Monthly Archives: November 2017

spring courses on civic engagement

Tufts University offers many courses relevant to civic engagement. The Tisch College of Civic Life makes some of these courses possible each semester, thus contributing to the available opportunities for Tufts students. Here is the list of our supported courses for spring 2018. The topics also indicate some of our research interests. More details are here.

Public Amnesias and Their Discontents
Instructor: Diane O’Donoghue, Tisch College Senior Fellow for the Humanities

Organizing for Social Change
Instructor: Danny LeBlanc, CEO, Somerville Community Corporation
Co-Instructor: Kenneth Galdston, Director, InterValley Project

Massachusetts State Government – Learning While Doing
Instructor: Ben Downing, Former Massachusetts State Senator

New Media, New Politics
Instructor: Robin Liss, Lecturer

The People, Revolution, and Popular Constitution-Making
Instructor: Joshua Braver, Postdoctoral Fellow

Creating Children’s Media
Instructor: Julie Dobrow, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Media and Civic Engagement

Children and Mass Media
Instructor: Julie Dobrow, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Media and Civic Engagement

Social Entrepreneurship, Policy, and Systems Change
Instructor: Scott Warren, CEO, Generation Citizen

Innovative Social Enterprises
Instructor: Julianne Zimmerman, Lecturer, Gordon Institute

Special Topics: Science & the Human Experience
Instructor: Jonathan Garlick, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science

Dialogue, Identity & Civic Action
Instructor: Jonathan Garlick, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science

Community Development, Planning, and Politics
Instructor: Lorlene Hoyt, Associate Research Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

Technology, Media, and the City
Instructor: Aditi Mehta, PhD Candidate, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Mass Incarceration & The Literature of Confinement
Instructor: Hilary Binda, Senior Lecturer in Visual and Critical Studies and Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (an Inside-Out™ class composed of Tufts students and incarcerated students in equal numbers)

past scholarship on government shutdowns

The probability seems fairly high that the federal government will shut down in December or January when Congress fails to pass appropriations bills or a continuing resolution. Previous research suggests:

GDP growth might lose .1 percentage point per week, up to about .6 points in a quarter. Of course, that prediction is very uncertain and leaves aside the possibility of shocks. (Labonte, Marc. “The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects.” Library of Congress, CRS, 2013)

Certain communities that are dependent on relevant discretionary behavior (e.g., tourism in national parks) may see substantial economic losses. Gabe, Todd. “Effects of the October 2013 US Federal government shutdown on National Park gateway communities: the case of Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine.” Applied Economics Letters 23.5 (2016): 313-317.

In most state and federal shutdown examples, both parties lose popularity. However, popularity is usually more valuable to the incumbent party than to the minority party, and that gives the minority an incentive to force the shutdown. Also, in the 2013 shutdown, Republicans lost much more popularity than President Obama did, although he did see some decline. Gamage, David, and David Scott Louk. “Preventing Government Shutdowns: Designing Default Rules for Budgets.” 86 Colorado Law Review 181 (2015) (2015).

In general, a budget impasse is best modeled as a Chicken game (Gamage & Louk). In “Chicken,” the best strategy is to pre-commit: to take a position that you can’t back off of. The Democratic leaders may have been signalling a pre-commitment when they canceled yesterday’s meeting with Donald Trump. From a PR perspective, I’m skeptical that canceling was a smart statement, but as a move in a Chicken game, it may have been very smart.

During the 1996 shutdown, reporters chose among the following “frames” for describing the unfolding events: “talk,” “fight,” “impasse” and “crisis.” They also increased the amount of attention that they devoted to the budget negotiations. The amount of coverage plus the predominant frame affected public opinion. Jasperson, A. E., Shah, D. V., Watts, M., Faber, R. J., & Fan, D. P. (1998). Framing and the public agenda: Media effects on the importance of the federal budget deficit. Political Communication, 15(2), 205-224.

State budget shutdowns were traditionally rare but have become quite frequent. Rubin, Irene S. The politics of public budgeting: Getting and spending, borrowing and balancing. CQ Press, 2016. I suppose this context may affect the public’s response to a federal shutdown.

