The Anachronist in the Florida Review

(Korcula, Croatia) I am in Europe for a mixture of work–in Ukraine and Germany–and vacation. Meanwhile, the Florida Review has published The Anachronist as a multimedia feature. It begins:

The Argument

A woman is bound to the stake to be burned:
No hope of using the secrets she’s learned.
A sagacious doctor awaits his fate,
Captive in the Tower behind Traitor’s Gate.
His student could strike to make justice prevail.
Righteous is he, but his judgment may fail.
Over the sea comes a painter who sought—
Not the dark cellar in which he is caught.
In the midst of these four, a lady is torn.
She must choose just one, leave the rest forlorn.
Time’s arrow flies; let us find where it lies. 

A woman stands to her waist in a mound of logs and neatly bundled furze kindling. The split logs beneath her feet cut into her bare soles. A rope winds around her body from her thighs to a triple knot at her chest. The stray hairs on the knot’s surface shake in the wind.

She thinks: You watch small, harmless things like this every day of your life. If I were a child, I would play with this rope, pull its strands apart, or drag it behind me like a tail.

The words she hears in her head are Dutch, her native language. Although her body is trussed, she can turn her face. On her left she sees seated clergymen and dignitaries. The name “Thomas Lucy”—“Sir Thomas”—comes into her mind as she identifies a bearded, red-faced gentleman with a heavy gold chain over his furs. Look how calm he seems now, she thinks. Look at his fat hands, how relaxed they are, clasped over his fat belly. When he questioned me in the castle, those hands were always twitching, scratching, accusing ….

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how not to talk about The People

Maria Bartiromo (Fox News): As the commander-in-chief, as the president of this great country, what can you do to bring us together?

Donald Trump: Our people are so incredible. …  Do you know, there’s probably never been a base in the history of politics in this country like my base. I hope the other side realizes that they better just take it easy.

As Jonathan Chait notes, Trump equates “us,” the people of America, with “the people who voted for him.”

This is the rhetorical move that Jan-Werner Müller, in his globally influential book (2016), uses as the definition of “populism.” Populists “claim that they and they alone represent the people. All other political competitors are essentially illegitimate, and anyone who does not support them is not properly part of the people. … Elites are immoral, whereas the people are a moral, homogeneous entity whose will cannot err.”

Müller has previously quoted Trump–“the only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything”–as evidence that the current president is a populist, in this bad sense of the word.

I agree that the slippage between Trump’s supporters and “the people” is a very bad sign. However, it is not straightforward to define populism (meaning a problematic phenomenon) in this way. Trump says many things and is inconsistent in his appeal to “the people.” Meanwhile, a wide variety of political actors also depict the public as a homogeneous entity that is on their side.

Some of them define “the people” in racial or ethno-national terms. That tendency seems more accurately described as racism or xenophobia than as populism, especially if anti-racists like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez count as populists (as Müller would suggest).

And sometimes it is the strongest champions of democratic institutions who use rhetoric that looks populist according to Müller’s definition. For instance, Jimmy Carter presented himself as an ordinary American (a peanut farmer and a Christian, not a Washington politician) who could best reflect the values shared by all Americans (Johnstone 1978). Carter invoked a unitary public and promised to connect directly to the people, unmediated by interests and organizations. His Inaugural Address could be coded as populist rhetoric, in Müller’s sense of the word. Yet Carter was committed to constitutional limits, respected his critics and the opposition, and made the promotion of democratic freedoms a centerpiece of his agenda.

Thus it is not clear that searching for Müller-style populist language will identify actors who are hostile to democratic institutions and processes. There is an upsurge of repression around the world—and it is not limited to racists and xenophobes—but there is a better word for it than “populism.” That word is “authoritarianism.”

For the purposes of empirical research, I would dispense with “populism” in the Müller sense and look instead for authoritarianism and racism as distinct but sometimes overlapping phenomena that are ascendant in our time.

Müller is, however, right that there are pitfalls to invoking a unitary public that is on one’s side–or defining one’s side as “the people.” This is an excuse for trampling on rights, whether your opponents are demographic minorities and immigrants (the right-wing variant), or corporations and the rich (the left-wing version), or extremists (the centrist version). It’s always better to recognize the legitimacy of the actual human beings who disagree with you and who vote for the other side.

