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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.

Politics and Public Art

There’s something about public art that gets to the heart of Politicolor’s project. When Carlos Collejo offered a tour of L.A. murals to our National Academy group in 2009, he explained the people and the art meet in the streets through these works of art. In the short video, “The Battle for LA’s Murals,” a muralist suggests museums are for dead people. While that might be a bit extreme, the art we saw on the mural tour was electrified with what a community aspired to and accomplished alongside the challenges they faced, the conflicts they still carried on their shoulders and their calls to a higher purpose.

Politics is inescapable. It’s embedded in every effort to understand who we are as a community, what we value and how we resolve conflict. L.A. muralists believe their work to represent their community is now challenged from two different directions with everyone claiming their right to free speech is in jeopardy.

I found this video through Open Culture so I’m going to recommend you visit their site for a bit of background on the conflict. I find it interesting that the muralists claim their work represents the community while graffiti artists only promote themselves. Graffiti has a long history associated with public protest, and I’m not interested in arguing that point here. The interesting part is that, in this assessment, the community outweighs the individual. This criticism is presented as everything you need to know to understand which work has value and which work doesn’t. These value judgments are tricky when you compare a real Rembrandt work to one from “the school of Rembrandt.” It might just be impossible when comparing museum pieces, public murals and graffiti.

What is informing the value we assign to L.A’s murals and their challengers: the city’s commercial ordinances and the local graffiti artists?

You can watch the video here:

Behind The Wall: The Battle for LA’s Murals from Oliver Riley-Smith on Vimeo.

Bonus Points: Open Culture is an excellent resource for free educational media on the web. They have a directory of free university course on the web, free ebooks, free videos, free language courses… you get the idea, right? If you’re not the type to keep up with a website through an RSS feed, you can “like” them on Facebook and pull their posts into your newsfeed. Super easy.

Bon Jovi Believes in the Power of We

The nightly news in Austin has been dominated by updates from Fort Hood. Perhaps it’s moments like this that justify that last story on the national news. The one about a long lost teddy bear or crazy cute animals at the local zoo. Tonight, however, that last story was more than a palate cleanser.

On the way to commercial, Brian Williams mentioned a New Jersey boy who was giving back. When he returned he introduced the story over top of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” The piece focuses on Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation and features 52 apartments it has made available for homeless and special needs families. In an easy conversation at the table in one of these new apartments, Bon Jovi struck a constitutional chord:

We have created a society of haves and have nots and there are political differences up and down any state’s borders. And we won’t bother to politicize this but the issue is that we are all in this together. And at the end of the day we’re supposed to be ladies and gentlemen helping other ladies and gentlemen.

Watch the clip below to hear Bon Jovi’s response to the prompt, “Forget the government. Can we fix the problems we have?” When necessary, Bon Jovi wields his celebrity to break the chains of bureaucracy and suggests solutions require WE THE PEOPLE.

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