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)


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).

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.


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


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.


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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sessions and the fate of Herod

In case you missed it, Jeff Sessions defended his policy of seizing children at the border with the words, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders then added: “I can say it is very biblical to enforce the law, that is repeated a number of times throughout the bible.”

She was right about that. Characters in the Bible do frequently enforce the law. For example,

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men (Matthew 2:16)

This was the governmental action that made Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into refugees who needed asylum in Egypt.

Herod’s fault was not that he obeyed the law, as Paul advised a small, powerless community to do in Romans 13. Herod’s problem was that he was the law, and he saw his status as the king as the guarantee that his discretionary decrees must be right.

This was a habit that didn’t end well for him:

Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. …

And when Herod had sought for [Peter], and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.

And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country.

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.

And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.

And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. (Acts 12: 1-2, 20-23)

This situation also raises issues of church and state. The US government should not cite a biblical verse as justification for a policy, because that “establishes” one religion. Arguably, that means that a reporter shouldn’t ask Sarah Sanders whether the Bible justifies seizing children at the border. It’s an irrelevant question to direct at a representative of the US government. If Sanders is asked that question, her answer should be, “I speak for the White House, and we don’t address questions of religious doctrine.” Sessions shouldn’t cite Rom. 13 to justify his policy, even if that were a good reading of the Bible. Finally, I shouldn’t take his religious claim seriously enough to attempt to rebut it on religious grounds.

My view of church and state is a little less stringent than the above. Sessions cited Romans in response to an eloquent letter by members of his own religious community that denounced his policy on theological grounds. I think citizens are entitled to petition the government in religious language, and if an employee of the government disagrees with a theological claim, he or she may address it. Thus Sessions was not wrong to cite the Bible in the particular context he did, as a response to a religious petition directed at him. But his reading of the Bible opened him to theological charges of blasphemy and idolatry.

See also a plea to conservatives and why Donald Trump is anti-conservative.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

call for papers: New England Philosophy of Education Society

The New England Philosophy of Education Society will meet at Tufts on Oct. 20, co-sponsored by Tisch College. Proposals are due on July 15, emailed to nepes2018submissions@gmail.com. More details here.

The theme is the “Self in Relation: Ways of Knowing, Naming, and Acting.”

NEPES seeks papers that respond to the theme as it speaks to specific or broad interpretations. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit any work that deepens our studies of philosophy and education. Finally, an unusual component of [Sheri] Leafgren’s work is that it engages with philosophical questions qualitatively and draws on philosophy to make sense of the author’s own experience as a teacher in a school. With this in mind, we welcome proposals that play with the intersections between philosophy and practice as well as papers that explore philosophy and education from a range of sub-disciplines.

The keynote is by my friend Larry Blum, author of “I’m Not a Racist, But …”: The Moral Quandary of Race (Cornell UP), High Schools, Race, and America’s Future (Harvard Education Press, 2012), and many other works.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

can the arts mitigate the harms of gentrification? A project in Boston’s Chinatown

I’m working with an interdisciplinary team* on a project that’s investigating whether an arts center in Boston’s Chinatown can mitigate the negative effects of gentrification in that neighborhood. This research is funded by the NEA and by Tufts (through a “Tufts Collaborates” grant). Here are some preliminary notes, with which my colleagues may not necessarily agree. We have much more data to collect, analyze, and discuss.

The setting is Boston’s Chinatown. The Asian population of the neighborhood has declined, the median income of Whites in the neighborhood has more than doubled, but the percentage of Asian households living in poverty has increased. These could be seen as signs of gentrification.

The Pao Arts Center is a new “multi-functional arts space with a performance theater, an art gallery, classrooms, an artist-in-residence studio, and other public meeting space[s].” It has been created within a very large, multipurpose new building that includes affordable housing along with expensive apartments (which have a separate entrance). The building reflects the shift toward more expensive, modernist, large-scale development in Chinatown. It also belongs to a community-based nonprofit, the BCNC [correction: the Asian Community Development Corp. was the community developer; BCNC leases the space for Pao] that offers programs to about 2,000 families and is committed to retaining the cultural heritage of the neighborhood and combating dislocation, isolation, and conflict.

You might begin thinking about this project with the following model in mind:

  1. Gentrification disrupts community connections, which causes harmful social outcomes (apart from any other outcomes that gentrication may have). But
  2. The arts can strengthen community connections, thus mitigating the damage done by gentrification.

But the emerging data complicate this model.

