Posts Tagged '#WtheP'

We the People Interview Series: Interview with Stephanie South

As part of the Civic Agency initiative, we are conducting a special “We the People” interview series. In this series, we interview intriguing people with different perspectives on the “We the People” phase of our work in ADP. This is the fourth of many interviews that will be included in this series.

A Colorado native, Stephanie South was born and raised on the beautiful Western Slope and finished a B.A. in political science at the University of Northern Colorado in May 2010. She minored in journalism and legal studies and was actively involved on campus as a member of Student Senate, Greek life, the President’s Leadership Program, and the Honors Program. She also studied abroad in the south of France. During her third and final year of college, Stephanie focused her efforts largely on her undergraduate thesis and recently had a portion of her work published as “Making the Move from Shouting to Listening to Public Action: A Student Perspective on Millennials and Dialogue” in the Journal of Public Deliberation.

Stephanie’s collegiate experiences were both broad and diverse, instilling in her a passion for service, Middle Eastern politics, civic engagement, community, and travel.  She spends her free time taking photos, planning trips, working out, and reading Time magazine.  Stephanie is currently exploring overseas volunteer opportunities with hopes of pursuing a year of service post-Fellowship. She eventually plans to attend law school and is extremely interested in advocating for social justice issues.

Stephanie South

American Democracy Project (ADP): Why were you interested in civic engagement?

Stephanie South (SS): In my three years at the University of Northern Colorado, I was a part of the University Honors Program. During my second year of college, the Center for Honors, Scholars, and Leadership, which houses the program, was in the midst of a transition and beginning to shift its focus to incorporate civic engagement more fully. The then director of the University Honors Program, Kaye Holman, and the director of the Center, Michael Kimball, encouraged me to explore the concept of civic engagement in higher education for a possible thesis topic, but at the time, as I was wrapping up classes and preparing to move to Washington, D.C. for the summer, I was not fully enthusiastic about identifying the subject for my thesis, which I had been putting off for a good month or so.

However, before I got on the road for D.C., Mike gave me a copy of Harry Boyte’s The Citizen Solution: How You Can Make a Difference to read on the 25-hour road trip; not long after starting it, I was hooked. In the months that followed, I worked with Mike to narrow my topic, and somehow he convinced Harry to sign on as an external advisor, which I was both honored by and thrilled about.

My passion for civic engagement and my interest in the nearly yearlong project I undertook for my University Honors Program thesis were a direct result of Kaye’s and Mike’s willingness to mentor and push me and, of course, Harry’s book.

ADP: What did you learn about public work as a way to shift Millennials from “shouting” to “co-creation”?

SS: Boyte’s work was extremely influential not only in my writing but in my own life as a student. I found his take on democracy—his public work philosophy—a perfect expression of how I thought humankind should function, of how I thought students at a university should function. I remember a piece Boyte once wrote where he quoted a student he had interviewed, and the student said something about an essential missing piece in the lives of Millennials, a disconnect from their communities.

As a student who was actively and perhaps overly involved in my campus, I did not identify with this, but I saw so many students around me that did. They were simply passing through their college experience, and for most of them, despite popular opinion, it was not the result of apathy. It was disengagement perpetuated by a broken system of higher education. The break I speak of, although I know there are more, is in regard to how students are taught in the classroom and what they are taught about. Students I conducted focus groups with, as well as interviewed one-on-one, were not being engaged by teachers talking to instead of speaking with them. They were tired of one-way conversations had by PowerPoint. They were disappointed with the lack of real world application and context they were learning with their subject matter.

It began to dawn on me that students were being treated like consumers with all sorts of propaganda simply being shouted at them. What they really wanted and what America really needs is for students to be treated like citizens; for students to become stakeholders in their own lives and communities, to translate their professional purpose into one that exists for public benefit, to become problem solvers and co-creators and co-producers of public goods.

ADP: What did your experiences and what you learned at UNCO have to say about the broader movement for civic empowerment and educational change?

SS: If American colleges and universities want to get back to their roots and truly make higher education about more than getting students in and out the door with a degree as fast as possible, then they must answer the call for community. Our institutions must work not only to educate students on how the collective can be created and on the power of it, but they must foster opportunities for the intentional conversations that allow community to thrive. And, if this generation, the Millennials, is to truly reach its potential and make a return to the commonwealth, then higher education must give them the proper instruction to be citizens. They must not only teach them how to utilize their collegiate experiences and chose career path to contribute to their communities, but they must empower students to do so by giving them a voice, and, therefore, a stake in the commonwealth.