Citations: Jan-Werner Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia; Universoty of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), p. 101; Christopher Lyle Johnstone, “Electing Ourselves in 1976: Jimmy Carter and The American Faith,” Western Journal of Speech Communication, vol. 42  Issue 4, *Fall 1978), p. 241-249. See also Trump at the confluence of populism, chauvinism, and celebrityfighting Trump’s populism with pluralist populismseparating populism from anti-intellectualism and two kinds of populism.

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Democrats have a good chance of controlling at least one House of Congress in 2019

Political prognostication is a fool’s game and arguably a distraction from the important work of citizens, which is to influence–not to forecast–the future.

But I can’t resist.

Recent projections give the Democrats anywhere from a 39% to a 58% (or even 63%) chance of winning the House. One reputable model gives the Democrats a 30% chance of winning the Senate. Those two results are not truly independent, since both will be affected by the national situation in November. But they are substantially independent, as illustrated by the claim that an 8 percentage-point swing toward the Democrats would give them 44 more House seats and four fewer Senate seats. If we assume that the two elections are independent events, then Democrats have between a 43% and 70% chance of capturing at least one house of Congress.

The wildcard is how the national situation will change between now and late October. If there’s a terrorist attack on the US, it will probably help the president’s party. The nomination battle could boost Republicans by giving religious conservatives a reason to turn out and by putting red-state Democratic Senators in a tough spot. Another four months of economic growth might help the GOP a bit, as would a report from the Special Counsel that comes nowhere close to associating Trump with crimes.

But I think upcoming news is more likely to assist the Democrats. Trump and his party have already captured whatever political benefit they’re going to gain from the economy, and there’s a significant potential for economic turbulence ahead. The Mueller investigation has lost public support without yielding a damaging public report, but his report is coming. Since 67% of Americans want to preserve Roe v Wade, a nomination that places that decision in jeopardy could mobilize more people against Trump than for him. The North Korea summit was a political success for the president: he hyped a genuine crisis to the maximum and then declared it resolved, which convinced a bunch of Americans. But that domestic political gain is fragile, since the threat was not actually resolved. We can also expect massive Obamacare premium increases, ugly battles in Congress, plenty of awkward votes for Republican incumbents, a possibly damaging Special Counsel report, lawsuits and depositions against the president, and unpredictable controversies revolving around him.

Overall, I’d put the chances that the Democrats control at least one house of Congress above 70%. That estimate is compatible with any actual result in November, so there’s no way I can be proven wrong. Meanwhile, stop reading forecasts and get back to work!

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coming soon: Democracy’s Discontent and Civic Learning

Now available for pre-ordering is Charles S. White (ed.), Democracy’s Discontent and Civic Learning: Multiple Perspectives. Chapters include:

  • “The Populist Moment,” by William A. Galston.
  • “Populism, Democracy, and the Education of Citizens,” by Thomas S. Vontz and J. Spencer Clark, (with Stephen L. Schechter).
  • “Are Europe’s Democracies in Danger? A View of the Populist Challenge,” by Karlheinz Duerr.
  • “Confronting a Global Democracy Recession: The Role of United States International Democracy Support Programs,” by Liza Prendergast
  • “Democracy’s Pharmakon: Technology as Remedy and Poison,” by Charles S. White.
  • “Judicial Legitimacy in the Age of Populism,” by Alison Staudinger.
  • “Fulfilling the Promise of Democracy: How Black Lives Matter Can Foster Empowered Civic Engagement,” by Amy J. Samuels and Gregory L. Samuels.
  • “Does P–12 Educational Research Ameliorate or Perpetuate Inequity?” by Jacob S. Bennett.
  • “Democracy’s Discontent and Teacher Education: Countering Populism and Cultivating Democracy,” by Stephanie Schroeder.
  • “A Primer on Trump Economics: Populist or Something Else?” by James E. Davis.
  • “Going for Depth in Civic Education: A Design Experiment,” by Walter C. Parker. With responses:
    • “What Public Philosophy Should We Teach? A Reply to Parker,” by Peter Levine
    • “Fidelity of Implementation: A Reply to Parker,” by James E. Davis
    • “Contrasting Landscapes: A Reply to Parker,” by Karlheinz Duerr
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new survey on Americans’ views of democracy

(Salt Lake City, Utah) Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement have released a new national survey on Americans’ attitudes toward democracy.

The headline finding is that Americans value democratic norms–regardless of party–and they worry that those norms are weakening. Almost exactly the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans (63% and 65%) say that it is “absolutely important” to live in a democracy.

