEL with practical activities that can be incorporated into the elementary classroom. There will be a hands-on activity that models a similar one for children, as well as discussion on how these practices have and can be incorporated into classrooms.

Be sure to register for the conference here. We will highlight more sessions over the next couple of weeks!

both detailed institutional analysis and holistic critique

In our Introduction to Civic Studies course, we have been discussing how to analyze institutions–“analyze” in its root sense of dividing things into smaller components. Our major theorist is for these sessions is Elinor Ostrom, and we are learning from her how to think about the specific types of goods, actors, incentives, rules, and other aspects in play in each situation.

Our goal is not (merely) academic. I believe that institutional analysis helps people to support good institutions, to change or even subvert imperfect or bad ones, and to design alternatives.

Some of our students push back against this fine-grained analysis, because they want to interpret all the specific components of particular institutions in much larger contexts. For example, the police or the schools may manifest white supremacy, and that is the issue.

Meanwhile, they are working on a published case, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott.” In class, I suggested that Martin Luther King, Jr. and his colleagues were good at both interpreting specific circumstances in holistic terms and analyzing the details.

Starting the day after Rosa Parks’ arrest, King described the segregated bus system of Montgomery as part of at least three very large and deep histories: the global history of European colonialism and slavery, the struggle to create an American democracy, and a providential story of sin and redemption. These are debatable interpretations, but he offered all three explicitly.

Yet he also said, “But we are here in a specific sense, because of the bus situation in Montgomery. We are here because we are determined to get the situation corrected.” He and his colleagues realized that the privately owned and segregated buses depended on fares, and that by properly organizing an alternative system for getting Black workers to their workplaces, they could defeat this company. Their strategy required both analyzing the existing institutions of Montgomery to reveal a vulnerability, and also very cleverly designing a new institution, the boycott, that transported 17,500 people to work for many months.

I think each of us must decide which of these approaches to social problems we will develop and employ more. This is a personal and even existential choice, and I wouldn’t offer an answer for anyone else. But I do believe that our skills of holistic social critique have probably improved, thanks to the flourishing of several important schools of critique–of which Critical Race Theory is just the most controversial example at the moment. At the same time, I think our skills of institutional analysis have tended to weaken, mainly because too few Americans get hands-on experience leading associations.

Therefore, I would advocate for everyone to at least experience detailed institutional analysis so that we know how it works and form our own views of it. And I would argue that it’s better to put holistic interpretation aside while analyzing institutions, or else the crucial details will be lost. For instance, if you read everything as “neoliberalism,” you will not be attentive to the significant differences among firms, markets, and goods–differences that might create openings for action.

See also Complexities of Civic Life; civic education and the science of association;  a template for analyzing an institution; the legacy of Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School.

vaccination, masking, political polarization, and the authority of science

In Fox News’ September survey, 78% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans say that both vaccines and masks are effective against COVID-19, and another 10-11% of each say that only masks work. That is a 47-point gap. Democrats are also about 50 percentage points more likely than Republicans to support mask mandates. Masking indoors seems to be normative as well as mandated in places like Cambridge, MA, where I live. On the other hand, not wearing a mask is normative in many parts of the USA. Masks are extraordinarily visible and they have accrued symbolic meanings.

This pattern is not inevitable. When we visited Amsterdam in late August, we hardly saw anyone else in a mask–not even in the crowded interior of the Rijksmuseum. The vaccination rate is similar in the Netherlands and Massachusetts–probably three points lower in the Netherlands. The Dutch generally fall to the left of Americans on the political spectrum. Yet they do not happen to see masks as good behavior.

Should the scientific evidence tell us what to do? Here are two examples of relevant studies (out of many):

Evidence for vaccination: Pollack et al 2020 is an example of a randomized controlled experimental test of an mRNA vaccination (the one produced by Pfizer) against COVID-19. Individuals were randomly assigned to receive the vaccine or a placebo. The vaccine was “95% effective in preventing Covid-19 (95% credible interval, 90.3 to 97.6). Similar vaccine efficacy (generally 90 to 100%) was observed across subgroups defined by age, sex, race, ethnicity, baseline body-mass index, and the presence of coexisting conditions.” (These results were obtained before the Delta variant, but studies after the rise of Delta continue to find high impact.)

Evidence for masking: Abaluck et al 2021 is the most ambitious and best-publicized study of masking against COVID-19. The researchers randomly divided 600 Bangladeshi villages into three groups. In 200 villages, they gave out free surgical masks and advocated their use. In another 200, they did the same with cloth masks. The third group was the control, with no intervention. Mask-wearing was about three times more common in the treatment villages than in the control villages, and COVID-19 prevalence was 9 percent lower in the villages with the surgical mask intervention.