However, this is a two-way street, and if higher education institutions are willing to give students the stage, students have to step of to the mic[rophone]. This conversation cannot be a monologue; both parties have to add their voice to the exchange. As a result of my thesis and the conversations I had with students, professors, and administrators during the course of my research, I believe that higher education reform in the sense that I see it is entirely possible if both university professionals and students commit to making the move from “shouting” to “listening.”

We the People Interview Series: Interview with Cheryl McClellan

As part of the Civic Agency initiative, we are conducting a special “We the People” interview series. In this series, we interview intriguing people with different perspectives on the “We the People” phase of our work in ADP. This is the third of many interviews that will be included in this series.

Seated: Rebecca Hamlin, Molly McInnis, Kayla Krebs, Heidi Austin Standing: Schyler Novak, Cheryl McClellan

Cheryl McClellan has worked in a broad range of educational venues, from serving as an HIV/AIDS counselor and advocate, working with people recovering from traumatic brain injuries, training people in First Aid and CPR, to working with children in her own son’s classroom.  Cheryl is passionate about education and special education in particular.  She is currently a graduate student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is working toward teaching licensure in special education with a dual emphasis in learning disabilities and emotional and behavior disorders (EBD).

During her time at Augsburg, Cheryl worked with Harry Boyte and Dennis Donovan, our two key partners in the Civic Agency initiative. Through this experience, Cheryl was able to lead a transformation in how special education is taught at Augsburg. What follows is her inspiring story.

Cecilia M. Orphan (CMO): Why did you join Public Achievement?

Cheryl McClellan (CM): For me it wasn’t about joining Public Achievement (PA). It was about joining an initiative that could better serve students often marginalized by our education system.  As I learned more and more about the initiative, I became really excited about PA as a model for transforming how we meet the needs of students with emotional and behavior disorders.  I also saw the potential of PA to shift the ways in which all students engage with each other and their communities.

CMO: What changes have you seen as a result of your participation in PA?

CM: I recently had to ask myself the same question – in preparation for a brief speech at Augsburg – and as I was thinking back over the past academic year, I was surprised by the amount of change I have experienced.

I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to participate in the project.  All I knew was that I wanted to be a part of the Special Education department’s pilot program that was attempting to re-envision the way we teach students labeled Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). PA seemed to offer a new way to engage these students and integrate them into the fabric of their schools and communities. So often these are the students that are tucked out of sight in basement classrooms or in the furthest corners of schools.  They may go to school, but they are not part of the school culture. PA offered a way to change this, and it did.

I expected the students to develop new skills and uncover individual strengths, and they have done so.  Leaders and visionaries have emerged from this group of students often labeled as “behavior problems.” The students have announced their presence to the school community and redefined what it means to be in an EBD special education program.  The school culture is shifting. Students from general education are working with students from this special education program. Staff have recognized and celebrated the work of our PA students. Our PA students have become more visible as members of their school community.

Our PA group is also transforming culture and expectations outside of school. I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a public school teacher over lunch. As I described our PA project aimed at installing a solar thermal system to heat the school’s water supply, this teacher stopped me and stated, “Middle school students are working on solar energy?” She continued, “Wait, you mean kids with EBD?”  This exchange sums up the subtle beliefs many have about students labeled EBD. Our pilot project is challenging these assumptions.

Personally, PA has changed the way I see myself as a future teacher.  I entered Augsburg planning to focus on learning disabilities as my specialty area. I could not envision working with students having emotional and behavior disorders. In some ways I bought into the stereotypes that many have about these students. This PA project has challenged my assumptions, and as a result of my experience with this PA project, I have added EBD to my teaching licensure. I now have a new understanding of civic engagement as a teaching tool and philosophy capable of bridging the divide between special education and the greater community.

I also know that PA has changed how I see myself in my non-teaching roles. I know I am a better citizen, better community member, and better parent as result of being part of this project. I refuse to accept any less of myself than what I ask from my students, and I am finding my public voice and civic commitment as a result.