But only one in three young adults think it’s “very important” to live in a democracy. The perceived importance of living in a democracy rises steadily and steeply by age. This trend could be generational, in which case democracy is in trouble as we face a century dominated by people who aren’t committed to democracy. Or it could be a life-cycle effect: perhaps people gradually develop more commitment as they grow older.

This graph is an argument for better civics. Almost 90 percent of poll respondents want to “ensure that schools make civic education a bigger part of the curriculum.”

Respondents were asked what is wrong with our democracy today. Youth are much more likely that other groups to point to racism and discrimination. They are somewhat less likely to condemn unreliable media and partisan news. Hardly any youth are concerned about a “breakdown in traditional American values.” But partisan news and a breakdown of traditional values are the two most serious problems according to Republicans.

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convicted by their conscience: the rule of law, judgment, and writing in The New Testament

John 8:3-11:

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

The “scribes and Pharisees” arrive as an undifferentiated group. They act in concert. No names or adjectives distinguish them, but they share a social role as experts on the law and as men of writing.

The one person who stands out is the woman. She comes passively (presumably compelled). She is the sole female character and the only one who is never described in this passage as either reading or writing.

They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

The Gospels are written in the past tense, but here the Greek (like the English) is suddenly in the present: “they say.” I think the speakers are living completely in the present moment–so forcefully that it flows into the narration as an example of “implied indirect discourse.” The scribes’ and Pharisees’ mode is to ask what the abstract categories of the written law mean for what is to be done now. They don’t reflect on their pasts, nor on the woman’s future, for she has none in the minds.

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

Here they invoke the written law, the commandment that comes to us from an author (notably, Moses rather than God) through his writing. The text is meant to determine our judgment, speech, and decision.

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

The Woman Taken in Adultery, Church of the Angel Raphael, Venice, 1677

They have set a trap for Jesus. He must either blatantly violate the rule of law or else abandon his message of love. If he does the former, they “might have to accuse him.” In their minds, this would not be a choice. It would be determined by the application of the law, which (again) is an artifact of writing.

So Jesus also writes. Since he stoops down, we cannot see the text that flows. Indeed, it might not be text: the Greek verb katagraphein is unusual (appearing just here in the whole New Testament). It can mean “to scratch,” so Jesus might be making a wordless shape in the dust. Euclid uses katagraphein 40 times in his Elements, as a verb for drawing shapes. It can also mean to “write against,” as in framing an indictment.

Jesus’ act is mysterious. He is literally in touch with the earth. His act is public in the sense that he performs katagraphein as his response to the scribes and Pharisees. It’s private in the sense that we cannot know what he writes; and probably they cannot either, since he “stoops down.”

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

They keep asking him, he keeps writing, and then he stands to address them face-to-face (leaving his writing behind) and gives his famous verbal response: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

He then goes back down to the earth, to his private stance, and writes. This time the verb is graphein, the ordinary word for writing.

In these verses, the woman is invisible to us. She neither speaks nor writes nor acts.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

The scribes and Pharisees are no longer an undifferentiated group, acting in concert and in unison. Each has turned his own mind toward his own past. They exit one by one, making individual choices to break with the group. The one with the longest record of conscience, the eldest, is the first to break.

Jacopo Tintoretto - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery - WGA22436

Jacopo Tintoretto – Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Now Jesus is alone, and the woman is “in the midst” (more literally, “being in the middle,” or “being in the center”). It’s just the two of them, quiet. Jesus is still stooped down and does not look at her.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

Now he makes eye-contact, as he did earlier with the scribes and the Pharisees, and he asks her what happened, although he must know it already. “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

At last she speaks, addressing Jesus as her lord. He speaks in the first person, placing himself in the same position as the Scribes and Pharisees who have chosen individually not to accuse her. And he sends her away from the center, on her own.

Questions

What did Jesus write? There is obviously no way to know, but here are some possibilities: 1) He listed the sins of each of the scribes and Pharisees. 2) He noted his own judgment of the Woman, privately. 3) He described the specific situation concretely–in contrast to the abstractions of the categorical law. 4) He drew an abstract image.

Why can’t we know what he wrote?

Why did his act change the situation?

When does private–or public–writing liberate? What about the text of the Gospel of John?

See also: Sessions and the fate of Herodthe Gospels on two hot-button issues; and the prospects for an evangelical turn against Trump.