Several caveats are necessary, however. Despite the intervention, the majority of people did not wear masks in the treatment villages, but 13% did in the control villages. The effects were not statistically significant for people under age 50. The physical and social context is different in rural Bangladesh than in, say, Boston. Finally, because villages, not people, were randomized, the authors must make some statistical assumptions that could be challenged. Note that the 9% estimate could be too low rather than too high; but there are several layers of uncertainty.

According to this particular pair of studies, the effect of vaccination is a bit more than 10 times larger than the effect of masking. We should think differently about evidence–and about other people’s attitude toward evidence–when results are this different. I am suggesting that a change of state occurs somewhere between 9% and 95%: a cloudy belief turns solid.

We should be very surprised if additional research casts doubt on the core finding that COVID-19 vaccination works. The methodology was simple and compelling, the outcomes were huge, and there is every reason to believe that a vaccine has consistent effects despite variations in context.

In contrast, we need additional research on masking, and subsequent studies are unlikely to yield a result of 9% again. With socially-embedded, behavioral interventions that have small effect sizes, the outcomes will vary from study to study. Future research may well yield null results as well as bigger effects.

If you began as skeptical of COVID-19, of vaccination, or of the new mRNA vaccines, then the vaccination experiments should change your mind. Critical debate is always welcome, but I don’t think you can responsibly criticize the vaccines–or any policy designed to promote vaccination–without seriously considering these studies. In essence, we know that the vaccines work, and if there is a debate, it should be about follow-up issues, like boosters, or about explicitly normative questions, such as how to distribute scarce vaccine doses internationally or whether to mandate as opposed to recommend vaccination.

If you began as skeptical of masks, then the Bangladesh study should cause you to revise your views in a somewhat more positive direction, especially since the preponderance of other evidence also supports masking. (See, e.g., Tirupathi et al 2020.)

However, if you began by assuming that masks are highly effective, then perhaps you should revise your estimate downward. Although you may not have quantified your prior estimate of the effectiveness of masks, you may have been assuming that they cut the spread of COVID-19 by 50%, or at least 20%. Nine percent may be lower than you were assuming.

I wear a mask. I think the evidence points in favor of them. Also, I think that legitimate institutions, such as my city and my employer, have a right to make decisions about such matters, and unless I have major grounds for conscientious objection, I should do what they say. We live together in communities. Finally, I note that experts widely recommend mask-wearing, and they may add a kind of practical wisdom or experience-based judgment that has value above and beyond the results of specific studies.

At the same time, you could predict my view of masks pretty well from my party identification and my place of residence. That fact gives me the following concerns:

  • Partisan heuristics may be causing US liberals to over-estimate the value of masks, thus possibly encouraging us to take other risks (such as close indoor contact) that we should avoid.
  • US liberals may be overlooking equally or more important policies and social norms because masks have become symbolic of good behavior. For instance, why aren’t we all regularly taking COVID-19 tests at home? Partly because of an unconscionable state failure to provide these tests (for which the Biden Administration now shares responsibility), and partly because testing has not become a mark of personal responsibility–while masking has.
  • We may be marking the boundaries of appropriate debate wrong. Scientific institutions are often too powerful and should never be allowed to shut down dissent. On the other hand, responsible participants in public debate should not ignore truly compelling evidence. Criticizing vaccines is probably bad for the public debate (even though criticism is–and must remain–legal). But criticizing masks probably enriches the public debate, since masking involves tradeoffs and uncertainties and we should be constantly updating our opinions.

An additional problem: vaccinating and wearing a mask have benefits for others, not only (or mainly) for oneself. Therefore, they could generate a tragedy of the commons, in which individuals fail to do what would be best for all.

One way to overcome that problem is to establish a powerful social norm in favor of the desired behavior. Sometimes, marginalizing criticism is a way to reinforce a norm. For instance, almost everyone now decries littering, there is no pro-litter movement, and there is not all that much litter. On the other hand, criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Marginalizing controversial views threatens to free and open debate.

In my opinion, the evidence for vaccines is so strong that vaccination should be a social norm as well as a legal requirement for many people. The main question is what works to get to the outcome of near-universal vaccination. If marginalizing vaccine skeptics is effective, let’s do it. (But if it backfires, let’s not.) On the other hand, we should encourage debates about masking even if that makes it harder to get everyone to mask up, because debate is valuable.