CMO: What changes have you seen in your fellow college students?

CM: We all have benefitted from the hands-on experience of weekly coaching.  Our weekly PA meetings provided opportunities to put educational theory into practice and to meld teaching practices with PA philosophy.  We have watched – and learned from – the magic that can occur when students are excited and engaged their learning.

We have all gained confidence, not only in our skills as future teachers but also as future colleagues.  Unlike many PA projects, this one involved co-coaches. We have had to learn to build and maintain collaborative relationships. In the end, the biggest change I’ve seen is that we have transformed from being scared students to seeing ourselves as professionals.

We the People Interview Series: Interview with Jason Lowry

As part of the Civic Agency initiative, we are conducting a special “We the People” interview series. In this series, we interview intriguing people with different perspectives on the “We the People” phase of our work in ADP. This is the third of many interviews that will be included in this series.

Jason Lowry is a Master’s student in the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University (NAU). For the past two years, he has been a Public Achievement coach and the coordinator of Public Achievement at NAU, a leader of the weatherization and community building action team and an apprentice organizer in the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council. During his graduate studies he is researching strategies for integrating Public Achievement and community organizing into schools.

During this time of great political unrest in the state of Arizona, Public Achievement and Civic Agency have helped provide citizens in Flagstaff and beyond with the hope that they can work together despite political and ideology differences to solve community-based problems and create cultures of civic agency and engagement. What follows is a synopsis of his inspiring story as well as advice for faculty and students about how they might use a “We the People” ethos to create positive change in their own communities.

Cecilia M. Orphan (CMO): Students at Northern Arizona University have been working to make “We the People” a reality. How are they doing this?

Jason Lowry (JL): NAU is seeing a huge surge in its student engagement throughout campus. Students I work with are at the forefront of organizing in the Flagstaff and NAU communities around immigration work, Public Achievement (the student democratic engagement and leadership initiative) in two different elementary schools, and as well as extensive student and community organizing around energy efficiency and renewable energy.

I am also engaged – and have been engaged for a couple of years now – in Public Achievement and the energy efficiency organizing. These two pieces have been some of the most powerful and empowering experience for me and the other students I work with. We have worked with elementary schoolers on food drives, community gardens, new books for their old library, and community health programs. We have also organized to build support and energy for the creation of a $2.7 million dollar energy efficiency revolving loan fund for the Flagstaff area!

CMO: Have you noticed any changes in the students you are working with? Do they conceive of themselves and their communities any differently after engaging in public work?  

JL: I feel a difference in the students. They come in with wide eyes yet they leave seeing possibility. Many of the students I work with are now assuming leadership roles within the project and creating innovative organizing strategies on their own. At first this was a slow process that required gently nudging the students forward. Now I can stand back as they take projects by the horns. For many students, organizing on the ground and seeing tangible results has helped them feel that they can and are making a difference. Subsequently, many are planning to stay engaged in their communities for years to come.

These students are reviving my hopes for Arizonan democracy by stepping up to the plate and asserting their leadership in a democratic way. Even though the situation is grim with budget cuts to the universities, attacks on immigrants, and a continued reliance on unsustainable energy sources, students are embodying the idea of ‘We the People’ and making their community their own. They are tired of waiting and are finding meaningful ways to get engaged and seeing possibility for change in places I would not have ever looked.

CMO: Have you noticed any changes in yourself because of this work? If so, what kind of changes?

JL: Wow, I absolutely have. First and foremost, I have a renewed faith in people and our communities. After seeing so many people come together to work for humane ends and understanding that they are the ones that will make it happen, it has rekindled my belief that people, when they work together for a common goal, can and do accomplish great ends.

I have also begun to see many seeming crises as opportunities for engagement. Where I once saw the issues at hand as limiting, I know see them as opportunities and I understand at some level how to work to make the change.

CMO: How might we communicate the “We the People” spirit to students around the nation?

JL: Students are tired of politics as usual. They are tired of being written off as disengaged and apathetic. It seems as though many of them just don’t know where or how to begin. The spirit of “We the People” has to be talked about as it relates to possible opportunities for organizing or what is already going on.

The message is simple. What we have won’t work. We need something new and we can’t wait for others to fix it. Let’s organize and make something happen understanding this is a lifelong endeavor, not a onetime fix.

