National Academy 2007

Project Citizen

Having been briefly introduced to Project Citizen at the National Academy, I decided to try it out this year.  It’s an ideal, outcome-based activity as much about the journey as the finish.  And the great thing about the finish is that it’s really just the beginning, for students receive the tools to research and formulate public policy.  In the end, it is incredibly empowering for the kids to discover the pathways through which they can enact change.

A few words from my fourth-graders (non-speakers) when asked today by the panel what they had learned from the experience: “I learned what private domain is.”  “Compromise.”  “Better research skills.”  “How a bill becomes a law.”  “How long it takes to pass a bill.”  “A lot about pollution and landfills.”

In our first few sessions, my 4th-6th grade students narrowed their choices for the project to these rough ideas: Save Bears, Clean-Up Michigan’s Rivers, Fix the Litter in Detroit.  The more we delved into the text, students discovered that those topics really weren’t clear proposals for public policy.  They also gained a ton of knowledge regarding sovereignty, as well as private sphere/civil society/ government.  The more they learned, the more focused their idea became, and their eventual choice–EXPAND MICHIGAN’S BOTTLE LAW–ended up as a wonderful combination of the early favorites.

P1040614 P1040612 P1040613 P1040611

The four areas of the portfolio–PROBLEM, ALTERNATIVE POLICIES, OUR SOLUTION, and ACTION PLAN–serve as a fantastic outline for anyone of any age attempting to bring about change.

The panel presentation in a committee room at the state capitol was the pinnacle of the experience.  Having misjudged time, our project came down to the wire (lesson learned: start early!); as a result, the kids didn’t first benefit and learn from a local session.  However, they could not have done any better than what I witnessed today.  Thorough preparation pays dividends, and I was so proud of my students for presenting without reading from a page.  (It does make a difference, I can tell you, as we were able to observe a high school group who did just that.)


We will be participating in Project Citizen next year, and in the years after!  Sincerely, the entire process has been one of the most valuable of my entire teaching career.

If you have any questions about Project Citizen, right down to the tooth ‘n’ nails, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or pose your questions here.

National Academy 2008: Is it Over?

The Rangeview building is nearly quiet this afternoon. It isn’t that the exchange students all went to the beach today but that this year’s National Academy has run out of time.

The machines still hum but the electricity of rigorous academic work is missing. From a discussion of constitutional citizenship befitting an intelligent people to an afternoon of panel presentations, our Friday was heavy with hard work and world-making ideas.

This is the Academy that forever has the story of the L.A. quake during a lecture and 100 different strategies for propping a door open. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many ice cream sandwiches in three weeks time!

As the group made their way to the exit this morning, we all wondered about Infanta’s super early super shuttle. It looks like she made it. There was an emergency mission to reunite Zeke with his toiletries at LAX. There might be room here for a joke about his short-shorts but I’ll let it pass. Todd had just one more moment of frustration when the van driver couldn’t find his reservation but it was no problem for Mir. He took the opportunity to have one more cigarette.

But there’s too much that’s happened here to simply walk away. What will you do with it all?

Politicolor is a space to talk through it. The 2007 crew has used Politicolor to share their work during the Academy and express their appreciation. And, remembering time with new friends or out of this world experiences is exactly how Politicolor got its start.

What do you want to remember? Alumni, don’t hesitate to join the conversation by telling us how the Academy has “haunted” you this past school year. This crew from 2008 might need your help to find solid ground as they return to school. If anyone would like to share their work from the Academy (either the writing project or the panel presentation), e-mail me and let’s share it.

So, one more afternoon of crafting questions to continue the conversation….

What thoughts did you have as the National Academy drew to a close?

How is the work of the Academy threatening to reverberate through your teaching and thinking?

What are you most proud of when you review your writing assignment or panel presentation?

Did a colleague’s presentation provoke a new degree of clarity or spark a new curiosity?

On Theory, Poetry, and the American Constitution

I think to appreciate or even tolerate this post you have to accept at face value Will Harris’s assertion that Americans “live in a theory.” The theory is derived from the Constitution and includes such central organizing ideas as innovation, wholeness, inquiry, optimism, order, deliberation, and covenant to name a small and perhaps unrepresentative subset.

Generally speaking, a theory has the following components:

1. It organizes communication.
2. It organizes ideas.
3. It generates new ideas.
4. It displays the complexities of a problem.
5. It guides investigation.
6. It generates explanations and predictions.

This stuff is nothing new to students of Kuhn or to those who teach and study theory. My brief, amateur exegesis focuses on the first point about organizing communication. The specific type of communication presented below is what I would call “stylized public dialogue,” which I consider any writing, music, or art deliberately offered for public interest or consumption.

