civic education

Ralph Ketcham: A Champion for Civic Education

Civic Education lost a powerful voice for meaningful civics this week. While some count political wins with states adding the citizenship test to graduation requirements, Ralph Ketcham led the charge for civic education that was “interdisciplinary, team-taught and driven by deliberation on current events.” That’s civics worth doing and adds up to a political life worth sharing.

When I attended an institute with Ketcham’s biography of Madison on the reading list, I was skeptical of the agenda. 761 pages published in 1971 for a one-week institute in 2005. I will, however, recommend it today and every time I’m asked until my last day. The synopsis from Amazon nails the reason why:

The best one volume biography of Madison’s life, Ketcham’s biography not only traces Madison’s career, it gives readers a sense of the man.

A sense of the man, his intellect and the theory of self-government that compelled him. Sharing that week with Ralph Ketcham himself and walking the grounds of Madison’s Montpelier, I had the privilege of a guided tour of Madison’s mind. It’s a place in time that I return to often, especially when contemplating how to best understand the citizen’s role.

Godspeed, Ralph.

Editor’s Note: November 2016 and Finding the Way Forward for Civic Education

Returning to “online news” with a fair measure of caution, I read a suggestion to “find solace in your tribe,” and I knew exactly who I needed to talk to in the days ahead. I have always counted a particular network of civic educators as one of the priceless assets of my career. Failing to put a value on it, however, puts it at risk of the same calculation that has allowed STEM education to push civics out of classrooms. All signs indicate that our communities might be more at risk than ever.

We need civics. It’s time we pull together, assess the strength of our work and put our weight into constructive opposition. Here’s what I think we can do together.

Civic Education as Our North Star

Like you, I spent this week wading through “What Do We Do Next? posts. My momentum for civic work hadn’t just disappeared, it had capsized. I recognized the frustration too. Like my fellow civic educators, I have watched Civic Education lose class time to the push for more math, science and engineering. STEM Education advocates point to a list of careers with higher than average salaries and proceed as though cutting civics to add more STEM is a matter of simple math. We have all shaken our heads wondering what it would take to convince people that living well in community with one another is an essential pursuit with a value that reaches beyond these calculations of lifetime earnings potential. This knowldge of living well together shapes that potential for all of us even if our economists have yet to develop a model for it.

When I felt like I had managed to read the whole Internet’s take on what to do next, it was a local activist’s post that pointed me to my tribe and marked out the way forward. Matt wrote:

Find your north star. Be inspired. Work towards that inspiration and keep that focus. Are you inspired by voter engagement? Do that. What are your goals? If you figure that piece out, outcomes like an election only reinforce your work or give you clarity to refine your tactics.

The Tribe in blue (sometimes National Academy alumni are spotted wearing matching shirts)

This is where I want help from the tribe. We have a network of civic educators scattered across the country who have all shared the experience of the Center for Civic Education’s National Academy for Civics and Government. We have other educators, learning professionals and community members who understand our quest and want to help. We have old friends with many conversations behind them and new allies joining us for the work ahead. The power of this tribe is in the combination of our perspectives. I could gather thought-provoking conversations about what to do next, one after another, and keep myself busy for days. In the end, the potential of every conversation would be limited to the two people who had heard it. I’m not looking for busy work. I’m looking for momentum to make Civic Education a guiding star in the days ahead.

The debate about whether or not we need civics is absurd. Consensus around its necessity grows with each new headlines and the talking points stack up. At the same time, we’re being enlisted to promote even smaller ideas of what passes for civics. A citizenship test yields answer-givers, not capable citizens. A computer game wraps that basic knowledge in a more entertaining package but does little to pursue better outcomes. We have been asked to accept an idea of Civic Education that yields little resistance to the talking points dressed up as serious issues dominating social media.

What I’m Asking You to Do

Civic Education has been the north star for many of us for a very long time. We know it has the potential to make all the difference for healthy communities as well as electoral outcomes.

We need to create a channel where our expertise is accessible outside the classroom. We need to offer some sort of transparency to our thinking so that accusations of inculcating “partisan thinking” fall on deaf ears. We need to demonstrate how people in their own communities concerned to bring Civic Education to their gatherings can do that.

Let’s talk to one another and work together to identify what has been lost, what we might revive and where we should innovate to bring the Civic Education we need back into our classrooms and communities. Let’s get those ideas out of the classroom. I want to hear your ideas. I want to help you write them up here at Politicolor and to promote them from here.