CMO: How might we use social media tools to help build the “We the People” movement?

JL: Hmm… social media is not my forte. However, I know it can be a very powerful tool to augment the work we are doing on the ground. Too often people see social networking tools and technology as the cure-all for the problems we are facing. I would caution that the use of social media tools need to be connected with that relationship and community building that face-to-face organizing provides. One without the other is greatly limiting. But social media can make organizing efforts more united and broader in scope as we share information of what is going on in our own communities and quicker to react.

Social media tools can also create powerful public stages by translating local organizing efforts into a larger context of what’s going on in our states, country, and the world. I believe that these tools will play a key role  in helping the “We the People” movement gain ground and will also help local organizing efforts find energy and a sense of possibility.

CMO: What advice would you give faculty members who are hoping to awaken this same civic spirit in their own students?

For me, this type of student civic spirit comes from a few places. First, find student leaders on your campus. John Paul Lederach[1] writes about critical yeast; those people that are able to expand energy and engagement throughout their communities and spaces. Find these students and mentor them in the art of democratic engagement and public work.

Second, give them the reigns and let them take charge. One of the main differences I have seen between those groups that are really engaged and those that are not is that successful faculty provide guidance but let the students run the show. I think the Industrial Areas Foundation’s Iron Rule is important here: Never do for others what they can do for themselves.

Lastly, help them find possibility and the skills to make things happen. If we don’t help them form a broader vision, our efforts may lead to a continuation of the status quo. Don’t push them that way, just sew the seeds of possibility and try to nurture them the best you can!

CMO: What advice would you give students?

JL: Find a mentor. Get to know someone, preferably many people that are passionate about something similar to your own interests and invest time and energy in creating a solid relationship. My own work has mostly turned into mentoring students through individual meetings, visioning, and strategy sessions. I believe mentoring relationships are so important because I know the effect they had on me personally.

Also, laugh a bit. Make fun of the hard times we’re in. Humor might provide a light of possibility that seriousness would otherwise snuff out.


[1] Lederach, J. P. (2005). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press, USA

We the People: Update on the Civic Agency Initiative

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

In light of the increased attention on the part of the Department of Education and many philanthropic organizations on college completion and workforce development, leaders in the American Democracy Project have found ways to tie their work to these goals. Most notable in this effort is the work of the Civic Agency initiative which seeks to develop and operationalize the concept of civic agency. Within this initiative, we deliberately emphasize the connection between developing a strong set of skills that are both civic and professional in nature. To describe this connection we use the phrase “21st Century Skills.”

Participants at the 2010 Civic Agency Institute.

The notion of civic agency involves the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences like partisan ideology, faith traditions, income, geography and ethnicity to address common challenges, solve problems, and create common ground. Civic agency requires a set of individual skills, knowledge, and predispositions. Civic agency also involves questions about institutional design, particularly how to constitute groups and institutions for sustainable collective action. Over the last three years of our partnership with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship led by Harry C. Boyte and Dennis Donovan, we have experimented with strategies for developing a strong sense of civic agency on the part of undergraduate students.

What we are finding is that the programs that produce strong civic outcomes for students also help prepare them for the workforce. Additionally, I have observed anecdotal evidence that suggests that students involved in Civic Agency activities tend to persevere to graduate attainment. While the data is still anecdotal, I’m sure that with a little more digging we’d be able to find actual statistics to support this evidence. This has helped leaders within the initiative demonstrate their commitment to degree attainment and workforce development while developing student civic skills.

The challenges facing American democracy are too complex and deep-rooted to rely simply on elected officials to solve. Indeed, we need a concerted search for solutions that involves everyday people, business leaders, students, non-profit leaders, and governmental officials. This realization gave birth to the new phase of the Civic Agency initiative called “We the People.” In the We the People (WtheP) vision, government is our meeting ground, partner and common instrument in addressing our problems and building a shared life. Students in the Civic Agency initiative are beginning to use their civic skills to foster partnerships with business and NGO leaders and local government with the goal of solving public problems. We launched We the People last fall and many of our campuses have started experimenting with strategies to encourage partnerships between students and elected officials.

What follows is a set of updates about We the People and Civic Agency.

