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What Kind of Citizen?

Political Choices and 1

Educational Goals, by Joel Westheimer &

Joseph Kahne
C A M P U S C O M P A C T How People Learn to Be Civic, 14
by Michael Schudson
A Message from Michael S. McPherson, 22
President of Macalester College
United We Serve: The Debate Over National Ser- 23
SERVICE-LEARNING AND CIVIC E D U C AT I O N vice, by E.J. Dionne Jr. & Kayla Meltzer Drogosz
The Vanity of Volunteerism, by Sara Mosle 27
The Good Citizen: A History of American 38
Civic Life, a review by David Greenberg


Political Choices and Educational Goals

by Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa, and Joseph Kahne, Mills College

, , Each of these quotations takes seriously the idea

of Education under Ronald Reagan, wrote the fol- that schools are essential for democracy. Yet Ben-
lowing: nett, Freire, Shanker, and Bush each provide their
own sense of what democracy requires and how
A democracy depends on schools that help schools can help us to strengthen their respec-
to foster a kind of character which respects
tiveand often competingvisions of a demo-
the law and respects the value of the indi-
vidual. (1985) cratic society. When educators, policymakers,
politicians, and community activists pursue
That same year, in his book Pedagogy of Hope, democracy, they do so in many different ways and
Paulo Freire wrote that, toward many different ends.

Democracy requires oppressed groups to For many educators, making the case for democ-
develop political determination, that is, to racy and the important role for schools in pursu-
organize and mobilize in order to achieve
their own objectives. Education can make ing it is not difficult. Political scientists and civic
possible such a democracy. (Paulo Freire, educators are both familiar with statistics showing
1985) that voting rates have dropped precipitously and
that the biggest declines are among young people.
The next year, Albert Shanker had this to say in a
Many know that political participation such as
speech called Education and Democratic Citizen-
working for a political party is at a 40-year low
(Saguaro Seminar, 2000). And targeting what peo-
How can we fail to build a world in which ple dont know about civics remains a favorite pas-
WINTER 2003 the rights due to every human being from time of not only David Letterman but also educa-
birth are respected? In order to build this tors and politicians: one study, by the National
worldwe must [have schools] teach Constitution Center, found that only 38% of
democracy. (1986) respondents could name all three branches of gov-
Finally, some of you may know that President ernment while a separate poll conducted two years
George W. Bush has recently established a National earlier found that 59% of all Americans could
Veterans Awareness week and launched a new name the three stooges (Dudley & Gitelson, 2002).
school program he noted would rekindle our dem- Recent debates about domestic security, individual
ocratic spirit. He called the program Lessons of liberties, and foreign policy have further spurred
Liberty in which: educators to reexamine the role of schools in edu-
cating students to be thoughtful and engaged citi-
Published by the National
Veterans will visit elementary and high zens. Everyone now seems to believe that citizen-
Campus Compact with school classrooms to teach the ideals of ship is important.
support from The Pew democracy and freedom that American
C h a r i t a b l e Tr u s t s . servicemen have defended for over two
centuries. (President George W. Bush) continued on page 2
As long as we remain at the level of rhetoric we can get most educators to agree that
teaching how to be a good citizen is important. But when we get specific about what
democracy requires and about what kind of school curricula will best promote it, much
of that consensus falls away.

What Kind of Citizen? We spent two years studying ten programs that
continued from page 1 shared a basic set of priorities: they all hoped to
teach good citizenship (through the civics curricu-
In fact, as long as we remain at the level of rhetoric
lum, service learning, and other means) by engag-
we can get most educators to agree that teaching
ing students in analysis and action on community
how to be a good citizen is important. But when
issues. But the different curricula we examined
we get specific about what democracy requires and
affected students in a variety of ways, not all of
about what kind of school curricula will best pro-
which were shared across programs. Moreover, the
mote it, much of that consensus falls away. For
meanings leaders of these programs brought to
some, a commitment to democracy is a promise to
notions of citizenship and to the term democratic
protect liberal notions of freedom, while for others
values varied significantly.
democracy is primarily about equality or equality
of opportunity. For some, civil society is the key, In what follows, we detail three conceptions of citi-
while for others, free markets are the great hope for zenship that emerged from our analysis of both
a democratic society. For some, good citizens in a democratic theory and program goals and prac-
democracy volunteer, while for others they take tices. We also use brief examples from two of the
active parts in political processes by voting, ten programs we studied to illustrate the need for
protesting, and working on political campaigns. more discriminating analyses of programs that
seek to nurture good citizens. We make the case
It is not surprising, then, that the growing number
that educators need to take into account the varied
of educational programs that seek to further
notions of citizenship reflected in programs and
democracy by nurturing good citizens embody a
that decisions we make in designing as well as
similarly broad variety of goals and practices. We
researching these programs are, in fact, political.
titled this talk What Kind of Citizen? to call
attention to the spectrum of ideas about what
good citizenship is and what good citizens do that What Kind of Citizen?
are embodied by democratic education programs Philosophers, historians and political scientists
nationwide. We added the subtitle The Politics of have long debated which conceptions of citizen-
Education for Democracy to reflect our belief that ship would best advance democracy (see, for exam-
the narrow and often ideologically conservative ple, Kaestle, 2000; Smith, 1997; Schudson, 1998).
conception of citizenship embedded in many cur- Indeed, as Connolly (1983) has argued, concep-
rent efforts at teaching for democracy doesnt tions of democracy and citizenship have been and
reflect arbitrary choices or pedagogical limitations will likely always be debatedno single formula-
but rather political choices with political conse- tion will triumph. Even though the work of John
continued on page 3

Editorial Correspondence: Address all correspondence to Josh Campus Compact has received financial support from: The
Stearns, Project Assistant, Integrating Service with Academic Study, Atlantic Philanthropies; The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Carnegie
Campus Compact, Box 1975, Providence, RI 02912, email Corporation of New York; Corporation for National and Commu-
jstearns@compact.org. Compact Reader is a publication of Campus nity Service; Department of Housing and Urban Development;
Compact, a separately incorporated subsidiary under the umbrella Eugene Lang; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Ford Founda-
of Brown University. Compact Reader is distributed three times a tion; General Electric Fund; John Templeton Foundation; KPMG
year. Suggestions for articles for future issues and inquiries regard- Foundation; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Sallie Mae Fund; Spencer
ing submissions are welcome. Foundation; Surdna Foundation, Inc.; TIAA-CREF; W.K. Kellogg
Foundation, and WorldCom.

What Kind of Citizen? should promote what Jesse Goodman Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than
continued from page 2 (1992) calls critical democracy, Ira 850 college and university presidents committed to the
civic purposes of higher education. To support this civic
Dewey has perhaps done the most to Shor (1992) calls empowering educa-
mission, Campus Compact promotes community
shape dialogues around education and tion, and Paulo Friere (1970) calls a
service that develops students citizenship skills and
democracy, scholars and practitioners Pedagogy of the Oppressed.1 values, encourages collaborative partnerships between
have interpreted his ideas in multiple campuses and communities, and assists faculty who
In striking contrast to these perspec- seek to integrate public and community engagement
ways, so no single conception
tives is the relatively conservative into their teaching and research.
emerges. In large part, this diversity of
vision of citizenship education put
perspectives occurs because the stakes
forward by those who emphasize the Board of Directors
are so high. Conceptions of good citi-
connection between citizenship and
zenship imply conceptions of the
character (Bennett, 1995; 1998; Ben- CHAIR
good society (Parker, 1996).
nett, Cribb, & Finn, 1999). Rather J. Bernard Machen University of Utah
The diverse perspectives on citizen- than viewing the problems in need of
ship and the significant implications attention as structural, they emphasize
problems in society caused by per- Mark Gearan Hobart and William Smith
of these differences are also quite clear Colleges
when one examines dialogues that sonal deficits. This view harkens back
Lucille Jordan New Hampshire Community
surround educational efforts to pro- to what Shudson (1998) descibes as a Technical College
mote democratic aims. This vital vision of colonial citizenship built
intellectual discourse does not provide on social hierarchy and the traditions
anything close to consensus. For of public service, personal integrity, Anne Cairns Federlein Central Ohio Technical
example, Walter Parker (1996) [and] charitable giving (294).
Joanne Creighton Mount Holyoke College
describes three very different concep-
Theresa Cusimano Colorado Campus Compact
tions of citizen education for a demo- Three Kinds of Citizens
cratic society: traditional, progres- Deborah DiCroce Tidewater Community College
Our framework aims to order some of
sive, and advanced. He explains that these perspectives by grouping three Evan S. Dobelle University of Hawaii
traditionalists emphasize an under- differing kinds of answers to a ques- Jennifer Dorr Washington Campus
standing of how government works Compact
tion that is of central importance for
(how a bill becomes a law, for exam- both practitioners and scholars: What Donald Harward Bates College, Emeritus
ple) and traditional subject area con- kind of citizen do we need to support Martin Jischke Purdue University
tent as well as commitments to core an effective democratic society? In map- Marianne Keler Sallie Mae
democratic valuessuch as freedom ping the terrain that surrounds Leo Lambert Elon University
of speech or liberty in general (see, for answers to this question, we found
Paul Locatelli, S.J. Santa Clara University
example, Butts, 1988). Progressives that three visions of citizenship were
share a similar commitment to this Audrey Forbes Spelman College, Emeritus
particularly helpful in making sense of Manley, M.D.
knowledge, but they embrace visions the variation: the personally responsible
Bernard Milano KPMG Foundation
like strong democracy (Barber, citizen; the participatory citizen; and
1984) and place a greater emphasis on Toni Murdock Antioch University Seattle
the justice-oriented citizen.
civic participation in its numerous Diana Natalicio University of Texas at El Paso