The Not So Radical American

Watching William Gibson’s “No Maps for These Territories,” I found one brief moment in the film that resonated with a million other moments in time. The famous science fiction author wanted to describe his work and to explain why he has never seen himself as a visionary. He said we live in an incomprehensible present and his work attempts to illuminate it. His work brought light to better see the now rather than forecasting the future.

That might be a way to describe our work at the National Academy and our discussions on Politicolor too. Civic education has to share this concern for illuminating complexities in political life.

Gibson also said we are most comfortable living ten years in the past. We’re blind to the potential of the technology we have because we’re just getting comfortable with the technology of our past. In a 2003 interview with The Economist, Gibson quipped, “The future is already here–it’s just not evenly distributed.”

And it’s this relationship between now, the future and the past that leads us to David Brooks’ column in the New York Times this week, “Two Theories of Change.”

In a short opinion piece, Brooks compares the characteristics of the French Enlightenment led by Descartes to a British Enlightenment led by Hume and Burke. With one focusing on the power of reason and the other emphasizing its limits, “these two views of human nature produced different attitudes toward political change.” One theory pursues radical change with each society embedded in an “eternal now,” while the other advocates incremental change informed by the past.

And here the thoughts of a science fiction author and a New York Times journalist fuse together to provide an essential vantage point for understanding contemporary politics. Brooks writes:

We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment. Was our founding a radical departure or an act of preservation? This was a bone of contention between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it’s a bone of contention today, both between parties and within each one.

Brooks suggests a style of change emphasizing modesty, gradualism and balance has emerged from this contest between the French and British Enlightenment in the United States. Gibson’s observation that we are all more comfortable with our past also suggests a fundamental discomfort with change. Have Americans ever been as radical as their political vitriol imagines them to be?

My Serial of Boxes (Pt. 3 of 3)

In the previous installment, I overcame my apprehension at introducing the politicolors, and began to share student responses to political theory.  At one time, I had been worried about the abstract nature of such an approach, yet here they were truly excited to use colored pencils in their notes and making connections of which I couldn’t have dreamed.

I usually turn up the heat on critical thinking skills once students hit sixth grade, but here the fourth and fifth were sweeping off my socks.  I also found that they were a bit more realist than I had been at that age.  This was saying something, in that our police resource officer always comments on our kids’ intelligence, yet inevitably adds that they are oh-so sheltered.

Maybe it had been our cool conversations on the state of nature, but the students saw plenty of disparity between the real world and American ideals.  Whether it be a news story or their own experiences in Detroit, the kids knew that the world wasn’t completely shiny and happy.  Delving further, we explored why they thought that was; if anything, what prevented the notion of Utopia?  Could government make people be better?

Somewhere in here, I suggested that the boxes might move.  Very quickly, A., my sole sixth-grader, realized that if the blue box grew outward, it would effect the red.  “The government would control the people,” he said.  “It would be a dictatorship.”  I offered up several bows.

Fifth-grader J. referenced an earlier conversation on perfection, born out of the wording of the Preamble.  J.’s attentive and he recalled the Aryans, commenting that pushing for a utopia can lead in the opposite direction.

C’mon, I told them.  Our blue box wants right.  We’re America.  (It didn’t come off so sarcastic.)  Couldn’t our government be trusted to mandate good behavior?  Debate ensued with no clear consensus.

Conversely, could the red box push as well?  Would it if the blue box began to grow too big for its britches?  What happened if the red box pushed back so totally that it obliterated the blue?  Didn’t Aristotle also warn of democracy run amok, of mob rule?  What was the consequence of no government?

The model proved itself remarkably effective.

In the end, the students understood quite well when I added the purple box.  The notion of limits had arrived, just before the tug of war ended with a crash.

The boxes also helped in another way.  One of the trickiest concepts to impart to the kids had been the differences between a constitution and a constitutional government.  Once they could contrast a purpleless system with a checked one, they easily got it: all governments had a make-up, but not all of them had a healthy one.  This allowed for a connected conversation to propaganda, including places on our maps with “Republic” in their name yet not in their nature.