Western Kentucky University (WKU) by Terry Shoemaker

Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship & Social Responsibility (ICSR) is dedicating the entire month of April to WtheP activities. These activities will include a “Wii the People” civically-minded bowling league, a four-week league that uses Nintendo’s Wii bowling game, that will gather together groups from around WKU’s campus including the Young Republicans, Young Democrats, African-American Studies, WKU Americans for an Informed Democracy (AID), and FeelGood to participate in civic dialogue on contemporary issues while Wii bowling. The league runs through April with the Wii Bowling Championship game set for April 12th.

The ICSR will also bring two guest speakers to WKU’s campus in April.  First, author, activist, and public theologian, Brian McLaren will speak to students and community members on “Being the Change” on April 11th.  McLaren, who published the book, Everything Must Change in 2007, has been instrumental in creating an emerging social justice initiative among evangelical Christians.  He will challenge WKU students to become change agents.

Second, Jon DeGraaf, co-author of Affluenza and National Organizer for Take Back Your Time, will be at WKU’s campus on April 28th. DeGraaf’s work on consumerism and society has been influential in recognizing over-consumption as a systemic issue in America. He will challenge WKU’s students to recognize their time poverty and consumerism, and imagine another way of being. In addition, ICSR will show John DeGraaf’s film Affluenza on April 14th. Third Tuesday Tea, ICSR’s regular monthly meeting to discuss contemporary topics with WKU students, faculty & staff, will be dedicated to the topic “Consuming Democracy.” This timely event will be a precursor to John DeGraaf’s visit and will bring energetic conversation to the topic.

Other organizations are also centering their events around the idea of We the People on WKU’s campus. A group of students will visit the Highland Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. Another group is participating in a poverty/hunger simulation. Still another is working to cater all these events raising money for the Hunger Project.

For more information visit this website.

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University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) by David Hoffman

In the fall 2010, a third annual cohort of 30 students completed our Civic
Imagination and Social Entrepreneurship course, in which students work in groups to envision, develop and prepare to launch campus and community change projects. Among the projects developed in the class were an online networking space for campus activists, a campaign to discourage distracted driving, a program to inspire K-12 students with visits from collegiate scholar-athletes, and an organization dedicated to addressing incidents of injustice on campus.

We’re also in the process of developing an initiative tentatively entitled UMBC’s Civic Year. The concept is to deepen and make more visible UMBC’s support for civic agency through a year of themed activities, including courses, contests, art exhibitions, online discussions and community-building events.  These activities are likely to encompass recurring programs that might not otherwise emphasize civic agency, including research conferences, book discussions, service projects and speaker series. Our intention is that much like a successful Olympic games, this intense period of themed activities will produce lasting (civic) infrastructure improvements and make civic innovation and agency even more central to our campus culture.

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San Francisco State University (SFSU) by Gerald Eisman

Over the past two years, the Civic Agency project at San Francisco State University has centered around the development of a consortium of local universities who have partnered with neighborhood stakeholders (residents, city agencies, nonprofits, merchants, faith-based and secular community-based organizations) to co-create resilient communities – those rich in social capital and optimally prepared to respond to, and grow from, both short and long term challenges and opportunities.

Founded and coordinated by the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement (ICCE) at San Francisco State, the consortium, named the Neighborhood Empowerment Network University (NENu), serves as a hub for community-engaged scholarship in the Bay Area by facilitating connections among and between local academic institutions and neighborhood stakeholders in support of the larger NEN network. In order to facilitate those connections, NENu engages in three core activities:

  1. recruiting and retaining academic institution partners and neighborhood stakeholders,
  2. providing linkages to city agencies and other asset managers, and
  3. providing the infrastructure to facilitate communications among all NENu partners.

Target neighborhoods (called Engaged Learning Zones – ELZs) are selected for focused NENu activities by the agreement of each of the three dimensions of the partnership – neighborhood leadership, city government representatives, and academic partners. Currently four ELZs are underway – in San Francisco’s Ocean/Merced/Ingleside (OMI) district, North Beach, Polk Street, Western Addition, and we hope to soon launch activities in the neighborhoods Northwest of Twin Peaks.