forms (see, for example, Newmann, These three categories were chosen Frank Newman Brown University
1975; Hannah, 1936;). Finally, because they satisfied our two main Eduardo Padrn Miami-Dade
advanced citizenship, according to criteria: 1) they aligned well with Community College

Parker, builds on the progressive per- prominent theoretical perspectives Judith Rodin University of Pennsylvania
spective but adds careful attention to described above, and 2) they articulate Michael J. Regis University
inherent tensions between pluralism ideas and ideals that resonate with Sheeran, S..J.

and assimilation or to what Charles practitioners (teachers, administra-

Taylor labels the politics of recogni- tors, and curriculum designers). To
tion (1994, cited in Parker). that end, we consulted with both the
ten teams of educators whose work we Elizabeth Hollander Executive Director
Others place a greater emphasis on the studied and with other leaders in the Brooke Beaird Associate Director
need for social critique and structural field in an effort to create categories
change. They argue that educators continued on page 4

What Kind of Citizen? honesty, integrity, self-discipline, and hard
continued from page 3 work (Horace Mann, 1838; and currently
proponents such as Lickona, 1993; Wynne,
and descriptions that aligned well with and 1986). The Character Counts! Coalition, for
communicated clearly their differing priori- example, advocates teaching students to
ties.2 treat others with respectdeal peacefully
with angerbe considerate of the feelings
A caveat: although these three categories of othersfollow the Golden Ruleuse
were chosen to highlight important differ- good manners and so on. They want stu-
ences in the ways educators conceive of dents not to threaten, hit, or hurt anyone
democratic educational aims, we do not [or use] bad language (Character Counts!,
mean to imply that a given program might 1996). Other programs that seek to develop
not simultaneously further more than one personally responsible citizens hope to nur-
of these agendas. These categories were not ture compassion by engaging students in
designed to be mutually exclusive. At the volunteer activities. As illustrated in the mis-
same time, we believe that drawing attention sion of the Points of Light Foundation, these
to the distinctions between these visions of programs hope to help solve serious social
citizenship is important. It highlights the problems by engag[ing] more people more
importance of examining the underlying effectively in volunteer service
goals and assumptions that drive different (www.pointsoflight.org, April 2000).
educational programs in design and
practice. The Participatory Citizen
Other educators see good citizens as those
The Personally Responsible Citizen who actively participate in the civic affairs
The personally responsible citizen acts respon- and the social life of the community at the
sibly in his or her community by, for exam- local, state, and national level. We call this
ple, picking up litter, giving blood, recycling, kind of citizen the participatory citizen. Pro-
volunteering, and staying out of debt. The ponents of this vision emphasize preparing
personally responsible citizen works and students to engage in collective, commu-
pays taxes, obeys laws, and helps those in nity-based efforts. Educational programs
need during crises such as snowstorms or designed to support the development of
floods. The personally responsible citizen participatory citizens focus on teaching stu-
contributes to food or clothing drives when dents about how government and other
asked and volunteers to help those less for- institutions (e.g., community based organi-
tunate, for instance in a soup kitchen or a zations, churches) work and about the
senior center. S/he might contribute time, importance of planning and participating in
money, or both to charitable causes. organized efforts to care for those in need or
to guide school policies, for example. Skills
Both those in the character education move- associated with such collective
ment and many of those who advocate com- endeavorssuch as how to run a
munity service would emphasize this indi- meetingare also viewed as important
vidualistic vision of good citizenship. (Newmann, 1975; also see Verba, at al., 1995
Programs that seek to develop personally for an empirical analysis of the importance
responsible citizens hope to build character of such skills and activities). While the per-
and personal responsibility by emphasizing sonally responsible citizen would contribute
cans of food for the homeless, the participa-
Programs that seek to develop personally responsible tory citizen might organize the food drive.

citizens hope to build character and personal In the tradition of De Tocqueville, propo-
nents of participatory citizenship argue that
responsibility by emphasizing honesty, integrity, civic participation transcends particular

self-discipline, and hard work. continued on page 5

What Kind of Citizen? issues and injustices. These programs are less likely to
continued from page 4 emphasize the need for charity and volunteerism as
ends in themselves and more likely to teach about
community problems or opportunities. It also devel- social movements and how to effect systemic change
ops relationships, common understandings, trust, and (See, for example, Issac, 1995; Bigelow and Diamond,
collective commitments. This perspective, like Ben- 1988). While those who support the development of
jamin Barbers notion of strong democracy, adopts a participatory citizens might emphasize developing stu-
broad notion of the political sphereone in which cit- dents skills and commitments so that they could and
izens with competing but overlapping interests can would choose to organize the collection of clothing for
contrive to live together communally (1984, 118). members of the community who cant afford it, those
who seek to support the development of justice-ori-
Similar themes have been emphasized throughout this ented citizens would empha-
nations history. Dewey (1916) put forward a vision of size helping students challenge Those who seek to support the
Democracy As a Way of Life and emphasized partici- structural causes of poverty
pation in collective endeavors. To support the efficacy and devise possible responses. development of justice-
of these collective efforts, he also emphasized commit- In other words, if participa-
ments to communication, experimentation, and scien-
oriented citizens would
tory citizens are organizing
tifically informed dialogues. Such commitments were the food drive and personally emphasize helping students
also prevalent in the educational writings of the responsible citizens are donat-
nations founders. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin ing food, justice-oriented citi- challenge structural causes
Franklin, and others viewed informed participation in zens are asking why people are
civic life as a fundamental support for a democratic of poverty and devise
hungry and acting on what
society and saw education as a chief means for further- they discover. That todays cit- possible responses.
ing this goal (Pangle & Pangle, 1993). izens are bowling alone
(Putnam, 2000) would worry
The Justice-Oriented Citizen those focused on civic participation. Those who
Our third image of a good citizen is, perhaps, the per- emphasize social justice, however, would worry more
spective that is least commonly pursued. We refer to that when citizens do get together, they often fail to
this view as the justice-oriented citizen because advo- focus on or to critically analyze the social, economic,
cates of these priorities use rhetoric and analysis that and political structures that generate problems.
calls explicit attention to matters of injustice and to
The strongest proponents of this perspective were
the importance of pursuing social justice. Although
likely the Social Reconstructionists who gained their
educators aiming to promote justice-oriented citizens
greatest hearing between the two world wars. Educa-
may well employ a curriculum that makes political
tors like Harold Rugg (1921) argued that the teaching
issues more explicit than those who emphasize per-
of history in particular and the school curriculum
sonal responsibility or participatory citizenship, the
more generally should be developed in ways that con-
focus on social change and social justice does not
nect with important and enduring social problems.
imply an emphasis on particular political perspectives,
George Counts (1932) asked, Dare the School Build a
conclusions, or priorities. Rather, justice-oriented citi-
New Social Order? He wanted educators to critically
zens critically assess social, political, and economic
assess varied social and economic institutions while
structures and consider collective strategies for change
also engag[ing] in the positive task of creating a new
that challenge injustice and, when possible, address
tradition in American life (262). These educators
root causes of problems. The vision of the justice-ori-
emphasized that truly effective citizens needed oppor-
ented citizen shares with the vision of the participa-
tunities to analyze and understand the interplay of
tory citizen an emphasis on collective work related to
social, economic, and political forces and to take part
the life and issues of the community. Its emphasis on
in projects through which they might develop skills
responding to social problems and on structural cri-
and commitments for working collectively to improve
tique makes it somewhat different, however. Building
on perspectives like those of Freire, Shor, and Good-
man noted earlier, educational programs that empha-
continued on page 6
size social change seek to prepare students to improve
society by critically analyzing and addressing social