Our unit’s culminating activity brought out another surprise: Legos!  Using a photo of James Madison’s temple at Montpelier,  we first discussed the importance of order and balance in architecture.  From week one, the kids had been tickled that the structure doubled as a refrigerator.  Now, we went beyond that still-important function to other aspects of the temple’s order, then on to its elegant balance.  Since we’ve been studying the middle ages in history, the students noted parallels with the great cathedrals as well as St. Anne’s , a  cruciform church we’d visited downtown.

madisons-temple

We connected the temple with We the People‘s lesson on the contributions of the Romans to republican government.  Using the computer, we accessed photographs of Washington, DC, then discussed the great buildings as well as the city plan.

Finally, I dumped thousands of building blocks into the center of the room and offered only this direction: build a structure that is balanced and ordered and be prepared to explain how it is each.  Again, I’ve got to exclaim the merits of teaching middle school students.  Yeah, I’m spoiled by small class size (too small with the Michigan economy!), but middle years kids have a ton of energy and they are not so socially focused that they’ve lost their excitement for learning.  The colored pencils elicited ooos and ahhs, but the Legos–in more ways than one–raised the roof.

house1 windmill1 robot bike-factory yellow-pyramid factory

What impressed me is that many kids didn’t sacrifice creativity in the process of fulfilling the parameters.  Some of the creations had elaborate stories which added to their order, such as G.’s–a factory that ran on pizza grease while it created hats.  This activity goes beyond its initial success; it’s an investment in future We the People lessons.  We’ll come back to the ideas of balance and order, and the kids will feel invested as I relate ideas to their structures.

As I said in the beginning, for me, this material has to unfold as a story.  So, I’ll share with you that I’ve already got the climax of our tale.

For, after all of the students had gone, I created my own structure.  It’s a pyramid of Legos: one with the politicolors stepping upward.  Ready to emerge upon the given day–timed smartly with Unit 6, I hope–the seventh color.  From the structure’s center, with each of my student’s names inside.  Hokey?  Hell, I’m glad I can get away with it.  I’m incredibly lucky to teach kids that are yet open enough that this moment can affect them.  I’ll keep you posted as to my progress…

politipieces politipyramid lego-boxes

(I don’t believe there are purple Legos…  Is that because Denmark’s a constitutional monarchy?  ; )

The politicolors are another investment.  We’ll continue to reference them as we delve into the American Revolution, Shay’s Rebellion, and the Philadelphia Convention; the boxes are that powerful a model.  And, although I’m too restrained to declare them a resounding success, I’m damn giddy to see so much of my own excitement reflected in my students’ eyes and all-new thoughts hatching from their minds.

I’ve been fortunate to have dozens of my students return to our school’s annual picnic and remind me how much our little school has shaped them, how they hit the ground running.  I’ve felt vindicated for teaching toward the older students, offering what Will aptly terms a “surplus of knowledge”.  Now, though, I know that given the right structure, even fourth-graders can be mighty theorists; and these kids, they’re capable of flying.

As opposed to last year’s tact, the key lies far from the text.  In fact, the key is the key itself.  That is, creating a classroom open enough for plot twists to be interpreted, for new lines to be added to the script.

What I hope I’ve done is create a much more federalist classroom.  Whether through the construct of the National Academy or the concrete pillars of Madison’s temple, I’ve allowed myself to leave more space.  It’s not about locks on knowledge and thought; for, even elementary students can supply the mind to support (and lift!) the ceiling, if we allow them the will.

This year, that’s what I’ve so far learned.  To get there, I just had to get over the fear of trusting myself even more.

Thanks for sitting by the fire,

Keith

My Serial of Boxes (Pt. 2 of 3)

When last we met, I was explaining my dread, as I contemplated using Will’s boxes with my 4th-6th classroom.  Here was this rich, layered theory, which I still hadn’t mastered; yet, the politicolors had given dimension to the founding, I’d never before imagined.  Could I bring them to life?

It was understood that I had a looooong way to even near Will’s grasp.  After all, I’d still look back at photos of the concept maps and ponder the meanings of words written in the corners of the boxes or lines that could sometimes be dotted, and I’d wish for a National Academy 2.0.  However, I easily recalled Will’s self-effacing persona: one that was not just a style, but his genuine self.  He was always open with our crew, explaining that he was still discovering new meaning here, that our questions were important to the illumination.  And that was a comfort to me: that I didn’t need to know everything to open the pack of multi-colored Expos that would paint our white board.