The neighborhood is dynamic. People move in and out as both a cause and a consequence of economic change. It’s possible for an individual to remain in Chinatown and move on a trajectory of upward (or downward) mobility, while assimilating (or not assimilating) to the dominant culture. It’s also possible for an individual to leave in order to take advantage of a desired opportunity–or as a matter of necessity, due to rising rents.

The whole neighborhood could be characterized as historically Chinese-American. It was never like a traditional community in China; it was an enclave of Victorian tenement buildings, manufacturing plants, and restaurants catering to outsiders in an East Coast US city. One evident change is that it’s becoming much more pan-Asian. Does that preserve its heritage as an ethnic enclave or spell the end of “Chinatown” per se?

By no means everyone in Chinatown embraces the concept of “gentrification.” I think that word is almost always defined as a negative trend, a process of disruption or displacement caused by outside forces and suffered by residents of a neighborhood. In We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls gentrification “a more pleasing name for white supremacy.” (But see also his nuanced piece on the same topic from 2011). However, there is a different discourse that emphasizes economic growth and development and upward-mobility. Some people in Chinatown see rising rents and residents moving out to suburbs as signs of progress, attributable to their own success rather than outside forces.

The neighborhood is certainly changing its physical form. Even presuming that most tenants of the new BCNC high-rise are Chinese-American former residents of other Chinatown buildings, the sheer design and aesthetic of their home are new. There are similar buildings in modern Shanghai (and in modern Dubai and Mexico City), but not in a traditional Chinese-American neighborhood in a Northeastern city like Boston. Is this preservation? Development?

Likewise, the Pao Arts center is devoted to Asian arts, but its minimalist and functionalist architecture could be seen as modernist, cosmopolitan, placeless, or specifically “Western,” depending on your interpretive frame. Pao probably feels different to people of different backgrounds.

There may also be differences between groups that I will call (with some concerns about these labels) preservationists and integrationists. Preservationists see value in an historic Chinese urban enclave, whereas integrationists may celebrate the arrival of other Asians and non-Asians in Chinatown and the positive effects that occur when Chinatown residents move to suburbs.

These two distinctions produce four possible stances, but in real life, many more options are possible.

To further complicate the model, it’s not a simple case of “the arts” affecting a neighborhood. The Pao Arts Center hosts many events and exhibitions. Our team has been attending the events and conducting surveys, and it seems clear that various events draw different demographic groups and have different purposes and impact. Some performances raise consciousness of social injustice; some are sheer fun. Also, these are not exactly Pao Arts Center productions: Pao is a space that various artists and organizations use.

A series of events at Pao could reconnect people who have moved away from Chinatown to their former neighborhood, give local Chinese residents a reason to stay in Chinatown or mitigate the stress caused by changes in the area, connect people of different Asian backgrounds or of different races to one conversation and one affective community, or serve a diverse set of audiences from the Boston metro area without really having much to do with connections or the immediate vicinity. Pao could contribute to neighborhood economic development, thus accelerating gentrification, or it could consolidate Chinatown’s function as an ethnic enclave. It could do more than one of these things for different people at different times.

We have survey data from audiences, interviews with artists and other key stakeholders, pending surveys of community-members, and expert analysis of the events. We still have to put it all together.

*Cynthia Woo (Pao Arts Center), Ginny Chomitz (Tufts Department of Public Health and Community Medicine), Carolyn Rubin (Public Health and Community Medicine), Susan Koch-Weser (Public Health and Community Medicine), Annie Chin-Louie (Tufts Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute), Noe Montez (Tufts Department of Drama & Dance), Yizhou Huang (Drama and Dance), Yang He (Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning), and Joyce Chen and Kaiyan Jew (community researchers).

See also changes in how we talk about citiesagainst methodological individualism or why neighborhoods are not like broccoliwhy the Jews left Boston, why the Catholics stayed, and what that teaches us about organizing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

starting the 10th annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies

Today begins the 10th annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies at Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life. The draft syllabus–which will be slightly modified in reality–is here. We spend four hours each day discussing the readings and two hours with a daily visitor. Participants come this year from Chile, Ethiopia, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, the US and Ukraine (not counting US participants of immigrant origin). They include professors, organizers, graduate students, artists, and educators. Their disciplines range from design and English to economics and philosophy, to name just a few–everyone has a unique background. The sister institute in Eastern Europe begins in early July, and I’ll also be there to kick it off. The 20 people coming to Tufts today for the Institute join an alumni body of about 240 people, many of whom are making careers in academia or civil society in about 20 countries.

And here are some of the topics we’re interested in  …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

why didn’t the internet save democracy?

