Monthly Archives: December 2019

job openings in youth civic engagement

This is the latest in an occasional series …

CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & engagement here at Tisch College) is searching for a Project Manager. They are looking for someone with advanced project management skills (and ideally a project management certificate) and a commitment to equality, but no prior knowledge of civic engagement is required.

The nascent Center for Equity on Health, Wealth, and Civic Engagement at Tufts University (whose Principal Investigators are Jennifer Allen, Thomas Stopka and I), seeks a part-time Program Coordinator. Our long-term goal is to build a durable center for the study of equity that integrates research from across Tufts, attracts external funds for ambitious projects, generates groundbreaking research, affects the national and global understanding of equity, and offers educational opportunities for Tufts students and others. This work is distinctive in its interdisciplinary breadth, its focus on equity as an ideal rather than inequality as a narrowly defined problem, and its connection to policy, practice and public discussion. We seek a part-time Program Coordinator to oversee implementation of study plans and who will be a key liaison between faculty members, students, and community stakeholders. Under the supervision of the Principal Investigators, the Program Coordinator will coordinate all center activities. Contact me for more information.

Tisch College seeks a VISTA Campus Recruiter— a part-time position recruiting for national service opportunities in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The Recruiter will primarily focus on AmeriCorps VISTA. The Recruiter will create and enact a comprehensive work plan that presents VISTA service opportunities to students at Tufts University. To apply or for more information please contact Sherri Sklarwitz ( by December 20th. Please include the job title (VISTA Campus Recruiter) in the subject line.

Discovering Justice seeks a new Executive Director. Each year, Discovering Justice works with K-8 students and teachers in more than 19 districts across Massachusetts. Discovering Justice provides teachers with civics curriculum, training, and professional development, and also offers experiential field trips and after school programs all designed to provide young people with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to participate in democracy and extend civic learning into their own neighborhoods and communities.

The  American Academy of Arts & Sciences program on Society and the Public Good seeks a program officer.

political reform in Massachusetts

This is the video of me presenting our study entitled MassForward: Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts at the Boston Foundation in November, with discussion by Jay Kaufman, a former state representative and Founder and President of the Beacon Leadership Collaborative; Beth Lindstrom, former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Republican Party; Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, Interim Director of the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at UMass Boston; and Pavel Payano, an at-large city councilor in Lawrence.

The report was covered in MassLive WGBH , WBUR CommonWealth NEPR WPRI SouthCoast Today, and The Salem News (an editorial) 

education and political party support in the UK

A common pattern in the 21st century involves much of the working class shifting from a broad center-left political party toward the right.

One way to measure class is by educational attainment. In Germany, the Social Democrats have lost much of the working class to the right, and the highly educated professions have migrated to the Greens. In the US, where third parties have a much harder time, highly educated people are unlikely to exit the two big parties. Instead, they use their effective voices to dominate at least one party. Recently, the most educated groups have voted Democratic. At one point during the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton led college-educated whites by 5 points, but she trailed Trump among whites who don’t have college degrees by 39 points: 62% to 23%. Democrats would be in big trouble except that race is at least as important as class in the USA, and people of color of all educational backgrounds also tend to vote for Democrats.

What about the UK? Much has been written about the demographics of voters in the recent British elections, but I also like a time-series from the European Social Survey that asks which party people feel “closest” to. This question is asked regularly in even years. It gives you a trend that’s less tied to candidates and specific campaigns.

Above, I show support for Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats for six educational strata, from less than secondary education to doctoral degrees or the equivalent. The education question changed in 2010, so I have done my best to keep the categories consistent.

In 2002, Labour’s support correlated negatively with education; the Tories did better with people with more education. The Liberals were far behind but drew best from people with university degrees (teachers and other “knowledge workers,” I would guess).

Fr0m 2004-2008, that pattern continued, with the very important change that the Liberals battled Labour for the support of the most educated, who oscillated between those two parties.

In 2012, the classic pattern recurred, with Labour receiving smoothly declining support with educational levels. In 2014 and 2016, Labour did much better with the best educated. In 2018, the most educated voters essentially shifted to the Liberals.

Based on what we know from constituencies’ demographics, it seems that since 2018, many working class English voters switched from Labour to the Tories or stayed home.

Brexit: a personal reflection

(Fremont, CA) I’m saddened by Brexit for personal reasons that I’ll relate below. But first I should offer three caveats.