In an earlier politicolor post, Stepwinder considered a story by Kurt Vonnegut that had a constitutional theme/idea. Hobbes21 posted the results of his considerable research into popular songs with Federalist and anti-federalist themes.

I modestly build on the efforts of Step and Hobbes21 by offering two poems with constitutional themes. Rather than attempting to analyze the poems myself, I simply offer them to you for possible reflection. Maybe you will want to post a poem with an organizing idea or theme of American constitutional theory. -Mutter-

(1) OPTIMISM as reflected in Whitman’s

“Song of the Open Road”

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose…

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held such goodness….

(2) The FEDERALIST MIND in Ammons’


I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
totally its apparent self:

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will

not the shape on paper-though
that, too-but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.


I’ve been exploring the boxes through music, and it’s been pretty darn sweet. Minus the Norm-like bar tab, the search has offered continuous insight into the layers.

As last summer, I’ll think that I have it figured out, then realize that I’m deconstructing or simplifying. It interests me to juxtapose anti-fed v. fed with political parties with human behaviors with fate/ free will!

The tracks list represents some of my leisure. I wish I could play music on this site. Alas..! I can and will mail a copy of the disks to interested parties. My first version has been revised and shall continue to be. (Nature of the beast. Pun.)

Like Forrest Gump (one of only many traits we share. Run, Hobbesie, Run!), I’m seeing how “maybe we’re both” or all of the boxes at once. That there’s a pull every bit as real as that between the three branches. Music seems to represent this polynomial, and factoring it presents me with a challenge I’ve enjoyed.

A word on the selections. I’m finding that a few of the songs could fit on any of the disks. One could argue that each of them is federalist, in that they are creative, for instance. “Jump Around” is a high-energy, aggressive song which I placed on the “States of Nature” disk. However, much can be said for the fact that rap handles aggression in a positive way. Phrases which some interpret as violent are most often simply a way to blow off steam. In other words, as sports, music allows a release. I could’ve just as easily placed the piece on disk three.

Anti/ Federalist Vol. I: States of Nature

“Me and a Gun” Tori Amos

“April 29, 1992 (Miami)” Sublime

“Bulls on Parade” Rage Against the Machine

“Pain” 2Pac

“Sabotage” Beastie Boys

“Jump Around” House of Pain

“Wrong Way” Sublime

“Animal I Have Become” Three Days Grace

“Come Out and Play” The Offspring

“Teenagers” My Chemical Romance

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana

“Santeria” Sublime

“Been Caught Stealing” Jane’s Addiction

“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arm Race” Fall Out Boy

“U.S. History” Flipsyde

“Testify” Rage Against the Machine

Anti/ Federalist Vol. II: Meltdown

“All in the Family” TV Theme from All in the Family

“Enter Sandman” Metallica

“Faint” Linkin Park

“Intro” Matthew Sweet

“Ugly Truth Rock” Matthew Sweet

“Enth Nd” Linkin Park

“Army of Me” Bjork

“Duel of the Fates” John Williams

“The New World” X

“You Better Be Doubtful” The Housemartins

“The Shadow Government” They Might Be Giants

“Political Science” Randy Newman

“Holiday” Green Day

“I Fought the Law” Green Day

“Gunslinger” John Fogerty

“Beer for My Horses” Toby Keith and Willie Nelson

“The Government Totally Sucks” Tenacious D

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” Green Day

“Wonderful” Everclear

“Pride (in the Name of Love)” U2

“Pacing the Cage” Bruce Cockburn

“The Way It Is” Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Anti/ Federalist Vol. III: Energy Renewed

“Vertigo” U2

“Icky Thump” White Stripes

“Fight for Your Right” Beastie Boys

“Minority” Green Day

“Float On” Modest Mouse

“Signs” Tesla

“Warning” Green Day

“Everything I Am” Kanye West

“Unwritten” Natasha Bedingfield

“In a Big Country” Big Country

“Closer to Free” BoDeans

“The Middle” Jimmy Eat World

“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” Cindi Lauper

“New Song” Howard Jones

“Centerfield” John Fogerty
“I Take My Chances” Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Upside Down” Jack Johnson

“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls

“This Moment” Matthew Sweet

“Lights and Virtues” Jackson Browne

“Imagine” John Lennon

“This Land Is Your Land” Woodie Guthrie

A look will reveal certain biases: Green Day, my exposure, my age and sublurban upbringing… Also, I realize that the voices of women are under-represented. Perhaps, with your input, that’ll change! Thanks again to Shellee, Larry, and Laura for their evolving input.

Hope you leave some comments on the songs if you know them or share in the dialogue by requesting the disks! 🙂

What Are the Most Federalist Songs?

Something Will said this Summer boomeranged and smacked me into thinking about Federalist songs.