What Kind of Citizen? attention from analysis of the In a very real sense,
continued from page 5 causes of social problems; and
third, volunteerism and kindness youth seem to be
Conflicting Priorities are put forward as ways of avoid-
ing politics and policy.
learning that
Is it possible to pursue all three of
these visions? Perhaps. Might there
As a way of illustrating what we see
citizenship does not
be conflicts? Yes. Certainly partici-
as the limitations of personally require government,
patory citizens or those committed
responsible citizenship, recall the
to justice can simultaneously be
central tenets of the Character politics, or even
dependable or honestat least we
Counts! Coalition. Certainly hon-
hope sotherefore, some priori-
esty, integrity, and responsibility
collective endeavors.
ties among these groups and those
for ones actions are valuable char-
focusing on personal responsibility
acter traits for good neighbors and responsible citizenship, a study
will not conflict. However, some
citizens. But on their own, these commissioned by the National
conflicts may arise, and these con-
traits are not inherently about Association of Secretaries of State
flicts are likely to be significant
democracy. To the extent that these (1999) found that fewer than 32
ones. The emphasis placed on indi-
traits detract from other important percent of eligible voters between
vidual character and behavior can
democratic priorities, they hinder the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the
obscure the need for collective and
rather than make possible demo- 1996 presidential election (in 1972,
often public-sector initiatives.
cratic participation and change. the comparable number was 50
A vast majority of school-based For example, a focus on loyalty or percent), but that a whopping 94
programs embrace a vision of citi- obedience (common components percent of those aged 1524
zenship devoid of politics; they of character education as well) believed that the most important
often promote service but not work against the kind of critical thing I can do as a citizen is to help
democracy. They share an orienta- reflection and action many assume others (also see Sax, et al., 1999).
tion toward volunteerism and are essential in a democratic soci- In a very real sense, youth seem to
charity and away from teaching ety. Personal responsibility must be be learning that citizenship does
about social movements, social considered in a broader social con- not require government, politics,
transformation, and systemic text or it risks advancing mere or even collective endeavors.
change. These programs value civility or docility instead of
individual acts of compassion and democracy. Indeed, government In contrast to advocates of person-
kindness over social action and the leaders in a totalitarian regime ally responsible citizenship, some
pursuit of social justice. would be as delighted as leaders in political theorists, sociologists, his-
a democracy if their young citizens torians, and educators have cham-
We find personal responsibility an learned the lessons put forward by pioned the importance of civic
inadequate response to the chal- many of the proponents of person- participation. In Making Democ-
lenges of educating a democratic ally responsible citizenship: dont racy Work (1993), for example,
citizenry. do drugs; show up to school; show Robert Putnam argues that partici-
up to work; give blood; help others pation in civic life and the devel-
First, the emphasis placed on indi- during a flood; recycle; pick up lit- opment of social capital are
vidual character and behavior ter; clean up a park; treat old peo- essential. Harry Boyte and Nan
obscures the need for collective ple with respect. Chinese leader Kari make similar arguments in
and often public-sector initiatives; Jiang Zemin along with George W. their case for the democratic
second, this emphasis distracts Bush (and Al Gore, for that mat- promise of public work (1996).
ter) would argue that these are They join a growing number of
Personal responsibility must be desirable traits for people living in educators who want to teach the
a community. But they are not knowledge and skills necessary for
considered in a broader social context about democratic citizenship. civic engagement in community
affairs. Advocates of participatory
or it risks advancing mere civility or Reinforcing these criticisms of an
exclusive focus on personally continued on page 7
docility instead of democracy.

What Kind of Citizen?
continued from page 6

citizenship want students to be schooled in We should be wary of assuming that commitments to

both the broad and minute challenges specific
to democratic participation. participatory citizenship and to justice necessarily align.
Placing social justice at the center of their ings of the personally responsible model as a
arguments, other educators and theorists stress means of developing citizens, none of the pro-
that critical analysis and liberatory pedagogy grams funded by the foundation that sup-
are essential for democratic education. Citi- ported our study emphasized this approach.
zens, according to this view, need not only Moreover, as noted earlier, a significant body of
skills associated with participation but also work already addresses the conflicts and limita-
those required to critically analyze and act on tions of equating personal responsibility with
root causes of social problems and inequities. democratic citizenship.
These actions include forms of participation
that challenge existing power structures and Two of the programs we studied illustrated
focus on social change (see, for example, Shor, broad differences in their civic and democratic
1992 and Ayers et al., 1998). priorities and exemplify the tensions these dif-
ferences raise for educators. Both programs
Often, democratic theorists blend commit- worked with classes of high school students
ments to participation with commitments to and both initiatives were designed to support
justice. From the standpoint of supporting the the development of democratic and civic
development of democratic communities, understandings and commitments. But their
combining these commitments is rational. goals and strategies differed. The first, which
Developing commitments for civic participa- we call Madison County Youth in Public Ser-
tion and social justice as well as fostering the vice, aims to develop participatory citizens; the
capacities to fulfill these commitments will second, which we call Bayside Students for Jus-
support the development of a more democratic tice, aims to develop justice-oriented citizens.
society. We should be wary of assuming that
commitments to participatory citizenship and
to justice necessarily align, however. These two Developing Participatory Citizens:
orientations have potentially differing implica- Madison County Youth in Public Service
tions for educators. While pursuit of both goals Madison County Youth in Public Service is run
may well support development of a more dem- by two social studies teachers in a rural East
ocratic society, it is not clear whether making Coast community. These teachers taught a
advances along one dimension will necessarily condensed and intensified version of a stan-
further progress on the other. Do programs dard government course during the first
that support civic participation necessarily semester of the academic year to make space
promote students capacities for critical analy- for projects in the community. During the sec-
sis and social change? Conversely, does focus- ond semester, they placed students in small
ing on social justice provide the foundation for teams where they worked on public service
effective and committed civic actors? Or might projects in their countys administrative offices.
such programs support the development of One group of students investigated whether
armchair activists who have articulate conver- citizens in their community would prefer curb-
sations over coffee, without ever acting? We side trash pickup that was organized by the
now turn to these questions. county; another group explored the develop-
ment of a five year plan for the fire and rescue
Our empirical investigation of this topic department. For each project, students had to
focuses on the subtle and not so subtle differ- collect and analyze data, interact with govern-
ences between programs that emphasize par- ment agencies, write a report, and present their
ticipation and those that emphasize justice. We
do this for two reasons. First, due to shortcom- continued on page 8

What Kind of Citizen? curriculum with students diverse in ethnicity, lan-
continued from page 7 guage, and socioeconomic status, 40% of whom were
living in public housing.
findings in a formal hearing in front of the countys
Board of Supervisors. Bayside Students for Justice aimed to develop commu-
nity activists. As one of the teachers for this program
The teachers of Youth in Public Service believed that put it, My goal is to turn students into activists [who
placing students in internships where they worked on are] empowered to focus on things that they care
meaningful projects under the supervision of commit- about in their own lives and toshow them avenues
ted role models would: that they can use to achieve real social change, pro-
found social change. The program advanced a justice-
Teach students how government worked;
oriented vision of citizenship seeking to teach students
Help students recognize the importance of being how to address structural issues of inequity and injus-
actively involved in community issues; and tice and bring about social change.
Provide students with the skills required for effec-
tive and informed civic involvement. The teachers of the Bayside Students for Justice pro-
gram believed that having students seek out and
Madison County Youth in Public Service was quite
address areas of injustice in society would:
successful at achieving those goals. We saw evidence
(both quantitative and qualitative) Sensitize students to recognize injustice;
By engaging students in that, by engaging students in proj-
Teach students to critically assess the root causes
ects in the community, Madison
projects in the commu- of social problems; and
County Youth in Public Service had
nity, Madison County significant success making learning Provide students with an understanding of how to
relevant to students and conveying change established systems and structures.
Youth in Public Service practical knowledge about how to Some students, for example, investigated the lack of
engage in community affairs. It access to a local health center for women; others
had significant success developed in students the desire to sought ways of challenging a Senate bill that would
making learning relevant participate in civic affairs and a sense put students and their parents in jail for truancy and
that they can make a difference in would try juveniles as adults for certain crimes; other
to students and convey- the lives of others. students studied violence in their community. In con-
trast to programs that seek to teach that one person
ing practical knowledge We saw little evidence, however, that can make a difference, Bayside Students for Justice
students learned about political emphasized the need to address social problems col-
about how to engage in issues related to interest groups and
lectively. In interviews and written assignments for
community affairs. the political process, the causes of class, students demonstrated their understanding of a
poverty, different groups need for collective rather than individual vision for effecting
health care, or the fairness of different forms of taxa- change.
tion (even though two projects focused on issues
related to health care and taxation). Students focused continued on page 9
on particular programs and policies and aimed for
technocratic/value neutral analysis. Accordingly, our
data show that the curriculum did not appear to Bayside Students for Justice empha-
change students interest in politics or their perspec-
tive on issues related to systemic causes of social prob- sized the need to address social
lems. More on this later.
problems collectively. In interviews and
Developing Justice-Oriented Citizens: written assignments for class, students
Bayside Students for Justice
A second program took place in a comprehensive demonstrated their understanding of a
urban high school on the West Coast. Inspired by the collective rather than individual vision
United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, teach-
ers in this school implemented the Students for Justice for effecting change.