A few lessons into the We the People curriculum, I had introduced the philosophers: Cicero, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and Madison.  Knowing they were a well-educated assembly of Framers, the students understood that the Constitution had not appeared out of thin air.  It helped that I teach across curricula: Cicero could be connected to math and the laws of physics, and Aristotle’s biology background could be easily referenced with our studies of classification.  I guess my grasp of Cicero is a bit weak, because the kids latched on to the “body politic” notion far more tightly than the music of the spheres.  Perhaps it was because we had been using the microscope that week, for they related well to the idea of citizens as cells and their functions as differentiation.  The students ran with one of the last Aristotelian nuggets I offered up: “One who is not in the polity, must be a beast or a god.”

One student alluded to the notion that no man is an island; while several realized that one would have to be almost extra-terrestrial to not need others, if not a “deranged, crazy guy”.

This provided a perfect segue to my next lessons on Thomas Hobbes.  For me, Hobbes had been the most difficult philosopher to access, yet ultimately the most rewarding.  For my Nat’cademy project, I’d even chosen one of his pages for my writing assignment.  I wanted so dearly for the students to know him for more than life as “nasty, brutish, and short”.  Indeed, they would have to, for Hobbes was represented by the red box.  The kids needed to understand the idea of what it meant to be a people.

As providence runs, we were heading into the last week of school before the holiday break.  Here was my chance to access Hobbes just as I had.  For in the July sun of Loyola Marymount, my unveiling of the red box: sprung from Will’s lectures, then rose with the provocation of  preceptor break-out sessions, only to finally land firmly in the sagacious realm of… Dr.Seuss.

Improbably, in the dead of summer, I found myself in Marina Del Rey purchasing a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

grinch1

That night was to be another unveiling, Rowling’s last Harry Potter book, and Barnes & Noble was abuzz.  The sales clerk looked a bit sidelong at me as I slid the book across the counter.  I expected to hear some smart Alec response along the lines of really early gift shopping?!

But instead, she proceeded to tell me how her favorite tale hands-down was Horton Hears a Who.  (Another text with great connections to the boxes, I’ve just realized.)  I smiled and insisted I needed this one.  I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling that they didn’t have a copy of it at the University’s library.

Fast forward a year and half, and across the country, to Michigan.  Well, once I’d finished reading the story to my students, they were out of their seats trying to identify the philosophy in it.  They saw Aristotle’s beast, with Whoville as a polity.  They explored the Whos as a people.  They connected the Grinch to Hobbes, as he was never really out of the community.  And, in a moment of sublime, one student linked the outsider to the homeless we’d seen in Detroit on a recent trip to St. Anne’s.

There have been many memories so far this year.  One can never prioritize them, but there is a fourth grade girl that’s just amazing me.  I’ll call her S. here.  The thing about S. is that she’s totally into this stuff, so much so that she goes home and writes poems about it.  And she’s got a great theoretical mind.  One of the most powerful examples to date came when we studied the early philosophers and their notions that there could be many successful ways in which to rule effectively.  I’m mostly referring to Arsitotle’s idea of the Good King, Aristocracy, or Democracy.  After contrasting each with its negative, S. just kind of blurted out, “Why not mix them?”

Yeah.  That’s what I’m talking about.

My other favorite S. moment to date came when she raised her hand and asked, “What do you think James Madison would think of this, if he were here?”

I smiled, then added, “I think he is.”

As the class cracked up, she inquired, “What, his ghost is here, like, sitting next to me or something?”

Waiting for the giggles to subside, I explained, “Not his ghost, his spirit.”

It was the perfect plant for my already envisioned denouement.  On the last day of Civics, I intend to conclude with the end of James Madison’s life.  It is said that upon his deathbed, Madison’s last words indicated that his passing was “nothing more than a change of mind.”

TOMORROW: Conclusions and Questions   notes-2

My Serial of Boxes (Pt. 1 of 3)

After a year to digest Will’s colors and boxes, I felt ready to use them with my class.

It wasn’t without apprehension.  Although I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and re-envisioning the National Academy (primarily through writing and this site), I want to approach mastery before revealing ideas.  I think that’s only natural with one’s classroom.  All good teachers admit their limitations, yet we don’t like to be wrong a whole lot, and that’s when working with facts.  Here I was, deciding to dive into theory.  And it looked like a glass of water down on the sidewalk from five-stories high.

The first decision I made was to re-prioritize.  I teach in a Montessori school, and, for those unfamiliar, text books aren’t the standard operating procedure.  I use one for science and another for my 7th/8th Algebra I students; and that’s it.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the middle school We the People curriculum when offered a sample at the 2007 National Academy, and had gone on to use my class set in 07-08.