What would make a song distinctively Federalist?  I began to brainstorm characteristics which I thought Federalist in nature: SCIENCE, FUTURE, HOPE, FREE, WORLDLY, REGENERATING, OPEN-MINDED, and so forth.  Many songs are upbeat, and do convey multiple aspects of Federalist thinking.  In fact, I think that when some people think about the spirit of ROCK, they do so with a very Federalist ideal: think Jack Black in School of Rock or Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.

I’m going to withhold my favorites in hopes that we get some traffic going here at the site.  PLEASE (you know you love it when I beg) respond and leave your ideas for the most Federalist songs.  Additionally, feel free to add comments on the nature of Federalism in music, as I tend to focus on lyrics.  (Yeah, I’m tone deaf.)

There can also be submissions for songs that are ANTI-Antifederalist, as I believe “Signs” to be.  You remember that one: “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…”, right?

If I can find a way to post music, as I think I might be able to at MySpace, I can do some of that, too.


Deep Light

On the way home from the store tonight, I listened for the first time to Van Morrison’s rendition (with the Chieftains) of the 19th century folk song Shenandoah.Like many other things the past three weeks, it reminded me of the Academy.

From a purely cognitive standpoint, the Academy was immensely satisfying, and I will transfer a great deal of its content into my 12 sections (seriously!) of U.S. Government this year.

But it is my heart that has changed more than anything. It would be hard to describe what I mean by this, so I won’t (at least not with my own words).

Midway through the Academy, a poem by William Stafford seemed to get stuck in my head, and I’m not sure why or what it means. When I stand in its text, it doesn’t tell me anything definitive, but I feel something, and I wonder if you have had similar experiences with music, poems, personal encounters as a result of the Academy. Here is the poem by Stafford, a western (U.S.) poet, who won just about every major award a poet could win prior to his death in 1993:

Deep Light

From far a light, maybe a hill ranch

remote and unvisited, beams on the horizon

when we pass; then it is gone.

For the rest of our lives that far place

waits; it’s an increment, one more

hollow that slips by out there, almost

a gift, an acquaintance taken away.

Still, beyond all ranches the deep

night waits, breathing when we breathe,

always ready to offer new light,

over and over, so long as we search

for something so faint most people

won’t know, even when it is found.

From “Even in Quiet Places” by W. Stafford

–Larry Mutter–

A Day at the Beach

It was the first weekend of the National Academy. In a daze, Keith made his way to Venice Beach and found he was surrounded…


Cicero at Venice Beach







And perhaps worst of all, he knew he was trapped in a covenant he could never leave…


–posted by Shellee with many thanks to Keith for the pictures

National Academy 2007: A Whole Lot of Thanks

The mystery of the last box has been revealed. Twenty-four teachers from all over the United States and one civic leader from Mexico City have found their way home…perhaps even unpacked their boxes of books from L.A.

The 2007 National Academy is now a thing of the past but continues to loom large in expressions of gratitude.

Kerryn from Houston wrote from her room at LMU that last night…

Well the party downstairs just wound down to a close and I wanted to say thank you for a great three weeks. Down in Texas it is easy to forget that there are still people out there that are passionate and commited to a lot of the same things that I am. This has been a reaffirming and wonderful experience for me to know that you are out there as well. I will carry each of you in my heart for the rest of my days and I look forward to the opportunity to see y’all (had to do it) again.

Thank you so much for your passion and commitment. It has been an honor to be a part of this wonderful community.

Gerry had to add the suggestion that we read his note of appreciation with a Brooklyn accent and sprinkle his remarks with a certain word for emphasis…

I want to express my gratitude for a fantastic three weeks of engaging thought and discussion, genuinely collegial interaction, and just plain old fun. The National Academy will be a pearl in my memory for the rest of my life and I thank you all for making it so.
Now that we have descended from the mountain top, our new work will begin. We learned a great deal and now we have the opportunity to pass it forward with our students.

After some hard earned “vegging out,” Elka reported she didn’t have words to describe how valuable the Academy was to her. This sense of speechlessness is something we all know after watching a newly invented Madison share his dream that last Friday!

Keith added his words of thanks with a note about a dream he had…

I must lift my fingers to concur that the National Academy was an AMAZING experience: much due to the collective wisdom of the most intelligent community of people I’ve ever been around.

As I stated in the beginning, I’d long dreamed of such a pursuit. And, thanks to Professor Harris, the preceptors, and you all, that moment came true.

While the Academy and all our hard work seems to be light years away, the next powerful educational moment is as close as the next school year. Be sure to tune in here and let us know how the National Academy is working in your classroom.

–posted by Shellee with much gratitude for everyone’s expressions of thanks