What Kind of Citizen? the survey and interview data was
As one student told us, When the
continued from page 8 the change in students confidence
Survey results reflected Baysides
that they had the knowledge or economys bad and people start
social capital to make things hap-
emphasis on social change. Surveys blaming immigrants or whoever else
pen in the community. Interviews,
of Bayside students revealed signifi-
observations, and examples of stu-
cant increases on items measuring they can blame, theyve got to realize
dent work all reinforced the survey
interest in politics and structural
explanations for povertyscales on
finding of a dramatic increase in that there are big social, economic,
students sense that they had
which Youth in Public Service stu- and political issues tied together.
knowledge of what resources were
dents showed no change. Bayside
available to help with community
students also indicated an increased ing, for example, that the problem
projects and of how to contact and
sense of civic agency and an of poverty resulted from too few
work effectively with community
increased belief that government jobs that pay wages high enough to
organizations to mobilize those
had a responsibility to help those in support a family rather than being
resources. This confidence grew out
need. a result of individuals being lazy
of their involvement in substantive
projects that required frequent and not wanting to work). They
Unlike the Youth in Public Service were more likely than their Madi-
students, however, Bayside students interaction with multiple commu-
nity actors and agencies. son County peers to be interested
did not demonstrate much specific in and want to discuss politics and
knowledge about particular com- political issues, and they were more
We did not, however, see evidence
munity groups or about the techni- likely to seek redress of root causes
that the Youth in Public Service
cal challenges and possibilities of difficult social ills. As one stu-
program sparked interest in or con-
associated with specific policies and dent told us after several months in
veyed knowledge of broad social
initiatives. the Bayside program, when the
critiques and systemic reform.
Since such issues were not dis- economys bad and people start
The Political Importance of
cussed as part of the curriculum, it blaming immigrants or whoever
Recognizing Different
is not surprising that students per- else they can blame, theyve got to
Conceptions of Citizenship
spectives on the structural and realize that there are big social, eco-
Did Madison County Youth in
individual causes of poverty, for nomic, and political issues tied
Public Service do a better job than
example, did not change as a result together, that its not the immi-
Bayside Students for Justice at edu-
of their participation. Nor did their grants, its bigger than them.
cating citizens, or was Bayside more
interest in talking about or being
effective? Our goal is not to answer Evidence from observations, inter-
involved in politics change.
this question, but rather, to make views, student work, and surveys of
clear that different democratic val- In comparison, the Bayside Stu- Baysides students did not, however,
ues were embedded in these efforts. dents for Justice curriculum show an increase in students
Both programs were effective at appeared to emphasize social cri- knowledge about particular com-
achieving goals consistent with tique significantly more and tech- munity resources. Unlike their
their respective underlying concep- nocratic skills associated with par- Madison County peers, Bayside
tions of citizenship. Yet our qualita- ticipation somewhat less. To the students sense that they were effec-
tive and quantitative data regarding extent that Bayside students tive community leaders (knowing
these programs demonstrate learned about participatory skills, how to run meetings, for example)
important differences in impact. they focused on extra-governmen- remained unchanged. Nor was
Youth in Public Service appeared to tal social activism that challenged there any increase in students per-
have a powerful impact on stu- rather than reinforced existing sonal responsibility to help others
dents capacities for and commit- norms (such as community organ- (as opposed to their inclination for
ments to civic participation. Mea- izing or protesting). For example, collective action for change, which
sures of students sense of personal students were more likely at the was frequently expressed during
responsibility to help others, their end of the program than at the interviews).
vision of how to help, and their beginning to posit structural expla-
leadership efficacy show significant nations for social problems (stat- continued on page 10
changes. Especially notable in both

What Kind of Citizen? to develop capacities for par- The ability to spot
continued from page 9 ticipation. They want students
to be able to both analyze and injustice is not
The differing impact of these understand structural causes
programs, of course, is likely of deeply entrenched social
organically linked to
due to factors that extend problems and gain the skills the inclination or the
beyond the curriculum. As is and motivation to act by par-
generally the case in educa- ticipating in local and ability to take action.
tion, the broader social con- national politics and commu-
text helps to shape both the nity forums. But a focus on both administrators and com-
choice of curricular justice guarantees neither the munity members are also
approaches adopted by the motivation nor the capacity to likely to affect the structure of
teachers and the ways these participate in democratic the curriculum.
approaches impact students. change. Manyourselves
Thus, answering the question
Bayside and Madison County includedwould applaud
Which program better devel-
are very different communi- programs that manage to
ops citizens? necessarily
ties. It may well be that Bay- emphasize justice-oriented
engages the politics that sur-
sides urban school environ- citizenship inextricably linked
round varied conceptions of
ment exposed students to to a desire and capacity for
citizenship. The relationship
more forms of injustice and participation. However, our
between pedagogical choices
rhetoric related to injustice findings indicate that the
and political positions is an
than Madison County stu- commitment to participation
important one. Those who
dents encountered in their and the capacities it entails
view civic participation as of
largely homogeneous and are not necessarily coupled
primary importance would
middle-class community. This with those related to the pur-
likely view the Madison
exposure, in turn, may have suit of social justice. Indeed,
County Youth in Public Ser-
made it more likely that Bay- engaging in critical analysis
vice program as extraordinar-
side students would gravitate does not necessarily foster the
ily effective. On the other
towards justice oriented ability or the commitment to
hand, those who believe that
themes than that students participate. The reverse is also
the pursuit of social justice is
from Madison County would true: students can learn to
of paramount importance
do so. Many other contextual participate without engaging
might well be troubled that
factors may have mattered as in critical analysis that focuses
Those committed to well. Since the focus of our on macro structural issues,
participants in the Madison
County program did not talk
data collection emphasized the role of interest groups,
educating social about the need for structural
curricular features and ways power dynamics, and/or
change, about methods used
activists who practice students experienced those social justice. The ability to
historically to bring change
features rather than on the spot injustice is not organi-
justice-oriented broader social context, we cally linked to the inclination
about (those employed by
various social movements, for
cannot speak directly to these or the ability to take action.
citizenship would issues. Such issues are clearly
example), or about social
The relative emphasis placed injustice. Educators who wish
ideally want to worthy of extensive study.
to teach students to support
on these differing goals will
couple critical analysis likely depend on numerous social change might therefore
The Politics of value the explicit attention
factors. These include the
of root causes of Pursuing Dual Goals and critiques students partici-
structure of the curriculum,
As noted earlier, those com- pating in Bayside Students for
the priorities of those design-
injustice with mitted to educating social Justice developed. Bayside
ing and implementing the ini-
activists who practice justice- students learned ways that the
opportunities to oriented citizenship would
tiative, and the time available
for such instruction. More- interests of powerful groups
develop capacities ideally want to couple critical are often supported by insti-
over, the political constraints
analysis of root causes of
and value based priorities of
for participation. injustice with opportunities continued on page 11

What Kind of Citizen?
continued from page 10

tutions and social structures. They also expanded their It is not enough to argue that democratic values are
interest in following broader local and national politi-
cal issues. as important as traditional academic priorities.

