Monthly Archives: January 2003

about blogs

"Blog" is short for "Weblog"—and a Weblog is a very

frequently updated Webpage, often a kind of public diary. One person can be

solely responsible for a blog, or several people can collaborate to produce

it, or it can be open to anyone to post messages. For some time, I have overseen

an institutional Weblog for the National Association

for Civic Education (NACE).

The conventional format is to post the newest entry at the top. Often, it is

wise to scroll down some distance to find a starting-point, and then read up

the page in chronological order.

I am interested in the public possibilities of personal blogs.

Can you write about yourself, but in a way that is valuable to others? I’m more

interested in a public diary than in a conventional, private one, because I’ve

always found it artificial to address myself in writing. I realize that the

audience for this blog is likely to be very small, but the structure of the

Internet insures that it will have visitors (even if they come accidentally

and never return).

Because this is a public document and I represent various institutions, I cannot

make judgments (even positive ones) about individuals here. This makes the blog

somewhat impersonal, but I don’t think it reduces its public value. So far,

my policy is to avoid names unless a given person is a public figure, or if

he or she appears frequently (in which case I use a first name only, to help

readers keep track).

I would welcome other people’s contributions, although I don’t expect them.

To contribute, email me and state clearly

that you want your comments to be posted here. I will decide whether to include


— Peter Levine, January 20, 2003

war after 9/11

I have been a member of The Institute

for Philosophy & Public Policy for just over ten years. Although

I am now involved with several other institutions, this is the one I care

most about. We had a regular staff meeting this morning. The Institute

has just produced a book entitled War

After September 11. It’s a good small volume of essays, and it appeared

in bookstores just six months after we conceived the idea. Today we discussed

creating a whole series of such "fastbacks" on the philosophical

dimensions of current issues. The next volume, we agreed, will concern


I had a conversation and did some emailing today on the whole idea of

using mapping software to diagram the field of deliberative democracy

I now have a clearer idea how

this could be done, technically. I also agreed to go to Connecticut in

April for a conference on deliberation sponsored by the Democracy

Project of the Center for Values in Higher Education. And the proofs

of The Civic Mission of Schools arrived, looking fine.

in DC

My commute to the University of Maryland

takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes each way (I live in Washington

and take the Metro to work). Therefore, I like to cluster my downtown

meetings on the same days, rather than shuttle back and forth between

DC and Maryland. Today—the coldest day so far this winter—I

had a string of meetings neatly arrayed across downtown. The first was

a breakfast with my good friends from the Study

Circles Resource Center. They support thousands of local "study

circles" around the county—groups of citizens who meet face-to-face

to discuss issues. We ate in an Irish-themed hotel restaurant near Dupont

Circle and talked about ways to promote a national deliberation for young

people on the topic of young Americans’ role in public life. As a researcher,

I am interested in what would happen if several organizations that promote

deliberation in very different ways all conducted a deliberation on the

same topic at the same time. For example, there are online deliberation

sites like E-ThePeople; grassroots

networks of citizens involved in face-to-face discussion like the National

Issues Forums; groups that convene randomly selected bodies of citizens

for intensive, lengthy conversations; and groups that manage very large

summit meetings of citizens all convened together in a single place. I

am interested in the differences among these methodologies. However, as

a result of the discussion with Study Circles, I realized that the important

differences are not really in methods. There probably isn’t even a huge

difference between online and face-to-face conversations. The important

distinction is the way that these groups fit into a larger social context:

how they recruit people, who participates, and what outcomes potentially

result from the deliberation.

Next stop was a meeting with United

Leaders, a Massachusetts-based group that has a Washington outpost

in a major law firm. So I found myself sitting in the lobby of an elegant

office building, decorated with scupltures that looked like Henry Moore’s.

(They weren’t.) The flagship program of United Leaders is a summer internship

for young people, and they wanted me to help them get some support from

the University of Maryland. I’m going to do my best.

Then on to the Council for Excellence

in Government, a major nonprofit, where my colleague Deborah has an

office. I wanted to camp out there for a little while, get Internet access

so that I could catch up with the latest developments with The Civic Mission

of Schools, and talk to Deborah.

At 3, my colleages Margaret and Carrie and I met with Dorothy Gilliam,

a distinguished Washington Post reporter who now manages the Post‘s


in journalism education. Our goal was to acquaint Ms. Gilliam and

her colleagues with our work with high school students in Prince George’s

County—work that involves a lot of journalistic skills (from interviewing

citizens to interpreting news articles). We were not well prepared and

did not have a good answer when we were asked what we wanted from the

Post. I blurted out that we were simply hungry for guidance from

people who had more experience than we do in journalism education. I don’t

know how we came across, but I did enjoy the conversation about young

people of color and their relationship to news and newspapers.

Margaret and Carrie and I then had a quick coffee near my house to debrief,

and that ended my work day.

oral history of desegregation

I spent most of the morning advising a potential applicant for the Rhodes

Scholarship—something that I do on the side because I feel that Maryland

students need coaching. (We haven’t won since the mid-1970s.)

In the afternoon, our class at Northwestern

High School interviewed two people for our oral history project

on the desegregation of Prince George’s County schools. One interviewee

was the first African American student at the school. (He was still the

only one when he graduated three years later). He said: "Initially

I was actually hoping that it wouldn’t work. My parents had said that

if there was a lot of violence, we would back up. … Instead of violence,

there were three years of hostility." His main motivation was to

be "part of something bigger," the Civil Rights Movement. He

later became a successful chemical engineer. I found him enormously appealing—and

easily understood what he meant in his understated way, but the kids took

his reticence about his own emotions as evasiveness.

The second interviewee was a current member of the County Council, a

white man who was formerly a civil rights lawyer. He had sued to force

bussing in the county schools and then arranged the settlement that ended

bussing. He moved to the County in 1971, and his family was the only White

one in the local community. At a community meeting, "I said I was

a civil rights lawyer and I wanted to be active in the community."

A community leader said, "Man, you are a phenomenon. Most white people

are trying to move out of here." In the 1970s, roughly 100,000 African

Americans relocated to Prince George’s County (mostly from Washington),

and roughly 100,000 White people left—a pattern that continued for

the next 20 years. "Those folks who moved in the seventies were running

from black folks … In the eighties and nineties, it had more to do

with the aging of the population and the changing of circumstance."

People left for upper income housing and better schools.

"My dream in the early eighties was that this is the place where

we would make it work. This is the place where we would demonstrate to

America that it can work like it says in social studies books. Today I

would say that we are still working on that."

relationship mapping

In the midst of a hectic and bleary day, I participated in a conference

call for members of the steering

committee. I proposed an idea that seemed to get a lot of support. Sociologists

sometimes survey individuals or organizations, asking them with whom they

interact most. They create a database showing all the individuals and

their mutual relations. They then use

"relationship-mapping" software to spit out maps that cluster

all the most closely related individuals together and use lines to show

how they are linked. If we did this to all the groups involved in the

field of deliberative democracy, then we could see which ones work together,

which ones are completely separate, and which organizations serve as bridges

between clusters of groups. This is the kind of analysis that political

organizers have always used; software can help to do it more easily and