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December 3, 2004


Today is the end of CIRCLE's annual Advisory Board meeting. Our Board, a very distinguished group (the best of whom read this blog!) meets around a long hollow table in a beautiful Greek-revival hotel in Washington. The table is set between rows of white Doric columns, beneath a plaster arch. In front of each participant is a funky contemporary white lamp and a microphone. Speakers rise to show PowerPoint slides of regression outputs and sociograms. African American youth are x percent less engaged than White youth, etc. There is talk of strategic planning and funders' priorities.

I am paying very close attention to all of this (of course), but occasionally I remember scenes from my recent past. Tuesday, in Madison, Wisconsin: a "break-out" session with some Wisconsin social studies teachers. The assignment is to draw a picture illustrating the themes of a chapter of We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution, a textbook from the Center for Civic Education. My group of three gets the section on the philosophical roots of the American Constitution, something I'm supposed to know about. We draw a scale with a crowned king on one side and some people on the other. The people weigh more than the king: democracy! All the teachers in the room are white. There is a beautiful lake outside, gradually emerging from a thick fog.

Wednesday: College Park, MD. My undergrads are supposed to be thinking about service or research projects that we could undertake together. They are sleep-deprived freshmen, a little alienated by their low place in the college hierarchy. We haven't really launched any project so far. (This is a four-year, non-credit program, so our lack of progress is not a big problem.) I show a PowerPoint presentation of my ongoing work with high school kids. The undergrads slouch in their chairs, laugh at the appropriate points, but don't have much to add.

Later on Wednesday, in a Maryland high school. A group of kids are supposed to be interviewing neighbors about food and exercise and bringing full audiocassettes back to class so that we can listen, code, and sort the material. This has worked in the recent past, but today, nobody has any new interviews to share. My five cassette recorders are temporarily missing. Our excellent grad student, Jared, launches a discussion of how corporations control rap music. Three of the young women debate him boisterously and wittily, while the others watch quietly and one seems to fall asleep. All the kids are Black, either African-Americans or Carribbean immigrants. In his other life, Jared makes alternative hip-hop/news CDs that he distributes to more than 600 people. I try to establish this as an example of free, creative, democratic, fulfilling work. But it's not making him famous; fame is controlled by money.

One more scene comes from my immediate future. This weekend will be the Second Annual Congressional Conference on Civic Education. I will attend as a member of the conference advisory group. Delegations will come to Washington from all 50 states and DC. They include teachers and principals, but also state judges and legislators. There will be speeches by the likes of Cokie Roberts and a "roll-call of the states," which I envision as an old-fashioned political convention.

Perhaps I should leave the obvious unsaid, but these are four portraits of a single enterprise: the effort to develop the next generation of American citizens. We have a lot of work to do.

Posted by peterlevine at 2:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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