Conclusion well be reinforcing a conservative and individualistic

So, what does all of this mean for teaching democracy? notion of citizenship, that of the personally responsible
citizen. Yet this is the focus of many programs and of
As educators interested in schoolings civic purposes, their associated evaluations. If citizenship also requires
we maintain that it is not enough to argue that demo- collective participation and critical analysis of social
cratic values are as important as traditional academic structures, then other lenses are needed as well.
priorities. We must also ask what kind of values. What
political and ideological interests are embedded in var- Those designing a curriculum and those studying its
ied conceptions of citizenship? impact must be cognizant of and responsive to these
important distinctions and their political implications.
First, an initiative that supports the development of The choices we make have consequences for the kind
personally responsible citizens may not be effective at of society we ultimately help to create.
increasing participation in local and national civic
affairs. Moreover, efforts to pursue some conceptions
of personal responsibility can undermine efforts to
prepare participatory and justice oriented citizens. This article was adapted from a talk by the authors
at the conference of the American Political Sci-
Second, our study of Madison County Youth in Public
ence Association, August 2002, Boston, MA.
Service and of Bayside Students for Justice demon-
strates the importance of distinguishing between pro- Readers interested in the full research article,
grams that emphasize participatory citizenship and data, and tables should contact the authors:
those that emphasize the pursuit of justice. While each joelw@uottawa.ca, (613) 562-5800, x4161
program was effective in achieving its goals, qualitative
jkahne@mills.edu, (510) 430-3275
and quantitative data regarding these programs
demonstrate important differences in each programs
impact. Programs that champion participation do not This research was generously supported by two
necessarily develop students abilities to analyze and grants from the Surdna Foundation. We also wish
critique root causes of social problems, and visa versa. to thank Harry Boyte, Pamela Burdman,
Although those committed to the Democratic pur-
Bernadette Chi, Larry Cuban, Norm Fruchter, Jeff
poses of education may extol the value of linking pri-
orities related to participation and justice, our study Howard, Gordon Lafer, Bethany Rogers, Robert
indicates that this outcome is not guaranteed. If both Sherman, Dorothy Shipps, Amy Stuart Wells, and
goals are priorities, those designing and implementing Jim Toole. The authors are solely responsible for
curriculum must give both explicit attention.
any and all conclusions.
Third, from the standpoint of research and evaluation,
the implications for those interested in the develop-
ment of democratic values and capacities are signifi- Footnotes
1 For a description of a contemporary curriculum that
cant. Studies that fail to reflect the varied range of edu-
cational priorities in relation to democratic values and reflects this emphasis, see Westheimer and Kahne
capacities will tell only part of the story.
2 Our desire to respond to prominent educational the-
We can focus on whether a given curriculum changes ories related to democratic ideals and to develop a
students sense of personal responsibility, government framework that practitioners would find both
responsibility, or employer responsibility, for example. clear and meaningful led us to modify our cate-
If we ask only about personal responsibility, we may continued on page 12

What Kind of Citizen? Review Press. vice Learning. Phi Delta Kappan.
continued from page 11 Boyte, H.C. & Kari, N.N. (1996). Building 77(9), 593-599.
America: The Democratic Promise of Lickona, T. (1993). The Return of Char-
gories in several ways. For example, Public Work. Philadelphia: Temple acter Education. Educational Leader-
we began this study emphasizing a University Press. ship. 51(3),6-11.
distinction between charity and
change. We had used this distinc- Butts, R.F. (1988). The Moral Imperative Mann, H. (1838). First Annual Report.
tion in earlier writing (Kahne and for American Schools: Inflame the Boston: Dutton & Wentworth.
Westheimer, 1996). Through the Civic Temper. American Journal of
Miller, D. (1995). Citizenship and Plural-
course of our work, however, it Education. 96(2), 162-94.
ism. Political Studies. 43, 432-450.
became clear that this distinction did Connolly, W.E. (1983). The Terms of
not do enough to capture main cur- National Association of Secretaries of
Political Discourse. 2d ed. Princeton:
rents in dialogues of practitioners State, (1999). New Millennium Pro-
Princeton University Press.
and scholars regarding democratic jectPhase I: A Nationwide Study of
educational goals and ways to achieve Counts, G. (1932). Dare Progressive Edu- 15-24 Year Old Youth. Alexandria,
them. In addition, once our three cat- cation be Progressive? Progressive VA: The Tarrance Group.
egories were identified, we found that Education 9:257-63.
Neimi, R.G. & Junn, J. (1998). Civic Edu-
some of our rhetoric failed to clearly Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Educa- cation: What Makes Students Learn.
convey our intent. For example, we tion. New York: The Free Press. New Haven: Yale University Press.
had initially titled our third category
the social reconstructionist. As a Dudley, R.L. & Gitelson, A.R. (2002). Newmann, F. (1975). Education for Citi-
result of dialogues with practitioners, Political Literacy, Civic Education, zen Action: Challenge for Secondary
this was changed to the social and Civic Engagement: A Return to Curriculum. Berkeley, CA.:
reformer and finally to the justice Political Socialization? Applied Devel- McCutchan.
oriented citizen. opmental Science, 6(4), 175-182.
Pangle, L.S. & Pangle, T.L. (1993). The
Education Commission of the States. Learning of Liberty. Lawrence, KS:
(2000). Every Student a Citizen: Cre- University Press of Kansas.
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Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

How People Learn To Be Civic
by Michael Schudson, University of California, San Diego


next not only in formal education or through intentional
efforts but indirectly or collaterally in the small details of
everyday life. Lecturing in London a few years ago, I illustrated this
point with a homely example. I said: Take, for instance, those moments
in your own family where you assert your parental authority and declare
to your children, Eat Your Vegetables. No. Eat Your Vegetables, Please.
No. Eat Your Vegetables Or There Will Be No Dessert. No. Eat Your
Vegetables Or Else! And one of those little wise guys retorts, You cant
make me. Its a free country.

In the United States, audiences invariably But how? How is it American kids learn to
acknowledge this illustration with knowing say that its a free country and British kids
chuckles or smiles. In London, I looked out learn not to? How do people acquire their
at a roomful of blank faces. Not a soul sense of civic life and how does that sense
cracked a smile. They had politely puzzled become second nature? How do we learn the
expressions. Only then did it dawn on me. values we are supposed to learn as members
Only then did I realize that no British child of our national culture? I am not asking how
in all of history has ever said, You cant to make people better citizens. Instead, I am
make me, its a free country. And suddenly I asking how people who learn to be citizens
knew that democracy is not just one thing learn how to be citizens of the sort they learn
you have more or less of, it comes in an how to be. How do they come to know what
assortment of flavors. Democratic citizenship good citizenship is?
is not just something one is more or less
socialized into; there are I have no confidence that earnest efforts at
There are different citizenships in teaching U.S. history or turning out the vote
different citizenships in dif-
or getting more school children to pick up
different democracies and each of them ferent democracies and
each of them is renewed in trash on the beach make us good citizens,
is renewed in its own subtle fashion. its own subtle fashion. admirable as these activities may be in their
own right.
What I had taken as an invariant expression
of children in any democratic society is, in I believe in the values of liberal education but
fact, peculiarly American. It is America, not I am not convinced that liberal education
Britain, that conceives of itself self-impor- does the trick either. Political theorist
tantly and extravagantly and naively and Richard Flathman writes that the greatest
tragically and wonderfully as a free country. contribution liberal education can make to
Americas children pick that up early on. continued on page 15

How People Learn A citizen is a person who has First, we become civic if and when the
to Be Civic full membership in a political
continued from page 14 community, especially a civic penetrates into everyday life.
nation-state. In its common
our common political life is to legal usage, citizenship means
instill a dispositionwary of everyday life. Second, we
nationality and its mark would
politics and government.1 become civic by what we are
be a passport, a birth certifi-
That is not what you normally called to attend to and what
cate, or other citizenship
hear in circles of educators we are called to ignore. Third,
papers. In its political usage,
devoted to civics education. we become civic by joining
citizenship refers to rights of
But I was reminded of it in the with others in common enter-
political participation, and its
aftermath of September 11. prise. Fourth, we become civic
chief sign is that a person is
One of the most noteworthy when a civic infrastructure
eligible to vote. In its sociocul-
and, to my mind, admirable allows, encourages, and sup-
tural sense, citizenship refers
features of the American ports individual civic engage-
to emotional identification
response in the first weeks was ment. I will say something
with a nation and its flag, his-
that many of our leaders, from about each of these points.
tory, and culture. Finally, citi-
the President on down, waved zenship has a broad moral
the flag proudly but at the meaning, as in the phrase Everyday Life
same time cautioned citizens good citizen. It may refer to First, we become civic when
about the dangers of flag-wav- a person loyal to the state, and civic activities become a part
ing. The only precedent I in this sense it is related to of everyday life. Think of the
know for this kind of chas- patriotism. Even more, it sug- recycling bins that, in many
tened patriotism in other gests a person who is informed communities today, the city or
countries is contemporary about and takes an active role municipality provides so that
Germany where the Nazi past in civic affairs. Although all of each household can separate
envelops even the most timid these meanings of citizen its own recyclables and get
of patriotic demonstrations have some relevance to my them recycled by putting them
with a flood of second inquiry here, the broad moral out at curbside when the city
thoughts.2 In the United meaning of civic-ness is my picks up the weekly trash.
States, I can think of no prior primary concern.
expression of this kind of Think of the Pledge of Alle-
proud but muted patriotism, a How do people become giance that children say in
patriotism tempered by its civic? is in part the question: school. More is learned in this
own self-consciousness. how do we come to under- act by ritual repetition than by
stand or accept or take for the actual words. I would be
If citizenship is not learned granted what counts as civic? skeptical that school children
primarily in school or in get- That is, how do people understand the Pledge of Alle-
out-the-vote drives and if col- develop a particular sense of giance. Take the word indivis-
lege is as likely to induce skep- the public good, a willingness ible, for instance. Children
ticism about politics as fervent to participate in its advance- learn to pronounce it years
devotion to it, where do peo- ment, and a view of what before they study John C. Cal-
ple learn their sense of civic repertoire of acts will engen- houn and the doctrine of nul-
obligation? This is a question der a better public life? How lification, or the Lincoln-Dou-
that civic educators themselves do we come to understand or glas debates, or the Civil War.
need to think about more accept or take for granted But the presence of the term
clearly, deeply, and historically. what counts as civic in our indivisible in the Pledge is
What I offer here is a briefly own culture? Four different incomprehensible without
sketched framework for doing areas need our attention. knowing it to be a reference to
so. the Civil War. In the end, how-
First, we become civic if and
when the civic penetrates into continued on page 16