I don’t always like this format, but Dylan Matthews’ short interviews with Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger, and Alec Ross add up to a useful overview of the question that Matthews poses to all four: “The internet was supposed to save democracy. … What went wrong”?

The only interviewee who really objects to the framing is Ross, who asserts that his predictions were always value-neutral. He didn’t predict that the good guys would win, only that the weak would chasten the strong. So when Putin’s Russia took Obama’s America down a peg, that fulfilled his prophesy (Russian being weaker).

Some highlights, for me:

Clay Shirky:

I underestimated two things, and both of them make pessimism more warranted. The first is the near-total victory of the “social graph” as the ideal organizational form for social media, to the point that we now use “social media” to mean “media that links you to your friends’ friends,” rather than the broader 2000s use of “media that supports group interaction.”

The second thing I underestimated was the explosive improvement in the effectiveness of behavioral economics and its real-world consequences of making advertising work as advertised.

Taken together, these forces have marginalized the earlier model of the public sphere characterized by voluntary association (which is to say a public sphere that followed [Jürgen] Habermas’s conception), rather than as a more loosely knit fabric for viral ideas to flow through.

Shirky adds that he wrote (in 2008) much more about Meetup than Facebook, when both were still startups. Facebook rules the world and Meetup is marginal. Meetup would better embody a Habermasian theory of the public sphere. (See my post Habermas and critical theory: a primer but also saving Habermas from the deliberative democrats.)


I was rather a dogmatist about the value of openness. I still value openness. But as Twitter, Blogger, and Medium co-founder Ev Williams said at [South by Southwest] recently, he and we did not account for the extent of the bad behavior that would follow. These companies accounted and compensated for dark-hat SEO, spam, and other economically motivated behavior. They did not see the extent of the actions of political bad actors and trolls who would destroy for the sake of destruction.


It’s a tragedy that while the web connects pages via an open protocol, the connections among people are managed by closed, for-profit corporations. A lot of our political problems come from that: The interests of those corporations and of its users and citizens are not always aligned.

Weinberger wants to emphasize the positive, as well, and to remind us that “applications can be adjusted so that they serve us better.”

See also the online world looks dark (2107) and democracy in the digital age.

Posted in Internet and public issues | Leave a comment

social justice from the citizen’s perspective

I believe that each of us is responsible for forming a view–even if it’s tentative and evolving–of social justice. This is our theory of how rights, goods, and powers should be distributed in our society and who should be able to change that distribution in various ways. Any decent theory must address much more than equity, because liberty, community, harmony, diversity, sustainability, efficiency, and democracy are also values worthy of consideration.

Classical liberals offer reasons not to ask the question of social justice. I ultimately disagree but believe that their concerns should influence us. We should make sure to ask the question of social justice in the right way. It is interesting, too, that Gandhi anticipated several of the main concerns raised by such classical liberals as Friedrich von Hayek. (As is often the case, the libertarian right and the highly participatory left share some common concerns.)

Here are the objections:

  1. Adding the word “social” to a personal belief is pretentious and arrogant. To say that your view represents social justice–instead of talking about what you think is “‘moral’ or simply good”–means substituting your “individual judgment” for what the society has come to believe collectively. Talk of social justice is “ultimately the result of a contempt for what really is a social phenomenon and of a belief in the superior powers of individual human reason” (Hayek, The Constitution of Justice, p. 65).
  2. We don’t know enough to define social justice. We are too cognitively limited, too biased. We cannot see moral advances that may arise in the future. We should respect local norms and diverse cultural heritages. As Gandhi said in opposition to a specific plan for Indian independence, “the only universal definition to give [the word “independence” or swaraj] is ‘that status of India which her people desire at a given moment.’” They will desire something in 10 years that we cannot imagine now.
  3. By asserting a view of social justice, we implicitly adopt the perspective of the state and imply that the state is responsible for achieving justice. “Seeing like a state” may not be an inevitable result of discussing social justice, but authors as diverse as Martha Nussbaum, Philip Pettit, and John Rawls exemplify this move: they argue that if social justice demands something, then the state is responsible for it. That means that they talk like state-builders or advisers to states.
  4. People differ in interests and values. Consensus is neither likely nor desirable. No conception of social justice imposed by a state on a whole society is really compatible with our fundamental plurality. For example, since we disagree about the value of toleration, state-imposed toleration will not satisfy everyone (even if it’s better than state-imposed censorship and oppression).
  5. “The state” is an abstraction. Actual states (even dictatorships) are always complex amalgams of people, rules, and physical assets–such as guns and filing systems–with multiple power centers. And the people who work for or within a state also belong to other social institutions, including markets and families. So no state acts simply according to its official doctrines and policies.
  6. Even if we know what a state should do, it’s hard to see how we can make an actual state do it. To imagine an ideal state is like assuming a can opener on a desert island. The practical question of how to found, reform, or revolutionize the actual state is unavoidable.
  7. It’s not clear that what makes some states work better than others is the degree to which they embrace abstract theories of social justice. If you’re a libertarian or a social democrat, you have good reasons to consider Denmark one of the best societies in the world. It optimizes liberty and equality pretty well. That’s because its institutions are more capable and less corrupt than most other nations’. Much depends on basic efficiency and integrity.
  8. Steps toward social justice can be dead ends. Motion in another direction sometimes leads to greater social justice. For instance, if you lived in 19th century Scandinavia, you might have assumed that equity required curtailing the power of capital. Instead, a social system that made capital very comfortable seems to have created the comity that then allowed labor and capital to negotiate a more equitable distribution. The road that led to equity did not start off in that direction.