Observers tend to interpret a government shutdown in identity terms: as our side versus their side. Observers’ tolerance for compromise depends on whether they perceive the other side as respecting their identity. Thus allowing the other side to “save face” can promote compromise. Bendersky, Corinne. “Resolving ideological conflicts by affirming opponents’ status: The Tea Party, Obamacare and the 2013 government shutdown.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 53 (2014): 163-168. Implication: the Democrats should hold fast to important policy goals but look to give symbolic victories to GOP base voters if they want to win on the policy. On the other hand, if their goal is for Republicans to lose face, they may need to sacrifice on policy to extract more symbolic concessions. This is not as simple a choice as it may seem, because costing Trump a lot of face could help the Democrats win the Congress in 2018, giving them more policy leverage.

effects of school climate on civic engagement

Sarah K. Bruch (Iowa) and Joe Soss (Minnesota) are conducting important research on the relationships between school climate and young people’s civic engagement. They have more research in the pipeline, but their working paper entitled “Learning where we stand: How school experiences matter for civic marginalization and political inequality” is already available.

Bruch and Soss challenge the idea that schools prepare students for democracy by transmitting a set of skills and knowledge that make people better citizens. If that were the whole picture, then more–and more equal–civic education would yield a better and more equal democracy. But Bruch and Soss note that schools are also institutions and communities that can encourage–or discourage–participation by demonstrating how the larger society works. Bruch and Soss did not invent this framework–it has a scholarly heritage, which they summarize, and it is being forcefully advocated by young people today–but they contribute important empirical findings.

Bruch and Soss use nationally representative surveys of students and administrators to measure the strictness of the school’s disciplinary policies, the perceived negativity of the school’s culture, individual students’ reported personal experiences with punishments, perceptions of unfair treatment by the school, rates of membership in school groups, and reports of feeling included or marginal in the school community. Some of these factors are about perceptions of the whole school, and others about perceived personal experiences. Some are about treatment by adults, while others involve treatment by fellow students. Some come from student data; others, from administrators.

To a large extent, these factors are related to race, class, and gender. To illustrate with a strong example, African American boys whose parents have little education are more than ten times more likely to be punished by a school than White girls with well-educated parents.

In a multivariate model that includes many other factors, most of these school climate variables are related to civic engagement, with harsher and less inclusive climates depressing graduates’ community engagement, voter turnout, and trust in government. But there are important differences among these relationships.

Perceptions of unfair treatment are related directly to lower civic and political engagement and trust in government. Not being involved in school activities is a strong predictor of being disengaged from community after graduation, but half of that relationship is indirect: students who miss out on school activities go on to have adult experiences with criminal justice, welfare, etc., that are related to disengagement from civic life.

Authoritative disciplinary climates are related directly to more civic engagement, more voting, and higher trust in government, but such climates also predict adult roles that tend to depress these outcomes. The net impact is insignificant for voting and civic engagement and comes out as positive for trust in government. This finding begins to suggest that the problem is not school discipline per se: in fact, a well-ordered school may be a good place to learn to be a citizen. The main problem is unfairness. In political philosophers’ terms, a school can restrict freedom (defined as individual choice) by establishing and enforcing rules, but it should avoid “domination” in the sense of arbitrary power.

See also: school discipline in a democracyavoiding arbitrary command.

timely quotes from Bayard Rustin (1965)

Two years after organizing the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin made the following arguments in “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement” (Commentary, 2/39, Feb. 1965). By calling these points “timely,” I don’t mean that they are necessarily correct; I mean that they are usefully provocative in our moment.

1. Racial justice is impossible without a new economy, because the current economy is too unequal and too limited to accommodate many newly enfranchised people. For example, there are too few decent jobs, and the people who have them will hold onto them unless the supply is expanded.

My quarrel with … moderates is that they do not even envision radical changes; their admonitions of moderation are, for all practical purposes, admonitions to the Negro to adjust to the status quo, and are therefore immoral.