How People Learn to front of the candidates, and then a choice, something like a contem-
Be Civic went over to the candidate he had porary loyalty to a high school or
contined from page 15 favored with his vote and shook college and its teams. Voting was
hands. The whole activity was one not a matter of assent to ideas but a
ever, that is less the point than that of ritually reaffirming a hierarchi- statement of affiliation with peo-
the school day is connected in cal social order in which each per- ple, and the connection of voter to
some vague but unifying way to son knew his place. The whole party ticket peddler underscored
flag and country. experience reinforced an under- that. So did the post-election visit
standing of citizenship as appropri- to the partys favorite local tavern.
Think about what kind of educa- ate deference to community lead- Drink, dollars, and drama brought
tion happens in the widespread ers. There was no campaigning, people to the polls, and, more than
red ribbon week of drug educa- there were no issues, there were no that, social connection, rarely any-
tion in our public schools. I bombastic speeches, the whole thing more elevated.
remember when my daughter, then point was to invest responsibility
in first-grade, came home from for decision-making in trusted sen- Reformers at the end of the l9th
Drug-Free School Day and told us ior members of the community.4 century saw little in the parties to
happily it was Free Drug Day at recommend them. The Mugwumps
school. In a personal memoir, The nineteenth century experience sought to make elections educa-
essayist Sarah Vowell recalls watch- of voting taught different civic les- tional and the Progressives tried to
ing the Mickey Mouse Club on tel- sons. In the nineteenth century, insulate the independent, rational
evision and singing along with the political parties controlled the elec- citizen from the distorting enthusi-
theme songbut she never quite tions. On election day, the parties asms of party. It is to them that we
got the words of it. When the hired tens of thousands of workers owe the ideal of the informed citi-
Mouseketeers sang, forever let us to get out the vote and to stand zen, not to the founding fathers. In
hold our banner high, Sarah near the polling place to hand out the l880s, political campaigns
thought they were saying, for the tickets the parties had began to shift from parades to
every little polar bear to hide.3 printed. The voter approached the pamphlets, and so put a premium
Much more of education is like polling place, took a ticket from on literacy. In the l890s, the Aus-
that than we would ever want to one of these ticket peddlers from tralian ballot swept the nation and
admit. Still, the ritual of something his own party and went up to the so for the first time in American
like saying the Pledge, the activity voting station to deposit his ticket history literacy was required to cast
of it, the collective enterprise of it, in the ballot box. He did not need a ballot. The novelty of the Aus-
leaves a residue. to look at it. He did not need to tralian ballot was that the state
mark it in any way. Clearly, he did took responsibility for printing bal-
The activity that enters into ordi- not have to be literate. He could lots that listed the candidates from
nary life need not be every day cast his ballot free of charge, but it all parties qualifying for the elec-
activity. We learn a great deal from would not have been surprising if tion. This meant that voters
ritual moments that come only on he received payment for his effort. received their ballots from state
rare occasionlike Christmas once In New Jersey, as many as one third election officials at the polling
a year, or voting every year or two. of the electorate in the l880s place, not from party workers en
We do not really know how deeply expected payment for voting on route to the polling place; it meant
these activities teach us until we election day, usually in an amount that the voter had to make a choice
imagine how they might be differ- between $l and $3.5 of candidates by marking the bal-
ent. Think about what lessons eigh- lot; and it normally meant that
teenth-century Virginians learned What did a vote express? Not a provision was made for the voter to
when they voted or nineteenth- strong conviction that the party mark the ballot in secret. With this
century Americans, in contrast to offered better public policies; par- innovation, voting changed from a
us. An eighteenth-century Virgin- ties tended to be more devoted to social and public duty to a private
ian, that is to say a white male who distributing offices than to advo- right, from a social obligation to
owned property, went to the cating policies. Party was related party enforceable by social pressure
polling place, spoke his vote out more to comradeship than to pol-
loud in front of the sheriff and in icy, it was more an attachment than continued on page 17

How People Learn to Be Civic We learn it so well we do not even recognize
contined from page 16 what alternatives it excludes.

to a civic obligation or abstract loyalty, enforce- Structures of Attention

able only by private conscience. In the early Second, we become civic by what the public
l900s, non-partisan municipal elections, presi- will be called to attend to and what it is called
dential primaries, and the initiative and refer- to ignore. The media but, even more strenu-
endum imposed more challenging cognitive ously, political leaders make the decisions
tasks on prospective voters than ever before. about what will be on the publics agenda. In
These changes enshrined the informed citi- the weeks after September 11, there were many
zenry, incidentally provided a new mechanism stories in the media about the stifling of dissent
and a new rationale for disenfranchising as the country unified behind the Presidents
African-Americans and immigrants, and inau- war on terrorism. Why were we called to attend
gurated an enduring tradition of hand-wring- to this? How did we know, as we read these sto-
ing over popular political ignorance. ries, that stifling dissent is a bad thing? We
assuredly were expected to get that point.
Between 1880 and 1910, the most basic under-
standings of American politics were challenged. Consider an important recent example of citi-
Reformers attacked the emotional enthusiasm zenship talk: What you do is as important as
of political participation, the corruption in anything government does. I ask you to seek a
campaign financing and campaign practices, common good beyond your comfort, to defend
and the role of the parties in usurping the needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve
direct connection between citizens and their your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I
government. They succeeded in inventing the ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators.
language by which we still judge our politics. It Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens,
stresses being informed while it dismisses or building communities of service and a nation
demeans parties and partisanship. To put this of character.
more pointedly, the political party, the single
most important agency ever invented for mass At first blush, it is hard to object to the concept
political participation, is the institution that of citizenship George W. Bush expressed in
current civics talk and current civics education these words in his inaugural address. Citizen-
regularly abhor and that is rendered almost ship, he said, is public-spirited rather than self-
invisible in the way we conduct the actual act of centered, neighborly rather than self-seeking,
voting. Insofar as the way we do vote is a set of active and participatory rather than passive and
enduring instructions to us about the way we spectator-like. And yet, President Bush
should vote and the way we should think about advanced a subtext heredo not expect too
voting, the civic lesson of election day as we much from your government. Americans are
have organized it for the past century recom- generous and strong and decent, not because
mends contempt for parties and partisanship. we believe in ourselves but because we hold
beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of
We learn a standard of civic practice by practic- citizenship is missing, no government program
ing civics. We may not live up to it, but we can replace it. When this spirit is present, no
know, at least implicitly and roughly speaking, wrong can stand against it. Government
what it is, what we are supposed to be held should not over-reach, government should not
accountable for. We learn it in large part by over-legislate, government should not over-
experienceas political theorist Stephen Elkin react. The President favors people who take
writes, Experiencemust be the teacher of care of themselves and their neighbors, not
democratic citizens, and this leads him to an those who depend on government for aid and
interest in the design of local governments, not comfort.
the design of school curricula.6 What we do not
know or reflect on is that our present standard continued on page 18
is only one of a number of possible standards.