One conclusion–Hayek’s, for example–would be to discourage talk of “social justice.” You should say what you like, or what you believe is good, not what is “socially just,” because that is just a sign that you are seeing like a state.

I draw a different conclusion. We should not evade the question with which I began this post: What is social justice? It’s our obligation to reason about who deserves what across the whole society and even the globe. In all likelihood, reality will not meet our respective standards of social justice, and then we should try to change things.

But the point of the question is to guide our own behavior. We don’t (and shouldn’t) have the opportunity to pick a perfect social democracy, a pure free market, or a theocracy. Institutions are (and ought to be) plural, evolutionary, overlapping, impure, and internally inconsistent.  It’s a pitfall to imagine ourselves as the designers of brand-new societies or as voters able to choose among different systems. We are people embedded in complex systems who have limited reasoning capacity, limited empathy, limited imagination, limited resources, and limited leverage. In engaging the institutions we have, we should consider opportunities to advance social justice. When we talk about social justice, we are saying, in effect, “My fellow members of this specific community, this is how I think that the whole system should be organized, and that has the following implications for what we should do next.”

See also against state-centric political theoryGandhi on the primacy of means over endspolycentricity: the case for a (very) mixed economyThe truth in Hayekwe are for social justice, but what is it?

Posted in civic theory, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

the second annual Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award

(Washington, DC) I was in Albuquerque over the weekend for an Everyday Democracy board meeting and to see Generation Justice, a fantastic New Mexico youth media organization, receive the first Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award. Thanks to the award event, my understanding of Chicanismo and indigenous cultural politics got a little less superficial.

Nominations are now open for the second annual prize, which will honor “an individual and/or organization that demonstrates the values on which Everyday Democracy was founded – voice, connection, racial equity, and community change.” Nominees should show excellence in some of the following ways:

  • Creating welcoming opportunities for meaningful civic participation for all people  
  • Actively including people in civic life who have often been marginalized, and providing ways for them to develop their leadership capacities
  • Building the capacity of existing community leaders to include others in community life
  • Practicing the art of talking to each other and listening to each other
  • Taking action that is grounded in crossing divides, and aimed at meaningful transformation in people, institutions, community culture, and governance
  • Creating opportunities for empowered voice that is truly heard 
  • Addressing racial inequities through dialogue and collective action
  • Showing the power of bridging all kinds of divides
  • Making dialogue a regular part of how a community works and, ultimately, of how our democracy works

For more information, or to nominate someone, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

what it looks like to live

She’s all cheekbones, lashes, emotions
Conveyed in rapid succession, practiced.
Cut to his reaction, the impact on his famous
Face, bathed in a warm and flattering light.
Then they’re running athletically away,
Silhouettes diving before the fireball.
This is living. This is doing something.
It plays on long rows of screens suspended
Above the welded seats, the wall-to-wall,
The strewn paper bags and strewn human forms.
Slumped, plump, pursued by a slower fire,
None watch the screens deployed for our relief.
We find darkness in that old space behind our lids,
Or gaze out, or stare down at smaller screens
Where more looks and loves, kisses and missiles
Remind the living what it looks like to live.

(Dallas, June 4)

Posted in verse and worse | Leave a comment

podcast: “can young people revive civic engagement?”

(LaGuardia Airport) Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Jenna Spinelle from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State recently interviewed me for their podcast series, “Democracy Works.” We talked about young people, the 2018 election, and social movements. Here’s the audio. (I enter at about the 5th minute.)


Posted in 2018 election, audio and video | Leave a comment