The mistake I made, though, was to teach from the text.  As a result, what had been always been riveting knowledge for me, and nothing short of revelatory in LA, was too stiff and rigid for my 4th-8th graders.  On top of that, even when I used a science book, it was ancillary.  Here, my passion for Civics was being suppressed by the need to cover every square inch of the print.  There was none of the feeling I’d experienced at the National Academy.  I mean, we moved, but there were way too many stumbles.

This year, I returned to my style and my strength.  I’m a storyteller, so that’s what We the People would be: a story.  No longer did I feel this self-imposed pressure to follow the curriculum verbatim and wait until Unit 3 to mention the Constitution.  In fact, I began with the Constitution.  After all, a plot needs its protagonist, right?

My second overarching concern was the boxes themselves.  For a long time in LA, as I worked to connect them to various philosophers and the readings, the meanings of each had confused me.  And here I was, considering imparting them to an even younger group than the year prior!  However, I did remember the moment in which the boxes had finally made sense; it was when Will suggested that they could move.

Armed with my point of access, as well as the open-mindedness my students had always shown, I took the leap.

It was after covering the philosophers that I pulled out a rainbow of dry erase markers.  Sure, the kids had seen them before.  I’m something of an artist, and Montessori encourages an attractive classroom; so I frequently embellish lectures and even corners of the white board.  But here, something was different.  The teacher was explaining that the colors would hold meaning.  A noticeable discomfort rippled through the group, and an inner giddiness began to flutter.  It’s not that I’m sadistic; rather, some of the greatest lessons arise from a wee bit of revolution.  The moment seemed pregnant with such possibility.  When I asked them to pull out their own colored pencils and match them with the corresponding markers, the hook was set.  Over the next several days, I watched my students rise and breech the waters of complacency to flutter through the otherworld sensation of air.

They were flying, and I couldn’t believe it.  Suddenly, theory wasn’t a cup below; we were together at sea-level, and some of the kids were actually taking leaps to defy gravity.

NEXT THURSDAY: Further Adventures with Long-Dead Philosophers.  Or Are They..?

A school based on Constitutional Citizenship

Those of you at the second week of James Madison and Constitutional Citizenship at Montpelier may have heard about my school and our work with Professor Harris. Our charter high school was created by a group of parents in 1998 with a mission to teach citizenship. From the beginning we tried to fulfill this mission by incorportaing lots of civic education and community service into our curriculum as well as trying to think about the skills and dispositions of a good citizen that we wanted to foster in our students. However, our efforts felt disparate and we felt as if we lacked the philisophical grounding for what we were doing as a school.

Then, I attended a weekend seminar at Montpelier and was introduced to Res Publica: An International Framework for Education in a Democracy. Found online at http://www.civiced.org/index.php?page=res_publica

My faculty studied portions of this document. Then we met at a retreat at Montpelier, heard from Professor Harris, and finally with all of that in mind, we got to work. We sat small groups of folks in different departments and tried to discover the commonalities in our approaches to teaching, to working with students, and to our disciplines. What we found was that there were clear principles guiding what we did as a school. Some of the principles we felt we lived up to, others we aspired to, but these principles (which we formed into a kind of Constitution) guided our school and were the philisophical basis for Constitutional citizenship mission.

So, here is our Constitution

Citizenship Preamble and Principles

We, of RCHS, intend to cultivate the understanding and practices that sustain individual self-determination and community self-government.  We have adopted the following principles in order to ensure that all who pass through our halls can imagine, create, and govern a more perfect world.

 

We believe:

 

That a foundation of knowledge and ethics must precede all intellectual inquiry;

 

That if we

encourage self-awareness

build and maintain local communities

develop an awareness of our membership in ever larger communities

engage in common enterprises with people who are different

accommodate and address conflict and change

facilitate problem solving

foster balance and moderation in life

and take ownership and responsibility for learning

 

We will become good citizens.

We continue to work to use this document as a guide for our school and our programs. Lately, that has meant thinking about how to communicate these ideas to new faculty, to our students, and to our parents. In addition we struggled with developing a principle that communicated the ideas of educating makers and not just users. We ultimately felt as if that idea was just below the surface in many of these principles, but still aren’t sure how to make that idea come alive in just a phrase (especially for an audience unfamilier with Professor Harris’ ideas about constitutional citizenship).