Initial activities involved stakeholder interviews, identifying assets, public forums, prioritizing issues, and directed action through service learning. Students in varied disciplines such as Urban Studies, Instructional Technologies, Geography, Art, Broadcast Communication, Public Administration, Marketing, Communication Studies and others have contributed to ELZ activities. University students are currently assisting in the development of inclusive online tools for neighborhood leadership development, research on indices for measuring community resilience, GIS mapping of community assets, cohort mapping of leaders and their organizations, and internships in the offices of city supervisors.

One immediate outcome has been the creation of a database of community service opportunities that will be shared by NENu universities to help direct students to community sites. The database will utilize contemporary social media tools on top of traditional listings of community organizations.

Of central importance to NENu is the development of bridging and bonding social capital in a city whose neighborhood demographics are both diverse and changing dynamically. The strength of these bonds will provide a platform for addressing a wide range of issues and help the city as it prepares its residents to respond to and recover from any natural disaster including, as predicted by geologists, a major earthquake in the next 20 years.

For more information about the Civic Agency initiative, please visit this website. For more information about We the People, please visit this website.

Tackling the Empowerment Gap

By Harry Boyte, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

One goal of “We the People” is to overcome the “empowerment gap” in education – affecting not only disadvantaged students but also, in different ways, all students, teachers, staff, families, communities, and school administrators – by creating empowering learning and teaching cultures. In this organizing work, Public Achievement, the civic education initiative many ADP schools are adopting, is a seedbed for democratic change in education and in the society.

Background

The phrase “the empowerment gap” comes from Sheldon Berman, superintendent of the Louisville Kentucky schools. Berman has called for a change in frame from the “achievement gap,” a narrow set of metrics on student success, to “the empowerment gap” (see “Tackling the Empowerment Gap,” Learning First Alliance, October 31, 2008; also attachment “The Empowerment Gap Versus the Achievement Gap,” Education Commission of the States, 2010).

Here is some of the base of research and theory building which buttresses a focus on the empowerment gap:

  • A rapidly expanding body of research demonstrates that student success is best measured by broad indicators which assess how and whether students become empowered agents of their own education and lives, capable of shaping their environments. This view challenges narrow metrics of success (embodied in “The Achievement Gap”) in part for failing in their own terms, often widening inequalities. Students as empowered agents are equipped with habits and skills of deliberation, critical thinking, contextual thinking, complex reasoning, life long learning, collaborative problem solving, and productive action. Evidence from a variety of sources indicates that while students as empowered agents do well on tests and typically have high graduation rates and college attendance and completion rates, their path toward such success is far richer and more multidimensional than a focus on standardized testing allows; it is cognizant of students as “whole people,” with multiple talents and capacities and public as well as private, careerist motivations (see for instance Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas; Hilary Swank, Freedom Writers, Bill Ayers, Teaching Toward Freedom; Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life; for parallels in higher education, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academics Adrift, and Chronicle of Higher Education commentary from January 25, “Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?”; Scott London, Doing Democracy: How A Network of Grassroots Organizations Is Strengthening Community, Building Capacity, and Shaping a New Kind of Civic Education);
  • Tackling the empowerment gap widens the lens of where education takes place to include families, neighborhoods and a variety of community institutions and settings (Lawrence Steinberg, Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do; Nan Kari and Nan Skelton, Creating a Culture of Learning in St. Paul);
  • Tackling the empowerment gap revitalizes the older mission of education for citizenship. In recent decades, this ideal has dramatically weakened as schools have lost connection to parents and communities and become understood as the path to private, not public goods. The Center for School Change has documented the disappearance of parent engagement from teacher education curricula (see appendix with George Mehaffy in Boyte, “Against the Current: Developing the Civic Agency of Students,” Change magazine, June 2008). Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch famously found common ground about such developments (see the exchange in Education Week February 26, 2007, “Bridging Differences.”);
  • Tackling the empowerment gap translates theory and principles drawn from community organizing into cultural, institutional and professional change in ways that build civic capacity and civic agency (see for instance Xavier de Sousa Briggs, Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe; Jeannie Oakes et al, Learning Power: Learning for Education and Justice, and Jeannie Oakes and Maurisa Sanders, Beyond Tracking: Multiple Pathways to College, Career, and Civic Participation; Dennis Shirley, Community Organizing for Urban School Reform; Clarence Stone et. al., The Politics of Reforming Urban Public Schools);
  • The concept of public work, developed by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship and its partners over two decades and at the heart of Public Achievement, is gaining global recognition for its success in such translation (see for instance, Boyte and Kari, Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work,; also Boyte “Constructive Politics as Public Work,” forthcoming Political Theory).

