How Citizens Participate in Civil Society

Benjamin Barber is currently a Senior Research Scholar at The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society of The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, the President and Founder of the Interdependence Movement, and Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Rutgers University.  While serving as Director of CivWorld and Distinguished Senior Fellow at DEMOS, a research and policy center founded in 2000, he was interviewed by the Kettering Foundation and talked about the various ways in which citizens participate in civil society.

The Power of Community Conversations

Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues and work together to find solutions.  In this 2:48 minute video clip, Dr. Will Friedman, Director of Center for Advances in Public Engagement at Public Agenda, shares how the power of community conversations about improving the schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has spread from addressing education issues and concerns to other challenges facing the Bridgeport community.

A Friend’s Concern

In reviewing the manuscript for America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, one of my friends and colleagues brought up a great point regarding the thought of putting the future of our public schools solely into the hands of the American people.  Her concern is the squeaky-wheel problem.  She said that as communications liaison to parents and the community in two school districts and as a school board member in one district, she listened to many parents complain about their local school because “the work is too difficult, there is too much homework, their children should be able to graduate (even though they have a horrible attendance record and have failed one or two classes)” and on and on.  Then, when those parents would stand in front of their school board members and demand that the curriculum be “dumbed down,” in many instances those school boards would cave in to their demands.  She added that while she thinks parents and other community members should work more closely with their public schools and have greater influence over education policy, she also feels there is a need… Continue reading

The Magic of Dialogue

Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen firsthand how citizens have put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and tackled major problems impacting their schools and communities.  How did it happen?  In the words of Daniel Yankelovich, it was the magic of dialogue.  An advisor to corporations, government, and professional organizations, Yankelovich has spent over half a century monitoring change in the American culture and is regarded as the dean of American public opinion research.  To help explain how this magic works, he makes an important distinction between debate, which describes the tenor and focus of most political conversations, and dialogue.

When debating, the assumption is that there is a right answer, and we have it.  When engaging in dialogue, the assumption is that many people have pieces of the answer and that together we can all craft a solution.

When debating, we are combative and attempt to prove the other side wrong.  When engaging in dialogue, we are collaborative and work together toward common understanding.

When debating, it is about winning.  When engaging in dialogue, it is about exploring common ground.

When debating, we listen to find flaws and… Continue reading

Ground Rules for a Productive Conversation

1.  Have a “kitchen table” conversation.  Everyone participates.  No one dominates.

2.  There are no “right” answers.  Draw on your own experiences, views and beliefs.  You do not need to be an expert.

3.  Keep an open mind.  Listen carefully.  Try to understand the views of those who disagree with you.

4.  Help keep the discussion on track.  Stick to the questions.  Try not to ramble.

5.  It is okay to disagree.  But don’t be disagreeable.  Respond to others how you want to be responded to.

6.  Have fun!  Collaborating is a rewarding experience.  It enables all of us to be of value and make a difference.

Source:  America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future

Thank You for Your Prayers

On Saturday, my wife, Diane, ended a three-and-a-half-year battle with pancreatic cancer.  Throughout most of her journey, she was relatively pain free and enjoyed the joys of daily living – including the marriage of our two daughters and the birth of a granddaughter and a grandson.  Thanks to the prayers of many, many people – including a number of you who follow this blog – she did not suffer greatly during her final days.  In fact, miraculously, she had little or no pain – truly a gift from God.  I will be eternally grateful for all of the love and support that we have both received.

“Our Teachers and Students Are Exhausted…”

Deer Park City Schools Superintendent Jeff Langdon is one the leaders of the statewide initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in the Buckeye state.  With his permission, I would like to share his testimony to the Senate Education Committee on February 10 regarding student testing.

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Good afternoon Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Hite, and Ranking Member Sawyer, my name is Jeff Langdon, Superintendent of the Deer Park Community City School District located in Hamilton County, and I wish to thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on the subject of the assessments currently being used in our district.  Specifically, I would like to address how testing impacts our student population, parents and community members who make up Deer Park Community City Schools.

We are being challenged throughout the State of Ohio to be more innovative, creative and engaging.  It is my strong belief that educators are doing an outstanding job of answering that call – but the work is becoming nearly impossible.  This brief excerpt from the ODE web site is important:  Webster’s… Continue reading

“If We’re Willing to Do Our Part”

I’m in new territory.  While I’ve written other books, to the best of my knowledge none of them have been reviewed by an objective, independent source.  So when I met with the editor of my local newspaper, the Green Valley News & Sun, and asked him to review America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, I was more than a little interested in what he would say about it. Running the risk of seeming to be self-serving, I’d like to share his review – not because I’m such a great writer but because he captured the essence of why I wrote the book.  Here is his review:

Why would Green Valley be interested in a book on education reform?  The answer is in Corky O’Callaghan’s subtitle:  “And how THE PEOPLE can help shape their future.”

O’Callaghan, who lives in Green Valley, informs, then encourages us to use that information for good.

The books is easy to understand yet thorough in its presentation of where our education system has been, where we are and how we can help shape the future.

O’Callaghan takes… Continue reading

Nation’s Top Teacher Resigns

Stacie Starr, a veteran Elyria, Ohio, teacher, spoke to a standing-room-only audience at the local public library and fought back tears as she announced her retirement at the end of the current school year.  “I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” she said.  “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”  Stacie is not just any teacher.  Winner of the 2014 Top Teacher Search, she is one of the most highly regarded teachers in our nation.  I strongly recommend that you take a few minutes to read the account of what took place the night she resigned and view the compelling video of why she did it.