Monthly Archives: April 2015

media literacy education article

This is just out today: Levine, P. (2014). Media Literacy for the 21st Century. A Response to “The Need for Media Education in Democratic Education.” Democracy and Education, 23 (1), Article 15. It’s an invited response to Jeremy Stoddard’s fine piece “The Need for Media Education in Democratic Education.” My response is not a critique but just a complementary perspective. The abstract:

We cannot pretend to educate young people for citizenship and political participation without teaching them to understand and use the new media, which are essential means of expressing ideas, forming public opinions, and building institutions and movements. But the challenge of media literacy education is serious. Students need advanced and constantly changing skills to be effective online. They must understand the relationship between the new media and social and political institutions, a topic that is little understood by even the most advanced social theorists. And they must develop motivations to use digital media for civic purposes, when no major institutions have incentives to motivate them. Until we address those challenges, students will struggle to make sense of the new media environment, let alone take constructive action.


CIRCLE’s release on today’s Civics results

23% of 8th-Graders “Proficient” in Civics According to Nation’s Report Card Released Today
Today’s Release Shows Inequality in Civics Education, Serious Gaps by Racial and Economic Backgrounds Reflecting Unequal Education

Medford/Somerville, MA – Today, the Federal Government released the Nation’s Report Card: 2014 U.S. in Civics. Experts on civic education from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) based at Tufts University’s Tisch College – the preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement – have been involved in both designing and analyzing the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Assessment and can provide informed commentary.

“The quality and equality of civic education is a reflection of our investment in a healthy democracy,” said Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE. “The National Assessment of Education Progress, or the Nation’s Report Card, as it’s also known, is a difficult and complex test that successfully measures some key areas of civic learning and how well civics is taught. However, as the new Nation’s Report Card: 2014 shows, we are far from achieving an acceptable quality or equality of civics education.”

The 2014 NAEP Civics, released today, finds that 23% of America’s 8th graders are “proficient.” Although higher scores would certainly be desirable, many adults might be surprised by how difficult the NAEP Civics questions are. For instance, in 2014, 8th graders were asked to identify a power of the modern President not described in the Constitution and to understand that growth in the elderly population would affect Social Security spending.

NAEP assessments in all other subjects yield roughly comparable proficiency levels to those found in civics. For instance, on the 2013 Mathematics NAEP, 27% of 8th graders scored proficient and 9% scored advanced.

More significant than the overall proficiency levels are gaps by student groups. For instance, only 9% of African American students reached at least the “proficient” level in the 2014 NAEP Civics, compared to 40% of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Students from urban areas, students whose parents didn’t attend college, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and students with disabilities all scored lower than average.

“The NAEP Civics measures education for citizenship, which is an essential purpose of schools,” said Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and a member of the NAEP Civics Committee. “In 2014, due to budget cuts, the NAEP Civics was fielded only at the 8th grade level. It is important for the NAEP Civics to be administered regularly and at the 4th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade levels so that we can assess our progress in educating America’s kids for citizenship.”

Previous research by CIRCLE has shown that what students know about civics is related to how much and how well they are taught civics. The gaps in NAEP scores reflect inequality in civic education.

Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg closely studied previous NAEP Civics results for a fact sheet entitled, “Do Discussion, Debate, and Simulations Boost NAEP Civics Performance?” In that work, Kawashima-Ginsberg explored the relationship between three promising teaching practices and NAEP scores for various demographic groups.

Dr. Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research at Tisch College, has written a fact sheet entitled, “What the NAEP Civics Assessment Measures and How Students Perform.” The fact sheet looks closely at what the NAEP Civics test measures, the skills and values that it doesn’t capture, and in general how to interpret the results. Levine was a member of the committee that helped design the 2014 civics test.


the struggle to control images from Baltimore

“10,000 Strong Peacefully Protest In Downtown Baltimore, Media Only Reports The Violence & Arrest of Dozens”

There is a struggle underway to influence how Baltimore is portrayed visually to America. My news feed is full of images like the one above–of peaceful protests or hardworking Baltimoreans cleaning up the streets. I doubt many of those photos are getting through to the mass TV audience that is watching hurled stones and burning police cars.

For my own part, I believe the property damage and physical conflicts with police were pretty much inevitable; but images of them don’t communicate two other crucial facts: that thousands have protested peacefully (which is difficult to organize and sustain, by the way), and that everyday life in cities like Baltimore is deeply oppressed.

The experience of the 1960s teaches us that it matters which images predominate.

In 1964, the summer’s urban riots/insurrections were seen to benefit Barry Goldwater’s campaign. Johnson’s aides called them “Goldwater rallies” because they played into the Republican presidential nominee’s narrative about America. LBJ nevertheless beat Goldwater soundly. But 1968 was different. As Clay Risen writes in the Guardian,

The [1968] riots thus provided an entrée for conservatives to finally, fully assert law and order as a national political issue. Something that had been brewing for decades at the local level, and which had played a role in the GOP victories of 1966, became after April 1968 the single most important domestic concern in the 1968 presidential race. Polls repeatedly put it at par with, and even above, the Vietnam war. Richard Nixon, who had largely avoided talking about riots and civil rights before April, now made law and order – and the revulsion of white suburbia against the violent images of rioters reacting to King’s death – a central theme in his campaign.

The riots also vaulted Nixon’s eventual running mate, the obscure Maryland governor Spiro Agnew, to national prominence. In the wake of the violence in Baltimore, Agnew had called local civil rights leaders to a meeting and then ambushed them with accusations that they had facilitated the racial militancy that he – and much of white America – believed to be the cause of the riots. Nixon aide Patrick Buchanan clipped a news story about the speech and handed it to his boss. And while Nixon toyed with other running mates, he ultimately chose Agnew based on his newfound fame as the standard-bearer of the “silent majority”.