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why autocrats are winning (right now) #DemFront #DemFront18

During the opening session of Frontiers of Democracy last night, Hardy Merriman from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict showed this graph from Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. It shows that nonviolent social movements were strikingly successful at achieving their own stated objectives during the 1990s, but their success rate has fallen sharply since.

A full explanation would have to consider many variables–geopolitics, technology, changes in ideologies and issues. I suspect (as Chenoweth and Stephan do) that one factor is the skill and sophistication of both democrats and autocrats. For a sustained argument about the importance of skill in social movements, see Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement

To explain the graph above, we could first argue that nonviolent movements and bottom-up pro-democracy movements developed an impressive repertoire of strategies, thanks to the experience of anti-colonial struggles in the Global South, social movements in the West, dissident movements in the Soviet Bloc, and hacker cultures online. At the same time, the traditional toolkit of the autocrat–centrally managed economies, mass incarceration and terror, secret police bureaucracies, etc.–was failing.

On both sides, actors always learn from their peers. Solidarity invited Bayard Rustin to Poland to teach nonviolent strategies–and that’s just one of countless examples on the nonviolent side. On the other side, Saddam imitated Stalin. But Rustin and Solidarity had the newer and and more successful ideas; Saddam and his ilk were losing.

Then the surviving older autocrats, and the new generation of authoritarians, began to innovate. Chenoweth & Stephan write:

State opponents may be learning and adapting to challenges from below. Although several decades ago, they may have underestimated the potential of people power to pose significant threats to their rule, they may now see mass nonviolent campaigns as truly threatening, devoting more resources to preventing them — perhaps following the implications of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith’s “Dictator’s Handbook” — or deploying “smart repression” to subvert them when they arise. This phenomenon of learned adaptation, or what Steven Heydemann, the Ketcham Chair in Middle East Studies at Smith College, calls “authoritarianism 2.0,” is a central focus of the “Future of Authoritarianism” project at the Atlantic Council.

In a recent Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowan argues that “the governance technologies and strategies of authoritarian regimes have become much more efficient.” One-party states and oligarchs are better at managing economies and thereby delivering economic growth.

They have also developed more sophisticated ways of dealing with criticism:

Authoritarian leaders realized that absolute prohibitions on free speech were counterproductive, and they learned how to manage an intermediate solution.  Allowing partial speech rights is useful as a safety valve, it allows major dissidents to be identified and monitored, and absolute speech prohibitions tended to wreck the economy and discourage foreign investment, leading to unpopularity of the government. At the same time, an autocratic government could come down hard on the truly threatening ideas when needed.

Authoritarian states have begun collecting valid data about what the people want through reliable opinion polling. As Cowan notes, Mao got only indications of popular support from his terrified underlings, but today’s Communist Party really knows what the Chinese people think and can respond strategically.

Also in the modern autocrat’s toolkit are increasingly sophisticated surveillance strategies, state control of media that is actually popular (rather than drab and overtly propagandistic), and the use of digital technologies to corrupt the public sphere.

The graph is alarming, but the game isn’t over yet. Autocrats and democrats play an endless cat-and-mouse game. There was nothing inevitable about the triumph of nonviolent social resistance, but neither is it doomed today. Strategies that worked in 1995 are not likely to work in 2020, and we should always expect effective counter-strategies to develop. As Merriman said last night, this pattern underlines the importance of innovation, analysis, training, and networking.

See also Why Civil Resistance Workspeople trust authoritarian governments mostwhy the global turn to authoritarian ethnonationalism?what does it mean to say democracy is in retreat?watching democratic cultures decline; and was the Civil Rights Movement successful because of the Cold War?

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civic education that is less about the state

We are completing the tenth (!) annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies, which revolves around the three schools of civic theory outlined below. (Each “school” encompasses diverse views and criticisms.) Today we talked about what these theories would mean for civic education at various levels and in several nations.

I certainly don’t advocate assigning The Theory of Communicative Action vols. 1-2Governing the Commons, or Hind Swaraj in an 8th grade civics class. But we might involve 8th graders in managing common resources, incorporate them in the public sphere by inviting them to join public deliberations, and ask them to develop strategies for addressing power disparities at the human level. Indeed, we do all these things, but they tend to be somewhat marginal in civics curricula around the world, which focus much more on the state, the law, and the citizen in relation to those.