I would love to hear your thoughts about our work and its applicability to your schools.

-Shayne

A Federalist Education

Some many days ago, a good countryman you know by the name of Maximus asked a group assembled before him, “what would a Federalist school look like?” His question suffered a long period of silence as those in attendance considered what they knew of Federalism….

Founded on fundamental rights…

A new future imagined through the mechanics of science….

A perspective holistic in nature that looks at a question from all sides in all dimensions….

Sovereignty remains with the people who will make a new and better whole from the sum of its constituent parts….

The good Maximus’s puzzle had no easy solution for the scholars to bandy about that day. Then I remembered wise counsel of a scholar long past. His own words were not my good fortune to know myself but had been translated by Walter Isaacson in his book, Einstein: His Life and Universe.

Two particular thoughts spoke to me when considering Maximus’s question…

“The explanation Einstein himself most often gave for his mental accomplishments was his curiosity. As he put it near the end of his life, ‘I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.’…Curiosity, in Einstein’s case, came not just from a desire to question the mysterious. More important, it came from a childlike sense of marvel that propelled him to question the familiar, those concepts that, as he once said, ‘the ordinary adult never bothers his head about.'”

This curiosity fulfills two of our Federalist requirements. A new reality is imagined through this curiosity and comes into better focus as he tested it with his understanding of scientific understandings. Such an exercise includes looking at the problem from all sides as he questions the familiar.

Do our schools fuel this kind of curiosity? What do teachers do when students question these well-known facts as Einstein suggests? Einstein had ideas about the principles that should guide such an enterprise…

“There was a simple set of formulas that defined Einstein’s outlook. Creativity required being willing not to conform. That required nurturing free minds and free spirits, which in turn required ‘a spirit of tolerance.’ And the underpinning of tolerance was humility–the belief that no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others.’

These formulas provide a set of fundamental rights and express a commitment to the free minds and free spirits of the people. Einstein’s philosophy fulfills the Federalist requirements. We have made progress in our discussion but we haven’t yet discussed what this might look like for our young scholars in today’s schools.

The first Federalist classroom moment that comes to mind involved Thinking Maps, a series of graphic organizers presented to students to build a shared visual vocabulary. While I grumbled about the totalitarian implementation of this system, I could not have imagined what happened once we shared these particular fundamentals as a common language. Students did not see themselves bound to the seven styles originally presented to them. They created their own. They followed the information they wanted to organize to combine elements of the seven original maps or added features of their own invention. The Thinking Maps took on a life of their own. Students were thinking about their thinking, the relationships between the ideas, and how the whole text or concept worked together.

From this example, I would suggest a Federalist education would begin with a primary education focused on building these shared understandings of words, concepts, and guiding principles. At some point, however, the system would have to back away to give the student the opportunity to follow his or her own curiosity and to imagine new combinations of ideas and understandings.

And here we come to my final thought for this evening on the question of what a Federalist school might look like. A Federalist school would provide repeated opportunities for the student to drive.

Duty Bound to Civic Education

With a NY Times op-ed titled “The War as We Saw It,” a group of infantrymen and non-commissioned officers from the 82nd Airborne Division answered a different call to duty last week. As Washington gears up for a series of progress reports on Iraq, this group of servicemen offer their own voice of experience…

Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

Any of us who made it through Hobbes’s first book can’t miss the mechanism of beginning with definitions. We recognize the tone of skepticism and the vehicle of making your case to the public too. This particular expression of skepticism makes way for a much more comprehensive discussion of the politics and people of Iraq and provides a vehicle for us to consider who we are or want to be as well.

There’s power in this act of civic duty that we shouldn’t let the debate over Iraq overshadow.

Much of our civic education curriculum emphasizes a responsibility to speak out and points to colorful protests in important places. It can be difficult for students to imagine themselves in such a situation. They often respond to this suggested responsibility with an argument that speaking out hardly matters when no one is listening. I know many adults who have accepted that conclusion as fact too…maybe even a few of us.

These servicemen, however, chose to make their case to the American public through the newspaper. They must have believed someone would hear them and somewhere it would make a difference. In doing so, they utilize arguments on themes you’ll recognize from our discussions at the National Academy…

What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes.

We know any sense of society is fragile with so many people “outside the box.” I don’t know how you’d describe the presumed relationship between American forces and the Iraqi people but consider applying what we know about contract-making to statements like these found throughout the article…

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