Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement

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Milton C. The session is scheduled for Friday, January 27, from AM. Lang Foundation and The Teagle Foundation. Jeannie Oakes, Director of the Foundation's Educational Opportunity and Scholarship Unit, welcomed the presidents and spoke about the need for systemic policy reforms designed to promote greater access and success in higher education for students from marginalized groups. How to promote greater collaboration between Periclean institutions also received considerable attention.

Attention deficit democracy: The paradox of civic engagement Book Report/Review

The Program Directors expressed great interest in exploring new ways to increase partnerships and to sustain dialogue with each other between meetings. They elected to form committees for technology, assessment, and the D4D National Conference in order to continue the momentum generated by the meeting.

After three days of discussion with their colleagues, participants reported leaving with new ideas and renewed energy for pursuing civic engagement work on their campuses. The event drew people, overflowing the normal seating capacity of capacious Kohlberg Hall with one of the most diverse crowds I have seen on campus. Residents from many local communities, representing an extremely wide age range, joined Swarthmore students, faculty and staff for a fascinating lecture, discussion and testimonials.

The crowd kept McLarnon long past his two hour commitment, and would have kept him late into the evening if not for his long drive home. We also engage with the local communities of Swarthmore and Chester, two neighboring towns with widely divergent fortunes, to understand more fully the ways in which economic and educational resources can affect citizens' experience of democracy.

We read extensively about local history, we meet with the mayors and tour each community with local residents, and we undertake a variety of grass-roots projects that enable us to see how democracy works or doesn't work on the ground.


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Recent projects have included volunteer service with local political campaigns of the students' choosing, non-partisan voter registration drives, educational reform activism with local parents, internships with local government, and a Youth Court program in Chester high schools developed by local activist Gregg Volz. If educators care about the ideals of fair and equitable political voice, we should partner with local communities fairly and equitably, with an emphasis on "doing with" rather than "doing for. Educational and political ideals prosper together.

Project Pericles and its member institutions espouse those same ideals. However, ideals require resources for enactment, and Project Pericles and its members have put their money where their mouths are. They have provided funds that Periclean faculty leaders can employ to develop pedagogical innovations and worthwhile campus-community collaborations. For two years, I have appreciated that investment and my students have reaped the benefits. On October 30, a packed room of concerned citizens from inside and outside Swarthmore College had reason to express their thanks as well.

Thoughts on my Periclean Faculty Leader Course By Seong-Jae Min If my Periclean course taught me one thing, it was that, given the proper tools, every student can become actively engaged in civic life. Teaching the course, "Thinking Through Democracy: Citizen Journalism and Deliberation," renewed my commitment to my students and to the democratic process. I designed the course to incorporate "citizen journalism," a new movement in which the public plays a much more active role in reporting the news. This combined with the active deliberation of public issues formed an important tool for empowering my students to think through the choices they face as citizens.

Each student in the class took three key roles: citizen journalist, forum moderator, and discussant. Throughout the semester, the students reported on key issues in their school and communities. They then shared their news reports with each other by posting them on a citizen journalism website developed for the course.

In addition, each student journalist presided over a class forum on his or her issue.

For example, one student wrote a series of articles on campus safety and then presided over a deliberation forum on how we could work together to improve campus safety. The issues the students chose to cover were diverse and included social networking, gay rights, the education crisis, and mandatory community service.

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Reporting on campus and community issues that the students selected themselves generated a great deal of interest. As a result, the students enjoyed both gathering news and writing.

They also appreciated the opportunity to express and share their opinions. Their newly acquired knowledge led to an increased interest in civic engagement with some students returning to volunteer in the communities they had reported on. It seems rather odd that Berger defines an apparently real phenomenon as the failure of ideals that he does not subscribe to in the first place. This is only one of many oddities encountered in this interesting but rather frustrating book.

It was probably ill-advised for the publisher to approve the same title as another book published by James Bovard But while Bovard is bothered by the lack of public accountability for political misdeeds, Berger focuses more fruitfully on the challenges of engaging a public that is largely uninformed or misinformed about political matters.