The Bloomington School of Political Economy (Elinor Ostrom et al) The Frankfurt School in its second generation (Jurgen Habermas et al) Nonviolent social movements (Gandhi/King)
Fundamental problem People fail to achieve what would be good for them collectively People manipulate other people by influencing their opinions and goals People fail to view others (or themselves) as fully human
Characteristic starting point People know what they want but can’t get it People don’t know what they want or want the wrong things Some people won’t recognize other people as fellow citizens
Prominent example of failure We destroy an environmental asset by failing to work together Government or corporate propaganda distorts our authentic values One national or ethnic group exploits another
Essential behavior of a citizen Working together to make or preserve something. Talking and listening about controversial values. Using nonviolent sacrifice to compel change
Keyword Collaboration Deliberation Relationships
Instead of homo economicus (the individual who maximizes material self-interest) we need … Homo faber (the person as a maker) Homo sapiens (the person as a reasoner) or homo politicus (the participant in public assemblies) A satyagrahi (the person as a bearer of soul force)
Role of the state A set of nested and overlapping associations, not fundamentally different from other associations (firms, nonprofits, etc.) Citizens form public opinion, which should guide the state, which makes law. The state should be radically distinct from other sectors A target of demands
Modernity is … A threat to local and traditional ways of cooperating, but we can use science to assist people in solving their own problems A process of enlightenment that liberates people, but it goes wrong when states and markets “colonize” the private domain For Gandhi: An imperialist imposition, undermining swaraj
How facts and values are combined Not explicitly. Implicitly by using research on collective action to liberate people for reflective self-government By proposing counterfactual ideals such as “the ideal speech situation” and diagnosing the reasons these are not met Through “experiments in living”

In a prophetic mode

Main interdisciplinary combination Game theory plus observations of indigenous problem-solving Normative philosophy (mainly achieved through critical readings of past philosophers) plus system-level sociology Critical theology plus military strategy
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the prospects for an evangelical turn against Trump

Not long after Donald Trump’s inauguration, I met with a conservative evangelical pastor near his church in a small city in one of the most conservative of the Southern states. He told me how deeply he despised and feared the new president as a threat to his values and his community. Some of his concerns were moral, involving Trump’s sexual behavior. Some were pastoral–he worried that young people would be alienated from Christianity as the faith came to be associated with Trump. And some concerns involved leadership. He felt that he struggled to be a good leader of his church community: accountable, inclusive, a peacemaker. Trump modeled the very opposite style.

I often recall this conversation as I read about White evangelical support for Trump and the criticism he’s now receiving from some evangelical clergy.

That first spring of the Trump era, I formed an empirical hypothesis. I thought that many evangelicals might vote for Trump because of abortion and a few other issues, and I could understand that. However, I thought that admiring him as a leader would correlate negatively with actual participation in a Christian community, once you controlled for demographics. In the back of my mind was the theory that being Christian can have three meanings:

  1. A set of theological beliefs that may have moral and political implications. These vary enormously. Some Christians see Jesus as a pacifist socialist; others think he would endorse capitalism and national sovereignty. But if you take theology seriously, you will assess a politician in its terms, and not just do what he says.
  2. Membership and participation in a community of believers, which may extend from a concrete local church to a denomination or even an ecumenical network of denominations. Churches vary from congregationalist to hierarchical (the word means “holy order or structure”), from traditionalist to innovative, and from homogeneous to diverse; and we would expect these differences to matter politically.
  3. An identity, something you are as well as (or even instead of) something you believe or do. It’s possible to identify as a White Christian man without believing in God or going to church, if you think of Christianity as pure identity, akin to an ethnicity.

I would expect #1 to inform attitudes toward Donald Trump, but in a complex way. Assessments would depend on the theological commitments of the specific believer and the policies of the administration. Theological seriousness would make people into critical thinkers about any politician.

I would expect #2 to teach people lessons about what kind of leadership to expect and admire. In a megachurch dominated by a charismatic and wealthy preacher, people might learn to expect leaders who act at least roughly like Trump. In a congregationalist church or a Catholic parish with empowered laity, people would learn to expect accountability and inclusivity, not to mention skills like listening and mediation; and they would despise Trump’s leadership style in contrast.

I would expect #3 to predict support for Trump because that’s what he offers. He gives no indication of actual belief but looks for all opportunities to say: This is a white Christian nation, and everyone must acknowledge that. I haven’t yet read Janelle Wong’s new book, but this seems to be her finding. It would be consistent with the theory that “Fox News evangelicals” (or “coach-potato evangelicals”)–rather than deeply committed Christians–are Trump’s base.