First, Brexit is not about me. It will affect the residents of the UK and EU; my feelings don’t really matter.

Second, the “remain” side is not self-evidently right, either ethically or practically. There are democratic arguments in favor of withdrawing from the EU. “Leavers” are not simply bigoted or victimized by propaganda. Both of the biggest parties have been divided by the issue. The EU has served some Britons better than others.

And third, the UK election is about much more than Brexit. Austerity is the main policy that has won.

Having said all that, I’ve had a deep, lifelong commitment to European integration–and to a Europe that has Britain in it. My family spent almost half of my first 15 years in London. My primary school, Prior Weston, was situated immediately next to a weedy lot that was still empty because of the bombs of 1940. That was a powerful reminder of the cost of European division.

Britain had entered the European Economic Community by then, and my Christian-Socialist-oriented state primary school embraced the ideal of the EEC. We studied the culture of each EEC member country in turn. I recall the teachers making some prejudiced remarks. Germans ostensibly had no sense of humor, for example. (This is false.) But the overall message was one of interconnection and shared fate.

London was a global city, anyway–a great entrepot. We knew many, many immigrants. The largest share had come from former colonies in the Global South, but many were Europeans. What made London great was its cosmopolitanism, and that has been true since the medieval days of Lombard bankers and Flemish weavers.

When I was a young teenager, now attending a much more conservative independent secondary school, most of my English friends would have denied that they were European. The continent was a foreign place to them, and basically inferior, in their eyes. My English friends would have identified more with the global Anglophone sphere created by British imperialism, and especially with the white-majority countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

But I wasn’t British, or European–I was an American in London. And from my perspective, the UK clearly belonged to Europe. Although the little islands had been spared from invasion since 1066 because of a narrow strait, they had participated in all the cultural, economic, diplomatic, technological, sociological and even biophysical developments of the continent as a whole. Even then, I thought it was basically ignorant to distinguish between Britain and Europe.

Years later, sitting by a summer ice cream stand outside of Oslo and watching school children on a field trip, I felt palpably how much the whole scene resembled my childhood in London: the ice cream novelties, the buildings and the park’s layout, the way the kids interacted. If you travel from London to, say, Tuscany, you have changed your milieu. But from London to Oslo or Rotterdam is no distance, culturally.

To build one Europe has always seemed to me a humane and creative project (even though we should acknowledge the barriers around the EU’s perimeter and the often technocratic tendencies in Brussels). Britain–and specifically, England–belongs in the project. It has been more open, more sophisticated, and more humane because it’s been part of “Europe.” And it has shared its own worthy ideals with its European partners.

After today, the EU will go on, but it will be somewhat worse without Britain in it. It’s also hard to imagine the United Kingdom staying united for long. I find this very sad.

what does the word civic mean?

I use the word “civic” every day. It is in the title of my college (The Tisch College of Civic Life) and the major that I direct (Civic Studies) and in the names of many topics and fields that I work on, from civic education to civic media.

But what does it mean? In my own mind, “civic” has certain associations and resonances, although I rarely articulate them. During a recent conversation with colleagues, I realized that most don’t hear the same meanings I do. I don’t blame them; there is no agreement about the definition, and the word has been used in many ways. I’ll turn to its history below.

Today, some people hear in the word “civic” a disciplinary intention, an effort to draw a boundary around respectable and approved behaviors (the “civic” ones). Sometimes it is almost synonymous with “civil.” In turn, “civility” sometimes means almost the same as “politeness.” People may use “civic” to identify approved behaviors, or else they may oppose the word as too restrictive and controlling.

Others want to make the word strictly empirical, rather than a value-laden adjective. Then “civic” may refer to a list of activities, from voting to marching in a protest–regardless of the participants’ values and goals. For example, a march would be civic whether the marchers were members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or Mussolini’s Brown Shirts. (But if we take this approach, why are certain activities on the list, and others not?)

I’d like to make space for a more inspiring use of the word that has deep historical roots. My dictionary-style definition would go something like this:

Civ’-ic. adj. 1. Of or pertaining to a group of relatively equal self-governing people. Hence, 2. virtues, values, or skills for self-government, e.g., civic courage, civic knowledge. 3. Assets belonging to or created by self-governing people, e.g., a civic forum. 4. Activities or other phenomena related to self-government, e.g., civic engagement, civic dialogue, civic education.