Unfortunately, that utility is limited by his less-than-generous Ivy League perspective on the lay masses.

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Berger reassures the reader that he is only criticising efforts towards civic engagement in order to improve it. This is analogous, of course, to the ambiguous relationship between power and the citizens it serves. The term which preoccupies Berger civic engagement is not used in quite the same way in Australia where there has been a growing shift over the past two decades from tokenistic community consultation to community engagement.

The latter is thought to enable genuine collaboration between governments and those being governed, especially at the local level. In the US, civic engagement seems to be applied to everything from an opinion poll to bowling in other words, from political to social engagement. Berger blames the over-stretching of the term civic engagement p. Why does Berger use the term at all, I wondered?

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We are talking about two distinct things. Either we are talking about the active relationship between people and their government, or we are talking about the activity of people with all manner of organisations in the public interest. Had Berger started with the former, he would not have had to go through the tawdry effort of discrediting so many fine scholars who used different terms in different times and contexts. He also would not have had to take the trouble to artificially separate civic engagement into political, social and moral strands. Further, it seems that Berger categorises as populist rabble the many researchers, practitioners and theorists who have worked thoughtfully and diligently to generate a broad and balanced base of scholarly literature and authentic examples of public deliberation.

Berger demolishes statements by Hannah Arendt and Alexis de Tocqueville in chapters 3 and 4 , and charges them with undue influence in contemporary debates, and with having constructed shaky foundations for their political beliefs. For Arendt and Tocqueville, the societal environment—institutional arrangements as well as political, social, and moral norms—strongly influences whether energy or power will flourish or fade p.

Participatory budgeting began among marginalised communities in Porto Alegro, Brazil, so this need not be the case. I reckon the Deweyan and Jeffersonian call for an educated citizenry may lead, intentionally or inadvertently, to elite engagement. One solution to the problem of inattention and political lethargy, applied over the past two decades, has been to invite a jury-like mini-public to deliberate. Berger barely acknowledges this, yet mini-publics give randomly-selected citizens a population in microcosm , an opportunity to learn on-the-job from experts and stakeholders and from materials prepared by steering committees comprising multiple perspectives.

Mini-publics have the potential to energise the wider population through publicity, stimulating national debate, without requiring tremendous time commitments from everyone. And with random selection of participants, the full diversity of perspectives can find voice in deliberation. The latter demonstrated that thousands of mostly randomly-selected citizens from throughout the world could deliberate constructively across differences and make useful recommendations on climate change policy albeit ultimately ignored, of course, by elected representatives.

Berger never considers that citizens might just be able to make decisions that are better by being unaffected by political party allegiances, corruption, re-election anxiety, donor obligations or strategic bargaining. Citizens can be engaged intensively in a mini-public for a short period, then return to their busy lives, feeling satisfied as they inevitably do with their civic contribution.

But when invited into a deliberative forum they have an opportunity to learn a great deal very quickly, and this includes calling upon their own resources. We do not need a population perpetually educated on every topic. We need a population with the skills, or ability to acquire the skills with the help of qualified facilitation, of critical analysis and critical reflection so that they can examine an issue in depth when called up to do so in the company of others.

By analogy, a member of a trial jury does not need to know the intricacies of criminal law or its interpretation before being called up for jury duty.


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The whole purpose of the trial is to equip the member of the jury with the necessary resources to decide upon a verdict. People will, albeit reluctantly at first, come along to a deliberative forum despite a seemingly dry topic if they believe their input will be worthwhile and make a difference. So often it does not. Inviting people to engage then ignoring their recommendations does considerable harm, leading to disengagement, not just non-engagement.

They will ignore future invitations. Berger rightfully claims that the wrong sort of engagement can damage democracy. The wrong sort is superficial, like opinion polls.

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In the United States, a current example comes by way of the political action committees, a. This tension is not new. Deliberative democrats have been attending to it, including how to make democracy work better and how to promote those ideas. The philosophy that Berger would like to see the public endorse has already been endorsed countless times.

This is dismissed in a footnote p.