To be clear: I don’t care whether Democratic or Republican politicians benefit or suffer from the images from Baltimore and other cities. But it is important which direction the nation takes. And (fairly or not) it’s people far from Baltimore, Ferguson, and Cleveland who will decide. That is why we should all be drawing attention to the alternative images from Baltimore.

learning exchanges at Frontiers of Democracy

There is still space for registrants at Frontiers of Democracy 2015, and we have just posted a preliminary list of the interactive concurrent sessions, or “learning exchanges.” More details here, but the headings are:

Additive/Replacement Engagement

Organized by Stephen Abbott, Great Schools Partnership, and the Glossary of Education Reform

Advancing Equity in Civic Deliberation

Organized by Chad Raphael, Santa Clara University

The Civic Media Project

Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis, Emerson College

Civic Potential of Modernity: Civic Studies as an Antidote to Civic Despair

Peter Levine, Tisch College, Tufts University
Joshua A. Miller, George Washington University
Karol Soltan, University of Maryland

Community—Police Relationships: The Critical Intersection of Race, Rights, and Respect

Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon, New Hampshire Listens and the University of New Hampshire
Carolyn Abdullah and Val Ramos, Everyday Democracy

Continuum of Civic Action

Jason Haas, MIT Media Lab/Education Arcade
Cindy S. Vincent, Salem State University
Christy Sanderfer, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
Sarah Shugars, Tisch College at Tufts University

Creative Democratic Work at the Intersection of Faith and Community

John Dedrick, Kettering Foundation
Elizabeth Gish, Western Kentucky University
Robert Turner, Mathews Center for Public Life

Democracy through Text Messaging

Timothy J. Shaffer, Kansas State University

How does conflict resolution theory and practice contribute to the field of public deliberation?

Tina Nabatchi, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Lisa-Marie Napoli, Indiana University, Political and Civic Engagement Program

Innovations in Civic Technology

Charlie Wisoff, Kettering Foundation
Nick Santillo, Conva

Is there a place for social justice in higher ed? Practitioners and academics share their experiences

Margaret Brower, Tisch College at Tufts University
Ande Diaz, Allegheny College
David Schoem, University of Michigan

Next Generation: Training Lawmakers for a Different Kind of Politics

Ted Celeste, NICD
Democratic and Republican legislators from Massachusetts

Schooling and Citizenship (P-20)

Lori D. Bougher
Phil Martin
Jim Scheibel
Rebecca Townsend

From Protest to Policy

Allison Fine

the Clinton Foundation and the new gift economy

The Atlantic’s David Graham describes the “forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer [that] has excited the political world with allegations of quid pro quos, in which foreign governments gave to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton, then serving as secretary of state, did them favors—essentially alleging bribery in foreign affairs.” (For additional coverage, see Jonathan Chait, “The Disastrous Clinton Post-Presidency” or Graham, “A Quick Guide to the Questions About Clinton Cash.”)

I don’t think the real issue here is potential bribery. According to the federal bribery statute, 18 U.S. Code § 201, “a public official” receives a bribe if she or he, “directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: (A) being influenced in the performance of any official act …”

So bribery would have been committed if the Clinton Foundation accepted money “in return for” some favorable treatment by Secretary Clinton. That is the kind of quid pro quo that the Justice Department alleges in the pending case of Senator Menendez. But it isn’t how things usually work in power politics, and it isn’t the heart of our systemic problems with money in politics.

A New York Times’  news story, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” suggests how things actually work. A financier gives the Clinton Foundation $31.5 million. At an event with Elton John and Shakira to celebrate the gift, Ms. Clinton lauds the donor’s “remarkable combination of caring and modesty, of vision and energy and iron determination,” … adding: “I love this guy, and you should, too.” The same financier later on receives US State Department approval for a joint venture with a Russian uranium firm that affects control over this military/strategic commodity.

In a contract-based economy, parties agree to some kind of exchange before the goods, services, or money change hands. That has the advantage of efficiency and reliability. But when it comes to money and politics, such an agreement has the disadvantage of being a felony that can lead to imprisonment of no more than 15 years. There is an alternative, however–the older culture known as a gift economy. In a gift economy, goods circulate because A gives presents to B in the hopes that B will later give favors to A, but A studiously avoids any contract or explicit expectation.

The traditional reason is honor: it’s dishonorable in many societies to expect a return. In the current political environment, honor has the additional buttress of 18 U.S. Code § 201.

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial, after raising “questions about the interplay of politics and wealthy foreign donors who support the Clinton Foundation,” hastens to acknowledge: “Nothing illegal has been alleged about the foundation, the global philanthropic initiative founded by former President Bill Clinton.” However, the editorial warns, “accusations … will fester if straightforward answers are not offered to the public. [Hillary Clinton] needs to do a lot more, because this problem is not going away.”

I’m actually not sure what Ms. Clinton could do or say that would reduce criticism of the nexus between huge contributions to the Clinton Foundation, favorable treatment of its donors by the US government, and personal benefits to the Clinton family. It’s a gift economy, and exhaustive investigation is unlikely to reveal a quid pro quo or lead to any legal action (or legal exoneration).

Donors to the Clinton Foundation don’t necessarily know what they want when they give; they may have a mix of motivations, including altruism. The Clintons don’t take specific actions for donors just because of the money. But they do accept their gifts at glitzy events with Shakira and express their love for the donors. As in Beowulf, “treasures will change hands and each side will treat /the other with gifts; across the gannet’s bath,/ over the broad sea, whorled prows will bring/ presents and tokens” (Heaney trans., lines 1859-63) The public can see what this amounts to, with or without additional disclosures. The question is whether voters should tolerate it.