“Overcoming the empowerment gap” is part of a larger We the People movement for democratic change in America. We the People joins efforts for civic renewal and political reform with educational reform. Education has often been seen as separate from the civic and political reform movements, but as James Madison once put it, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.  A people that mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge brings.”

Put differently, without creating interconnections among what until now have been largely separate strands of change, it will be impossible to rebuild a culture of democracy that develops the civic agency of “We the People” to tackle the biggest challenges we face as a society.

Spreading the Minnesota Way

By Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

This Martin Luther King Day weekend I’ve been thinking about the “Montgomery Way” and “The Minnesota Way.”

The beginning of the freedom movement, which later shaped me as a college student in the 1960s, was the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) on January 10-11, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. SCLC was created to spread “the Montgomery way” across the south. It communicated lessons of the famous bus boycott, begun when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man on December 5, 1955, in Montgomery. The bus boycott was an enormous successful nonviolent movement of black people and their allies to desegregate city buses that stunned the nation and the world. SCLC spread not only organizing lessons about boycotts but also a “Crusade for Citizenship,” launched by Ella Baker, first executive director, in 20 communities across the South. The Crusade for Citizenship communicated democratic hope, the idea that battlers for racial justice, growing in numbers, were not alone but rather part of a rising tide. A freedom movement was about to break on the nation’s consciousness that would change the course of history.

There are lessons that can ground a similar “We the People” movement today. One way to describe it is “Spreading the Minnesota Way.”

On January 24 in partnership with the congressionally mandated National Conference on Citizenship and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, our Center for Democracy and Citizenship is publishing A Tale of Two Cities. The report compares the “civic health” — levels of civic engagement — in the Twin Cities and Miami Florida. The Twin Cities is the most civically engaged community in the nation, Miami is the least, according to composite of a number of indicators (voting levels, volunteering, charitable giving, involvement in community problem solving, participation in public meetings, campaigns, and also informal measures like talking to neighbors and having dinner with families). Civic health is correlated with social benefits such as economic well-being, income equality, and individual health and happiness.

The report is an opportunity to analyze reasons for the Twin Cities success. I believe that there are three elements, present everywhere but especially developed in the Twin Cities.

  • Civic agency. Most simply, people here believe that change is possible and that they can make it —  that everyday citizens, not superheroes or famous celebrities, can develop the capacities for public work across differences to tackle tough problems and shape the world around us.
  • Civic educators. In the Twin Cities, the detachment from community life of many institutions – families, schools, congregations, businesses, nonprofits – that is widespread visible in America generally has also taken place. But many buck the trend. There is still an unusual degree of institutional engagement with communities in ways which educate for citizenship. In some cases civic dimensions of institutions are being revitalized.
  • We the People government. The Twin Cities also embody many continuing examples of political leadership, government agencies, and civil servants who make government the partner, instrument and meeting ground of citizens – neither savior providing “customer services,” nor the problem.

These elements add up to a “culture of civic empowerment.” And just as in the civil rights movement when a widespread desire for change warred with a deep pessimism about whether segregation could be ended, a culture of civic empowerment can spread. In fact this week’s civic outpouring in Tucson, Arizona where citizens have shown the world that the community is much bigger than the violent shootings can also be seen as stirrings of a new movement of civic empowerment.

In this movement everyday citizens are the foundational agents of making change.  What do these have in common?

Democratic hope.

 

Reclaiming Civic Spaces: The Project for Public Spaces

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

It is important for every healthy community to have public space for citizens to engage in democratic work. AASCU universities are often instrumental in partnering with community leaders to reclaim these types of public spaces for civic purposes. This work grows out of their commitment to being Stewards of Place. Indeed, every community has public space that has the potential to be used for important public work – be it as the site for dialogue about important community issues, public problem solving, community organizing, political campaigning, or other important civic activities.

