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July 23, 2009

the civic renewal movement (4)

In 2005, I wrote three consecutive posts that later became a published article:

Today's post asks what we still need, and how we will know when we succeed.

I believe we need:

How would we know if we had what we needed? Some examples:

When the Obama Administration decided to cut Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE), a model program for collaborative governance within EPA, civic advocacy groups would go ballistic. Groups concerned about civic education, transparency, community organizing, and other aspects of the movement would jump on this issue because CARE would seem important to them all.

Whenever a major institution--a government agency, foundation, university, or media company--expressed openness to civic engagement, we'd be ready with models, stories, potential partners, and experienced individuals who could help in the specific circumstances.

Hampton, VA has probably the best structure in the United States for involving young people in governance. It also has a very strong tradition of adult engagement in municipal government. Imagine (though heaven forbid this should actually happen) that some powerful politician decided to end Hampton's programs. We would know we had a strong movement if people from other cities that also have good civic engagement programs--like Chattanooga, TN--got on buses and came to defend their peers in Hampton. That sounds far-fetched, but it does happen when civil rights violations or environmental crises occur--because the civil rights and green movements are strong.

Today, conservatives in Texas are trying to remove César Chávez, Anne Hutchinson, and Thurgood Marshall from state standards in the social studies. There are already liberal groups, such as People for the American Way, that will defend mandatory teaching of such progressive heroes in public schools. (Cultural liberals may be weak in Texas, but they are stronger in California and elsewhere). The result is standards that are enormous lists of miscellaneous topics. If we had a strong civic renewal movement, there would be an organized effort to reform Texas standards so that kids could actually learn to be effective citizens. The civic movement would demand meaningful experiences, not lists of people to study. It would challenge left and right alike.

July 23, 2009 9:43 AM | category: none


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