By a “self-governing people,” I mean to include all the citizens of any republican country, but not only such groups. A town or city within a larger country can have self-governing power. So can a voluntary association or even some kinds of firms; and they may be self-governing even if the states in which they operate are authoritarian. Thus, institutions of various types and scales can be civic.

The history of a word helps explain how it has accrued its diverse definitions and resonances.

The English word “civic” derives from Latin civicus, which primarily refers to relations among fellow members of the same city. In turn, the classical city (the polis or urbs) was self-governing: not usually egalitarian, but quasi-autonomous and governed by a deliberative assembly. So civicus always had echoes of a deliberative forum.

“Civic” enters the Romance languages to translate Latin texts. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the very first use in English (1542) refers specifically to the ancient Roman oak-leaf-and-acorn garland awarded to men who had saved fellow citizens in war.

A kind of garland was its only meaning in English until the time of the Commonwealth, when Parliament overthrew the monarch and declared a republic. During this period, the Company of Mercers of the free city of London put on a pageant entitled “Charity Triumphant,” parading a female allegorical figure through the streets of the city. Edmund Gayton (“considered a hack writer” and then imprisoned for debt), published a long descriptive and celebratory poem about this pageant, including the sentence, “I cannot here set forth the reason of the late extinguishing these Civick Lights, and suppressing the Genius of our Metropolis, which for these Planetary Pageants and Pretorian Pomps was as famous and renouned in forraign Nations, as for their faith, wealth, and valour.”

Gayton probably deserves his obscurity, but he does seem to coined the word “Civick” in one of its important senses: “of, belonging to, or relating to a citizen or citizens; of or relating to citizenship or to the rights, duties, etc., of the citizen; befitting a citizen” (OED).

In his time, the English were enthusiastic about self-governance and the ideal of a commonwealth, itself a translation for “republic,” meaning the good that a people makes and owns together. Of course, this was also the period of Puritan self-governance in New England and the invention of important activities that we now naturally call “civic”: town meetings, local elections, and civic education, which Massachusetts had required in 1642.

Just one year later, in 1656, Blount’s dictionary defines “Civick” as “pertaining to the city.” Since then, one of its meanings has always been akin to “urban,” as in “Civic Center” for the name of a city’s convention hall. But I think that “the city” had a different original meaning. Now we think of large, dense municipalities. Originally, an urbs or polis was any autonomous community. For instance, the whole Massachusetts Bay Colony was meant to be a City on the Hill.

By 1747, “civic” was used to modify “virtue.” By the end of that century, the word “civique” (with similar associations) had become influential in France. According to the Constitution of 1791: “The Civic Oath (le serment civique) is: ‘I swear to be faithful to the Nation to the law and to the king and to preserve with all my power the Royal Constitution, decreed by the National Constituent Assembly for the Years 1789, 1790 and 1791.‘”

Across the Channel, Edmund Burke denounced the French revolutionaries who would overthrow traditional values and institutions, including religion. He added:

These enthusiasts do not scruple to avow their opinion, that a state can subsist without any religion better than with one; and that they are able to supply the place of any good which may be in it, by a project of their own—namely, by a sort of education they have imagined, founded in a knowledge of the physical wants of men; progressively carried to an enlightened self-interest, which, when well understood, they tell us will identify with an interest more enlarged and public. The scheme of this education has been long known. Of late they distinguish it (as they have got an entire new nomenclature of technical terms) by the name of a Civic Education.

Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

According to the OED, this was first use of the word “civic education” in English. It referred to a radically republican, secular, and patriotic project to which the author, Burke, was hostile. To bring civic education to England would be “the most dangerous shock that the state ever received.”

Thus the first English use of the phrase “civic education” was a denunciation. Yet the ideals that animated the French Revolution–self-governance, commitment to the common good–have deep resonances in England and the USA.

By the way, the word “civics” is a noun, in my opinion: short for “civic education.” It is often used adjectively in the phrase “civics education,” but I think that’s a grammatical mistake. In any case, “civics” is strictly American, and its first attested use is in the Boston Daily Advertiser in 1885: “Henry Randall Waite, Ph.D., president of the American Institute of Civics, was the next speaker… The use of the word civics for political science was explained.”

In short, “civic” has many meanings, but some of the oldest and most recurrent ones refer to a republican ideal: concrete communities of people should decide and act together and develop the rules, values, resources, and habits necessary to succeed.