2. The goal is not to confront racist attitudes (which would assume that, deep down, racists and hypocrites can have benign motives). The goal is to change institutions; attitudinal change will follow from that.

[Meanwhile, a second group] pursues what I call a ‘no-win’ policy. Sharing with many moderates a recognition of the magnitude of the obstacles to freedom, spokesmen for this tendency survey the American scene and find no forces prepared to move toward radical solutions. From this they conclude that the only viable strategy is shock; above all, the hypocrisy of white liberals must be exposed. These spokesmen are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists. They seek to change white hearts–by traumatizing them. Frequently abetted by white self-flaggelants, they may gleefully applaud (though not really agreeing with) Malcolm X because, while they admit he has no program, they think he can frighten white people into doing the right thing. To believe this, of course, you must be convinced, even unconsciously, that at the core of the white man’s heart lies a buried affection for Negroes–a proposition one may be permitted to doubt. But in any case, hearts are not relevant to the issue; neither racial affinities nor racial hostilities are rooted there. It is institutions–social, political, and economic institutions–which are the ultimate molders of collective sentiments. Let those institutions be reconstructed today, and let the ineluctable gradualism of history govern the formation of a new psychology.

3. Radical change does not require violence.

[The] term revolutionary, as I have been using it, does not connote violence; it refers to the qualitative transformation of fundamental institutions, more or less rapidly, to the point where the social and political structure which they comprised can no longer be said to be the same.

4. But to change institutions does require power.

There is a strong moralistic strain in the civil rights movement which would remind us that power corrupts, forgetting that the absence of power also corrupts.

5. In a democracy, power requires numbers–indeed, a majority of the whole electorate.

A handful of Negroes, acting alone, could integrate a lunch counter by strategically locating their bodies so as directly to interrupt the operation of a proprietor’s will; their numbers were relatively unimportant. … But in arriving at a political decision, numbers and organizations are crucial, especially for the economically disenfranchised.

6. Coalition politics is inevitable, and it implies the right kind of compromise.

[The] effectiveness of a swing vote depends solely on ‘other’ votes. It derives its power from them. … Thus coalitions are inescapable, no matter how tentative they may be. … The issue is which coalition to join and how to make it responsive to your program. Necessarily there will be compromise. But the difference between expediency and morality in politics is the difference between selling out a principle and making smaller concessions to win larger ones. The leader who shrinks from this task reveals not his purity but his lack of political sense.

7. The coalition must include everyone with reasonably aligned interests so that they can marginalize their real opponents, the Donald Trumps of the day.

It has become fashionable in some no-win Negro circles to decry the white liberal as the main enemy (his hypocrisy is what sustains racism). [Thus] the Negro is left in majestic isolation, except for a tiny band of fervent white initiates. But the objective fact is that [Dixecrat Mississippi Senator James] Eastland and [GOP Presidential nominee Barry] Goldwater are the main enemies–they and opponents of civil rights, of the war on poverty, of medicare, of social security, of federal aid to education, of unions, and so forth.

people trust authoritarian governments most

(Philadelphia) This Edelman international poll shows that trust in government is low in most countries and declining almost everywhere. But five important countries stand out as exceptions. People trust the world’s largest single-party state, an absolute monarchy, a country in which one party has governed since 1959, a democracy with a very strong elected leader whom critics call authoritarian–and Indonesia, where a government chosen recently in a competitive election actually seems to be trusted.

I arrived at this graph from a piece by Ethan Zuckerman, who notes, “Depressingly, there is a discernible, if weak, correlation (R2=0.162) between more open societies and low scores on Edelman’s trust metric.”

I don’t think we have long-term historical data on this question, but the pattern that Ethan notes is what I would imagine for the 1930s, when the European democracies were fraying and authoritarianism was on the rise. I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

Note also that the US actually scores above the OECD democracies on trust in government, surpassing states that (in my opinion) are governed in a more trustworthy fashion. This chart indicates that we can’t explain distrust in the USA by focusing on specifically American traits, events, or leaders: the pattern is global.