How People Learn to of civic education and citizenship question of how people learn to be
Be Civic that excludes the raw power of self- civic. My point about the Presi-
contined from page 17 interested action? Why is citizen- dents speech is that it offers one
ship reduced to service rather than model of civic-ness, not the only
Note a second subtext: people are linked to justice? model. It is a powerful model,
citizens insofar as they do not seek nonetheless, because the President
their own comfort, insofar as they There is also an entirely missing is the countrys best placed civic
serve the nation, and insofar as text in President Bushs inaugural: pedagogue. As Justice Felix Frank-
they hold beliefs beyond them- in the idealized world he beckoned furter said, The Presidency is the
selves. True citizens do not ask, to his fellow citizens to join, there are most important educational system
paraphrase a President from a dif- citizens, there are neighbors, there in the country.7 The President calls
ferent party, what the country can are also communities of faith, but us to attention, and in a particular
do for them but what they can do there are no parties, and in the way, not in the only way.
for the country. There is no place in good citizen no partisanship; there
this vision of citizenship for indi- are no interest groups, and in the Shared Enterprise
viduals to sue for their rights or to good citizen no joining with others Third, we become civic by joining
invoke the law on behalf of their in organized self-interest; there are with others in common enterprise,
liberties or to initiate actions for no experts, and in the good citizen common work, common prayer, or
damages against tobacco compa- no considered judgment about common struggle. I will speak
nies or tire manufacturers. There is when and how judgment should be about this only briefly because, in
no acknowledgment that democ- delegated. Why are the organiza- this instance, the same President
racy has been enlarged in our life- tions and individual actors that in George W. Bush, whom I have just
times when individuals have been fact are the most involved on a day- criticized, has offered a very shrewd
driven not by a desire to serve but to-day basis with the operation of analysis. In his press conference a
by an effort to overcome indignities government omitted from his month after September 11, he
they themselves have suffered. This account of citizenship? observed that his administration
is important. The most important before September 11 was planning
In times of national crisis, the citi-
extension of citizenship in this cen- an initiative to be called Commu-
zen President Bush envisions is the
tury was produced by the civil nities of Character. It was, he said,
soldier, who serves country, ignores
rights movement. Not Thomas Jef- designed to help parents develop
personal discomfort, and believes
ferson so much as people like good character in our children and
in a patriotic ideal. In ordinary
Thurgood Marshall and Martin to strengthen the spirit of citizen-
times, Bushs ideal is the Rotarian,
Luther King, Jr. made rights a ship and service in our communi-
moved by a sense of neighborliness,
household term and a household ties. But, he remarked, the acts of
Christian charity, and social
experience; the civil rights move- Sept. 11 have prompted that initia-
responsibility, but untouched by
ment brought on the extraordinary tive to occur on its own, in ways far
any sense of having a personal stake
wave of social movements and greater than I could have ever
in public justice.
rights-centered litigation that has imagined. He was right. He cited
opened doors and windows for Is this the kind of civic-ness we the cases of Christian and Jewish
African-Americans, women, gays should be instilling in our children? women who went shopping with
and lesbians, people with disabili- I dont think so, but that is not my Muslim neighbors when the Mus-
ties, and many others. Why, then, topic here. I am addressing only the lim women were afraid to leave
do we cling rhetorically to a vision their homes alone. There was,
indeed, a rekindling of communal
Democracy has been enlarged in our lifetimes when individuals feelings, a reaching out to friends,
neighbors, and strangers, and a
have been driven not by a desire to serve but by an effort to over- joining in common enterprises of
come indignities they themselves have suffered.we become civic blood drives, fund raising, prayer
services, and community memori-
by joining with others in common enterprise, common work, com- als all across the country.

mon prayer, or common struggle. continued on page 19

How People Learn to Be Civic vor. What it was endowed with was the Great
contined from page 18 Depression and World War 2, great collective
experiences that forged a generational spirit.
People can feel connections with one another
and a sense of public purpose at one remove, This is not to suggest that the experience of
through the Internet, or through a novel, a film, World War 2 was a spontaneous emotional
or a news story. I do not know anyone who died upheaval undirected by government leadership
at the World Trade Centers but, like almost all and institutional transformation. On the con-
Americans, I felt intimately linked to what hap- trary, the Roosevelt administration mobilized
pened there. That lasted, beyond the moment, the power of the state in the national defense
not because citizens feel an intimate acquain- toliterallyenlist the nation in the war
tance with Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and effort. If September 11 seems to be a fading
Dan Rather (although they may) but because memory already for many Americans, it may be
the information and images the media con- because the federal government chose in the
veyed in this case touched everyone who has end not to take advantage of the emotional
ever visited New York or knows someone there, effervescence of the moment to call on Ameri-
everyone who has ever traveled by air or who cans for sacrifice or service. An opportunity was
has loved ones who travel by air, everyone who lost to enlarge national service programs like
has ever been in a high-rise office building, and Americorpsor even to call attention to them.
Civic life requires
the horror and anxiety the news evoked in
those millions of people was reaffirmed and Civic Infrastructure maintenance.
reinforced in almost every conversation and in Fourth, we cannot become civic if there is not
almost every glance from person to person, an infrastructure of civic-ness for people to
family member to family member, and co- enroll in. Civic life requires maintenance. It
worker to co-worker in subsequent weeks and requires staff. It requires investment. It requires
months. The experience of September 11 was a access. Democracy does not come cheap. Elec-
national Durkheimian moment, that is, a col- tions cost money. Effective service programs
lective experience where a sense of both power cost money. Courts cost money. Justice requires
and meaning beyond the personal emerged dollars.10 This is not very dramatic stuff. In fact,
from face-to-face contact and collective work, it is invisible to most of us most of the time. I
collective action embodied, not at a distance. saw some of it, however, in the 2000 election, as
I watched the mounting of the electoral
There is a great deal of attention to that genera- machinery in my home of San Diego, Califor-
tion, now rapidly aging and dying, that fought nia. Let me just give you a little sense of it.
World War 2, and it has been lionized in the
title of Tom Brokaws book, as the greatest On November 7, in one sixteen hour period, l00
generation. Brokaw is not modest about his million people broke from their daily routine
claims for his parents generation: I think this and voted. It is a mammoth exercise. In Califor-
is the greatest generation any society has ever nia, there were about l00,000 volunteers spend-
produced.8 I am not going to quibble over ing l5 hour days manning the polling places. In
rankings here; surely this generation accom- San Diego County, running the election cost
plished a great deal. And, as Robert Putnam has $3.5 million in taxpayer dollars to produce 552
assiduously documented, this same generation separate ballots and 552 separate voter infor-
continued doggedly civic in voting in large mation guides mailed out to registered voters to
numbers, attending community meetings, get- prepare them to act as informed citizens. There
ting to know neighbors, maintaining church were l00 training sessions for 6000 poll workers
membership and attendance, exceeding the at l500 polling places, 300 of which had special
marks of the generation before them and the provision for Spanish-speaking voters and all of
generations that followed them.9 All of this I which were designed to be accessible for the
acknowledge. What I do not accept is the impli- disabled. This is a massive activity, and a great
cation that this generation was unusually
endowed with moral virtue or community fer- continued on page 20

