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self-government

Scared straight into the voting booth

Over at The New York Times‘s “Campaign Stops” blog, Ann Beeson, a lecturer at the University of Texas and former legal director of the ACLU, notices that many young people are very involved in different civic organizations, but that few of them actually vote.

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No such thing as global citizenship

Eric Liu has an essay in The Atlantic in which he takes on the question of what “global citizenship” actually means. His answer? There isn’t such a thing as worldwide citizenship–and “if you really want to change the world, first be a good American.”

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The Hollow Republic

Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, has a characteristically smart essay about how the Left and the Right understand civil society and its relation to the state.

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Mid-week roundup

Some recent happenings in the citizenship world:

  • Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf disagrees with Thomas Ricks’s proposal for a draft.
  • There are less than two weeks left before the National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Data Challenge officially closes on July 29.
  • Meghan Clyne at National Affairs draws lessons in liberty and citizenship from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series.
  • A recent survey looks at the connection between participation in online communities and increased civic engagement.
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    Calling for more self-government

    In his Time Ideas column this week, former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu calls for citizens to take a more active  role in their self-governance. Liu argues that citizens must step up given our dire financial situation, and quotes former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich approvingly: “if we shrink government then we have to grow citizens.”

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    Drafting our kids?

    In yesterday’s New York Times, Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, echoed a call recently made by General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, to bring back the draft.

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    Mandatory voting?

    Writing last week in Bloomberg, Peter Orszag, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, argues that voting should be made mandatory. Using Australia as an example of a country where compulsory voting already exists, Orszag notes: “Mandating voting has a clear effect: It raises participation rates.” The United States currently has voter participation below 60 percent.

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    Event re-cap: A nation of takers

    At a Program on American Citizenship event at AEI on Wednesday, AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrated how government entitlement spending has dramatically increased over the past 50 years –with nearly half of U.S. households receiving some sort of government benefit–and explored the implications of this trend for a self-governing citizenry.

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    In search of a common cause

    Over at Time, Joe Klein reports on the people he has met and spoken with on his recent third-annual U.S. road trip. Many of these people are military veterans who expressed to Klein their increasing concern that a gap between those who have served the country and those who haven’t is widening, and that as a result the country itself is becoming more bifurcated.

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    To increase knowledge of civics, try teaching civics

    Responding to the new study by the Educational Testing Service, “Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States” (which we covered here), the Hudson Institute’s Bruce Cole has an op-ed in the Washington Examiner that takes issue with the report’s suggested corrective measures to increase students’ civic knowledge and levels of civic engagement.

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    Direct democracy comes to Chicago

    Chicago’s 49th Ward–home to Loyola University Chicago and Rogers Park–has, for the last few years, been experimenting in a very interesting exercise in direct democracy.

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    Fault lines in our democracy

    William E. White writes in the Huffington Post that “Americans have forgotten the reason why we educate children in America. As a result our children, schools, communities, and the nation are suffering. […] We have forgotten that there is only one purpose for an education system in a republic: to educate citizens.”

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    Democracy is for amateurs

    Writing for The Atlantic, former Clinton speechwriter and creator of the Guiding Lights Weekend conference on citizenship Eric Liu argues for the return of the amateur citizen. Unlike other fields in which the rise of the amateur is celebrated, “the work of democratic life,” he notes, “has become ever more professionalized.”

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    “The Big Sort” That Wasn’t

    In a new article in the journal PS: Political Science and Politics, “‘The Big Sort” That Wasn’t: A Skeptical Reexamination,” political scientists Samuel J. Abrams and Morris P. Fiorina take a look at the findings of Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort and come to rather different conclusions than Bishop did.

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    A Gentleman and a Scholar

    Earlier this month, the great American political scientist James Q. Wilson passed away. Much has been written about Wilson’s legacy–see remembrances by the New York Times, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, the Economist, Steven Teles for Washington Monthly–and justly so. As AEI’s Arthur Brooks wrote, “[Wilson’s] influence on policy and politics was so vast that it inspired columnist George Will to quip, ‘To be a political commentator in James Q. Wilson’s era is to know how Mel Tormé must have felt being a singer in Frank Sinatra’s era.”

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    Democracy on autopilot

    In January, the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement released its “national call to action,” “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future.” As we noted at the time, the report “urges every college and university to foster a civic ethos that governs campus life, make civic literacy a goal for every graduate, integrate civic inquiry within majors and general education, and advance civic action as lifelong practice.”

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    Renewing Civic Education

    In the current issue of Harvard Magazine, two former Harvard deans, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann and Harry Lewis, have an essay adapted from their book What is College For? The Public Purpose of Higher Education.

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    Learning by doing

    In this morning’s edition of the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas, Russell Muirhead argues that one reason that civic knowledge is so poor is because Americans are not being called upon to act as citizens–and therefore they have no reason to gain and use the knowledge required to be an active citizen.

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    November 8: Election Day

    Today–the Tuesday after the first Monday of November–is election day! As we discussed in yesterday’s “Making voting mandatory?” post, voting is a civic responsibility for all citizens, and so we encourage you to go out and vote today.

    The Washington Post and Politico each have good round-ups of the major votes happening across the country, but you should check with your local election board to see what people in your area will be voting on today.

    If you’ll be voting around the D.C. area, here is some general information that may be helpful:

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    Civic health, engagement, and…the economy?

    In yesterday’s USA Today, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (now chair of iCivics) and former Florida governor-turned-U.S. Senator Bob Graham penned an op-ed in which they discussed recent findings that show a positive correlation between civic engagement and low (comparative) changes in unemployment.

    The study, released last month by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), combined eight commonly used economic factors with five civic engagement measures to predict unemployment since 2006. When using just the traditionally used economic factors, the researchers could explain about 38 percent of the variation in the change in unemployment rates among different states, but when the civic engagement measures (volunteering, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to address community problems, registering to vote, and voting) were added, the model explained 68 percent of the variation in unemployment change.

    As O’Connor and Graham explain,

    Such trends are borne out at the state level. Eight of the 11 states with the highest volunteering rates at the outset of the financial crisis–Alaska, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and Vermont–experienced among the smallest rises in unemployment. Seven of the 10 states with the lowest volunteering rates–Arizona, California, Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Rhode Island and Delaware–experienced among the highest increases in unemployment.

    Using these results, the two authors conclude: “For the sake of our democracy and our economy, it is time for America to reinvest in civics. The connection between civic learning and economic success begins early in life, but civics has all but vanished from the public school curriculum…The secret to America’s success is the strength of our civil society. An informed citizenry lays the foundation for not just democracy but also for an innovative, dynamic economy.”

    Another leader working to this end is David Feith, whose recent compilation Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education we have profiled before (and which includes contributions by both Justice O’Connor and Senator Graham). Tevi Troy has a good interview of Feith over at New Books in Public Policy, which is very much worth listening to. The interview can be found here.

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