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.  PPS was founded in 1975 to expand on the work of William (Holly) Whyte, the author of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Since then, we have completed projects in over 2500 communities in 40 countries and all 50 US states. Partnering with public and private organizations, federal, state and municipal agencies, business improvement districts, neighborhood associations and other civic groups, PPS improves communities by fostering successful public spaces.

Please see below for additional information about PPS. I hope many of you will consider how the type of work PPS is doing might fit into your own campus’s community outreach agenda. There are also a lot of great resources and tips on the PPS website that could be helpful for you as you’re thinking about how to improve and/or reclaim a public space in your community. The website also has tips on how university leaders might maximize the use of public space on campus. To read these specific tips, please visit this webpage.

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The Re-Emergence of the Public Square

Public Squares enhance urban livability and provide new anchors to downtown development

Today, cities everywhere are thinking more broadly about how to gain an economic boost. Big ticket items, like sports arenas and lavish performing arts centers, which cities once viewed as the key to reviving their struggling downtowns, are taking a back seat to new, lower-cost, high-impact strategies to foster prosperity. More and more, public squares and urban parks, not expensive mega-projects, are emerging as the best way to make downtowns more livable—and not just in depressed urban cores.

A central attraction of cities throughout the world, public squares not only bring economic rewards but offer people a comfortable spot to gather for social, cultural and political activities. They are the pulsing heart of a community and foster true urban sustainability.

Two of PPS’ public square projects recently opened in Houston and Pittsburgh to great fanfare. And in Amsterdam, PPS facilitated a Placemaking workshop that brought diverse stakeholders together to develop a shared vision for an inclusive and livable town square.

 

 

Houston’s new Market Square opened to great excitement this fall, with Mayor Annise Parker declaring, “This is the perfect park: it has history, it has green space, it has food, it has places for the pets, it has places for kids to play.” That’s quite a turnaround for a spot once featured on PPS’s Hall of Shame. This is another milestone in Houston’s progress toward creating a series of great public spaces and a vibrant, livable downtown.  PPS was also a key partner on other Houston projects like Discovery Green and Emancipation Park

 

 

 

Pittsburgh’s Market Square reopened this fall with roaring public approval. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl enthused, “today our vision for this public space became a reality, “citing the newly closed streets, freshly planted trees, outdoor seating, and wider sidewalks  that now run through this historic public space. The opening marked the culmination of years of public process and a $5 million investment in the area, with improvements guided by PPS’ community-based plan for the Square

 

 

 

Amsterdam’s Plein 40-45, has great potential to become a thriving town square for a mixed Dutch, Turkish, and Moroccan neighborhood on the western edge of the City.  Just days after a PPS Master Class workshop, the community started implementing a number of the low-cost, high-impact improvements. The Square was even included on a city-wide boat tour of markets as part of Amsterdam’s annual 1001 Markets Festival.  The recent workshops facilitated by PPS brought stakeholders around the town square together- perhaps for the first time- to develop a shared vision for the space that would include all cultural groups.

One of the main reasons for the resurgence of the public square is that they bring livability and many diverse benefits to a city—at a lower cost and greater speed than traditional large-scale developments.  Public squares that emerge through a Placemaking process are sustained by community buy-in can:

  • catalyze private investment and foster grassroots entrepreneurial activities.
  • nurture identity, encourage volunteerism, and highlight a community’s unique values.
  • draw a diverse population and serve as a city’s “common ground.” Successful squares—those that are sustainable both economically and socially—draw different kinds of people with a series of dynamic places within them offering many choices of things to do—socializing, eating, reading, playing a game, interacting with art, etc.

A recent  Washington Post article focuses on the power of “City Parks” to spur economic growth across an entire city, and it points to two PPS projects, Houston’s  Discovery Green and Detroit’s  Campus Martius, as benchmarks for success. Alive with year-round programming and activities, the best squares offer the type of thriving Public Multi-Use Destinations treasured by urban residents which also generate millions of dollars of investment, proving there can be an  Upside of a Down Economy.

PPS is honored to celebrate these and other public squares that have recently opened to make their cities more livable.  We are seeking your stories about squares in your communities that you think are successful. Please send us a description, photos and facts about the impact of a square that has recently opened or been revitalized in your community so that we can share your successes with others! Email info@pps.org.

Please visit the PPS website for more information.

Question: How might your university reclaim spaces in the community for citizens to do public work?


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