See also marginalizing odious views: a strategy; marginalizing views in a time of polarization; why protect civil liberties in a pandemic?; mixed thoughts about the status of science; Despite Similar Levels of Vaccine Hesitancy, White People More Likely to Be Vaccinated Than Black People

“do ordain and establish”

A note on Constitution Day: I haven’t often focused on the key verbs in the phrase, “We the People … do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

The authors held a precarious role. They took it upon themselves to write a legally authoritative document that included its own process of ratification. Their logic was circular. They adopted the first-person plural voice of the nation, but it was by no means clear that the people would agree with them–not even the propertied white men who would have an official voice in ratification. The Framers could have said that they were “requesting” or “proposing,” but they chose to ordain, and also to establish. This was a performative utterance if there ever was one.

The Northwest Ordinance (1787) had begun, “Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled. …” “Be it ordained” is an expression of explicit authority, like a court’s “so ordered, adjudged and decreed.” In the case of the Northwest Ordinance, the basis was a majority vote of the Congress. “We the people … ordain this Constitution” was more metaphysically complex, since “the people” could not speak until the Constitution that was attributed to them had actually come into force.

Already in 1325, according to Robert of Gloucester, “The king.. let ordeiny..& let rere up chirchen” (he ordained and let churches be reared up.) As in this example, “ordain” can mean “to decide the order or course of; to arrange, plan” (OED), although that use is now obsolete. Much more common is the sense of “to confer holy orders on,” which is not what the Framers meant.

To “establish” can mean “to fix, settle, institute or ordain permanently, by enactment or agreement” (OED). Chaucer used it in that sense ca. 1386, in the Parson’s Tale: “The peynes that been establissed and ordeyned for synne.” Note how he uses the Preamble’s two key verbs in one phrase, albeit in the opposite order from the Preamble.

Was it redundant to say both ordain and establish, or were their meanings subtly different? Legal language often incorporates pleonasm, as in “null and void,” “terms and conditions,” and “each and every.” These are examples of a whole category called legal doublets.

The Virginia Constitution of 1776 (written by elected “delegates and representatives of the good people of Virginia”) included the phrase “do ordain and declare.” Robert Ferguson (1987) thinks that the Constitution’s framers had this text in mind as a draft and self-consciously improved it for the Preamble, although I must admit I like the way the Virginians presented their work as the product of “having maturely considered … the deplorable conditions” of their state.

Source: Robert A. Ferguson, We Do Ordain and Establish: The Constitution as Literary Text, 29 WM. & MARY L. REV. 3 (1987) See also: why social scientists should pay attention to metaphysics; liberals, conservatives, and love of the Constitution; constitutional piety; etc.

Constitution Day 2021

Good morning, friends! It’s Constitution Day! This is the day in which we recognize and celebrate this framework of government that has been with us for more than two centuries. It’s not perfect (if it was, the Framers wouldn’t have created a way to change it!), but it has provided a strong foundation for government that we have worked to improve over the course of our history.

Being Constitution Day, leading into Freedom Week, we offer a number of excellent resources you might find useful. These are all available at Florida Citizen.

Civics in Real Life

Over at Civics in Real Life, the vast majority of one page connections to current events can be connected to the Constitution. Three samples are linked below. These are all free and available any time!

Constitution Day
Federalism in Action
Judicial Review

Students Investigating Primary Sources

These resources, also on Florida Citizen, do require a free registration to access. They are 15 to 30 minute lessons involving not just the Constitution but other Founding Documents and primary sources as well, for grades 2-12. Indeed, there is a whole set of lessons Middle/High for Freedom Week!

Grade 3: Creating the Constitution
Decoding the Declaration: Celebrate Freedom Week, Part One

Elementary and Middle School Lesson Plans

Elsewhere on Florida Citizen, you will find lesson plans for K-5 and middle school civics that can support instruction on the Constitution. Be sure to check out our Civics in a Snap series for K-5, and our Middle School Applied Civics Lessons for the middle school civics course (also useful for high school!). Free registration is required.

2nd Grade: How does the Constitution establish the structure, power and function of our government?
Middle School: How does the Constitution safeguard and limit individual rights?

Additional Resources

Of course, you can also check out our free (registration required) Civics360 resource for videos and readings relating to the Constitution and other documents during Freedom Week.

Preamble of the US Constitution

And without a doubt, be sure to look at the EXCELLENT resources compiled by our friends at the Civics Renewal Network for all of your Constitution Day and Freedom Week needs!

Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference is Near!

Friends, just a reminder that the 2021 FCSS Annual Conference is about a month away. We will soon be highlighting some exciting sessions, and we hope to see you with us on Friday October 15th and Saturday October 16th. You can register for the conference here, and be sure to download and share the flyer!