Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Over at his blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine has some thoughts on the importance of civic relationships to a healthy democracy. Often lumped under the term “social capital” by political scientists (Robert Putnam defines the term as “connections among individuals–social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”), Levine emphasizes that these civic relationships occur much more organically than such language suggests. He quotes from a 2001 focus group study by Doble Research Associates that explored the topic of testing and accountability in schools. The conversation, though, moved beyond just education:
First woman: People don’t know people in their communities any more.
Second woman: That’s right. I was raised in an area where you knew everyone. That’s just the way it was. But you don’t know your neighbors anymore.
Third woman: I have neighbors that lived next door to me for nine years and they don’t even wave or talk to anybody in the neighborhood.
This emphasis on the citizen’s and the community’s responsibility was echoed in a more recent report, “Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government, and More.” Its authors note:
At the core of Americans’ frustration about “lack of accountability” is the fear that too many Americans have become “selfish” and that the balance between “rights” and “responsibilities” is out of kilter. Most of the focus group participants brought an alternative definition of accountability to the table–one that centered on a better balance between rights and responsibilities and focused on individuals–both leaders and ordinary citizens–behaving more honorably. Most simply did not see how the country can solve its problems without this.
Civic relationships, as Levine writes, “generate power, they build communities, they reflect values and principles, and they are intrinsically rewarding.”