We had the opportunity to ask about all these topics in one survey. We asked about policy opinions, demographics, admiration for Trump as a leader, and experiences of participation in religious and secular communities. I don’t want to “publish” our findings here, because I worked with several colleagues who aren’t co-authors of this blog, and the statistical issues were somewhat complex. Our work is yet unpublished. But I will say there was no clear evidence that I was correct. The outcome was something like a null result. Once you know that someone is a White evangelical who favors abortion rights, you don’t learn anything new by asking about her personal involvement in a church community.

This is disappointing, but it may not be the end of the story. Assume that you are a serious Christian with conservative politics who actually cares about theology and the community of the living church. Christianity as an ethnic identity is a threat to everything you deeply believe in. Right now, you’re losing the struggle for your faith. It’s becoming an ethnic identity with a dangerous level of resentment, not a belief system. But you have resources to struggle back. You have moral legitimacy, cultural depth, diversity, youth support, and grassroots institutions that are shrunken but still vital. I would expect to see more and more anti-Trump organizing from the evangelical pulpit, and a widening gap between White identity “Christianity” and actual Christian faith.

See also why Trump fans aren’t holding him accountable (yet)Civic Deserts and our present crisisthe Democrats and religious Americans and the political advantages of organized religion

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federal research funding available for civics

US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES): FUNDING OPPORTUNITY FOR R&D and EVALUATION in SOCIAL STUDIES

IES has released its 2019 Request for Applications (RFA) through its Research Grants Program. See: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/pdf/2019_84305A.pdf. The RFA includes a new Special Topic for Social Studies in K-12 Education, with a focus on history, civics, economics, and geography.  The application submission deadline is August 23, 2018.

Program Officer:  Dr. Edward Metz (202-904-8972, Edward.Metz@ed.gov)

Purpose 

Social studies education is intended to prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to understand complex social and economic issues. Recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) expanded the curricular focus of U.S. education to encourage states to include social studies and its core disciplines of civics, geography, economics, and history as part of 17 subjects that make up a well-rounded education. Such an expansion will have to address the current level of student knowledge in social studies. For example, the 2014 NAEP found that only 18 percent of eighth graders performed at or above Proficient in U.S. History, 27 percent performed at or above Proficient in Geography, and 23 percent performed at or above Proficient in Civics. Students from lower-income and minority backgrounds performed lower than those in other groups.

Through this special topic, the Institute seeks to strengthen the research base for teaching and learning social studies and its core disciplines. The Institute is interested a wide range of research including but not limited to:

  • Exploration of the relationship between social studies and civic skills, attitudes, and participation, particularly for students from low-income and minority backgrounds (e.g., Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2013).
  • Exploration of the relationship between social studies and core academic content (e.g., STEM, reading, writing) and social and behavioral competencies, such as socio-emotional development and interpersonal skills (e.g., Swanson et al., 2016; Lawless et al., 2015).
  • Development and testing of social studies interventions that actively engage students through forms of experiential and collaborative activities, such as through roleplaying, debates, inquiry and investigation, real-world problem solving, and service learning (e.g., Dack et al., 2016; Furco, 2013).
  • Development and testing of interventions designed to support students in becoming digitally literate citizens in the 21st century, including those which integrate new forms of technology within social studies programs, such as social media, multi-user virtual environments, virtual and augmented reality, and wearables (e.g., Curry and Cherner, 2016).
  • Studies of the efficacy or effectiveness of state and district policies designed to engage students in disciplinary and cross-disciplinary social studies programs (e.g., Campbell and Niemi, 2017).
  • Validation of existing and development and validation of new assessment tools for use in social studies programs (e.g., Sklarwitz, 2017).

Requirements
Applications under the Social Studies topic must meet the Sample, Outcomes, and Setting requirements listed below in order to be responsive and sent forward for scientific peer review.

Sample 

Your research must focus on students at any level from kindergarten through high school.

Outcomes 

Your research must include measures of student academic outcomes. At least one academic outcome should be in social studies (e.g., an assessment of student learning in history, civics, or geography).

Your research may also include measures of student social and behavioral competencies (i.e., social skills, attitudes, or behaviors).

If your research focuses on teachers you must include measures of their knowledge, skills, beliefs, behaviors, and/or practices that are the focus of your research in addition to the required measures of student education outcomes.

Setting

The research must be conducted in authentic K-12 education settings or on data collected from such settings.

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