How People Learn to Be Civic boards to the driver-voters in their cars, well, not talk them out of it, but explain
contined from page 19 S.U.V.s, and pick-ups. The drivers were whats involved.
then directed to park while they filled out
deal of meaning is still to be found in it, the form. When completed, they started I attended some training sessions for the
what Walt Whitman called this ballot- up their cars again and another yellow- poll workers, as well as the training ses-
shower from East to West, Americas slickered official would come over to the sion for the trainers. This session was run
choosing day. car, take the affidavit, check it to see that it by Registrar staff plus a motivational
was filled out properly, and then send the speaker. There was a strong emphasis on
There are 552 different ballots because getting people to participate and to have a
new registrant on his or her way.
there are l20 political jurisdictions in San good time in the training. As one of the
Diego Countyhospital districts, water One senior civil servant I spoke to began trainers said, adult learning really can be
districts, community college districts, her career with court reporting school, fun, it doesnt have to be toothpicks-in-
school districts, Congressional districts, then worked in the DAs office, then took the-eyelid time.
assembly and state senate districts, etc. the test for the position of Registrar of
There were some 800 candidates on the Voters senior clerk and took the job in The training sessions for the poll workers
ballot in November. Mikel Haas, then the l977 at age 26. In l980 she left and went to were centered on a railroad theme and
Registrar of Voters, told me: Its like a work with one of the vendors who mail the trainers were equipped with train
watch, there are a whole lot of moving the sample ballots. But I missed itI engineers hats, red bandannas, a loud
parts. Any one of them can trip you up. missed the excitement. Not many people train whistle, and a small flashing light
The Registrars core staff of 48 employees leave here. No one will quit. Its not just that mimicked the lights at a railroad
was supplemented in the election season this officefrom email with her counter- crossing. The trainers I observed, two vig-
by about 300 temporary workers, not to parts in other counties, it sounds the orous women in their sixties, blew their
mention the 6,000 poll workers on elec- same way. Theres a lot of stress in the job train whistles together to start the session,
tion day. but people love it. She is married to a and then they sang a song they themselves
political consultant as interested in poli- had written: Weve been working on the
Several weeks before the election, I election all the live long day,/Weve been
tics as she is. When our child was born,
attended what the Registrars office has working on the election, so the voters
she told me, our birth announcement
entitled Midnight Madness. On the last have their say. Trained to get people talk-
said height and weight and eligible to
day to register to vote in San Diego ing and involved from the beginning, they
vote in 2007.
County, the Registrars office staus open asked people to talk among themselves
till midnight for drive-through registra- Despite the high morale of workers at the about why they were volunteering their
tion. I came by around 8 p.m. to take a registrars office, not everyone loves every time. After a few minutes they blew the
look. Cars were lined up for most of a part of it. One of the least popular sec- train whistles again and asked people to
long block and then in a single-file line tions is candidate services, dealing with tell the whole group what they had found
through half the length of the county candidates and would-be candidates as out. Some people talked about the free
building in the dark and the drizzle. The they learn how to file their papers, as they tacos poll workers would get from a local
whole area, though, was flood-lit by a set write up their statements for the voter fast food chain, many others spoke of
of four flood lights illuminating not only information guides that in California are wanting to do their civic duty. Many vol-
the building and the proceedings outside sent out to all registered voters, as they unteered election after election and spoke
it but a newly anchored Uncle Sam submit required campaign finance disclo- of it as a kind of addictionOnce you
roughly 40 feet high, a vast, cheery, red- sure forms. The candidates my do it, youre hooked.
white-and-blue inflated Uncle Sam. Reg- informant began, and then rolled her
istrar of Voters Haas had seen it displayed eyes. She talked about the people who Multiply these stories of one registrars
at a Chevrolet dealer. He had driven by walk in and say, Heres where I live. What office in one county of one state. Multiply
and thought, I have to have that, and he can I run for? Who are these people? it by the seventy California counties, mul-
worked out a rental deal to use the inflat- she asked. When someone wants to file tiply it again by the fifty states, multiply it
able for Midnight madness. who has no chance at all, who has never by the journalists who write about poli-
even turned up at a meeting of the body tics, the teachers who teach history and
There must have been between l5 and 20 civics, the pre-school teachers and kinder-
theyre running for, the personnel in can-
Registrar personnel in yellow slickers at garten teachers who instruct children
didate services try to act on behalf of
Midnight Madness. A number of them about sharing, the counselors, clergy,
democracy without entering improperly
were directing traffic. In 3 lines, 3 people
into the process: We try to politely
handed registration affidavits on clip- continued on page 21

How People Learn to Be Civic required to make citizenship possible. Meanwhile, the realm of
contined from page 20 the civic shifts and expands as the legitimate demands of once-
excluded groups enter into play and re-shape basic understand-
clerks of court and others who are all civics teachers on a full- ings of civic life.
time basis, and you can see that the possibility of civic-ness for
individuals may have less to do with individual virtue than with Footnotes
social investment and collective maintenance. 1
Flathman, Liberal Versus Civic, Republican, Democratic, and
Other Vocational Educations Political Theory 24 (February
Civic-ness requires both volunteers and professionals, both ordi- l996) 432 at 26.
nary citizens and experts. The kind of populism one finds in 2
See, for instance, Frederick Kempe, Father/Land: A Personal
universities that is distrustful of expertise, to the point of self- Search for the New Germany (New York: G. P. Putnams,
hatred; that prefers participatory democracy over representation 1999) p. 148.
or delegation, to the point of having nothing at all to say about 3
Sarah Vowell, Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World
the latter; and that prefers John Dewey to Walter Lippmann or, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
more generally, romantics to realists, to a degree that refuses 4
engagement with the actual messiness of democratic politics, lies On this point and the subsequent paragraphs on American polit-
ical history, I draw directly on my book, The Good Citizen: A
somewhere between dreaminess and irresponsibility.
History of American Civic Life (New York: Free Press, l998).
In thinking through the matter of civic education, I look more John F. Reynolds, Testing Democracy: Electoral Behavior and
to structures, contexts, and institutions within which and Progressive Reform in New Jersey, l880 l910 (Chapel Hill:
through which education happens than to specific psychological University of North Carolina Press, l988) p. 54. See also
Schudson, pp. l44l87.
processes that succeed or fail to attach individuals to the mes-
sages about civic engagement they hear. There are multiple Stephen Elkin, Citizen Competence and the Design of Demo-
meanings of citizenship afloat in the land and practices of civic cratic Institutions in Stephen L. Elkin and Karol Edward
Soltan, eds., Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions
life have changed more rapidly and more radically than our pub-
(University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press,
lic rhetoric has yet figured out. Many people still learn to partici- l999 ) p. 394.
pate in politics through community-based, faith-based experi- 7
ence, as was so often the case with the civil rights movement, but Cited in Douglas Cater, The Fourth Branch of Government
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, l959) p. l69.
many others today come to politics (as is often the case in the
environmentalist movement) through what sociologist Paul Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random
Lichterman calls personalist motivation.11 Some opportunities House, l998).
for civic engagement fadelike political party rallies but oth- Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Simon & Schus-
ers arise without social analysts even noticingif there is a study ter, 2000).
of the proliferation of charity runs and charity walks, I have not 10
See Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein, The Cost of Rights: Why
yet seen it. Or consider the enormous changes in womens lives Liberty Depends on Taxes (New York: W. W. Norton, l999).
and the movement toward gender equality in the past fifty years 11
Paul Lichterman, The Search for Political Community (Cam-
and how the feminization of political and civic life, if you will, bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
has altered civic practicesand should have altered what counts
as citizenship and civic engagement. Along with the civil rights
movement and the many other rights-oriented struggles that This article is reprinted from the collection United We Serve:
borrowed from it, feminism has extended norms of equality and National Service and the Future of Citizenship, edited by E.J.
indignation over injustice into the home, the club, the workplace
Dionne Jr., Kayla Meltzer Drogosz, and Robert Litan, and
and other domains once far removed from political conscious-
ness. published by The Brookings Institution Press, 2003. An ear-
lier version was delivered at the University of Utah as the
Citizens learn citizenship (a) in everyday life and especially in 2001 B. Aubrey Fisher Memorial Lecture.
participating in common civic exercises (b) in structures of
attention shaped by political leaders, the media, the schools, and
other voices of authority (c) in experiences of community soli-
darity that forge attachments to people beyond us (it is a famil-
iar observation that soldiers fight not so much for their flag as
for their comrades); and (d) in structures and institutions that
are cultivated and cared for by full-time staff whose work is

Reprinted with
permission from a full

A Message from Michael S. McPherson, page ad placed by

Macalester College in
President of Macalester College the New York Times

he recent round of corporate scandals in Smiths day. The more technical aspects of business or legal or

T reminds us, if we needed reminding, that

some prominent business leaders have
failed to understand that business success is not
medical ethics need to be addressed in professional schools. But
just as undergraduate education provides the grounding for
advanced studies in these areas, so should it equip students to
grasp and to act on the civic and social responsibilities that will
accompany their professional and their personal lives.

just a matter of private gain, but has important The issue here is not to indoctrinate students in particular moral
or political beliefs. Rather, we want to increase students aware-
elements of civic and social responsibility as well. ness of the moral values at stake in their personal and profes-
sional choices, equip them with the skills they need to reason
We must ask whether we educators share in this well and to weigh evidence in executing their civic and social
failure. responsibilities, and help them to learn to act effectively in ful-
filling their responsibilities.
Have we failed to impart an adequate understanding of the
social and civic responsibilities that must accompany leadership Every part of a modern college curriculum can be designed to
in business and in other aspects of life? I fear that the answer is contribute to education for active and responsible citizenship.
yes, and, further, that this failure is part of a larger failure in Whether through learning how to weigh quantitative or scien-
American higher education to build education for civic and tific evidence about public policy, or through cultivating
social responsibility into the basic college curriculum. empathic understanding through the study of art and literature,
or through learning the arts of civil discourse, students class-
Adam Smith, that great proponent of markets and self-interest, room work can strengthen their moral and civic capacities. With
never forgot that the invisible hand works only when people careful planning and community participation, colleges can also
operate within the rules; no invisible hand directs the jewel thief offer opportunities for great civic learning experiences outside
or the crooked accountant to socially desirable ends. Nor can the the classroom, through internships, research on community
police or the SEC enforcement division, necessary as they are, do problems and service learning courses.
the whole job of making people obey the rules. A society in
which no one felt an internal compunction against breaking the This kind of education can help all of our students learn to live
rules, one in which people lacked what Smith called the still more valuable and fulfilling lives. For those who pursue corpo-
small spark of conscience, would need an impossibly large rate careers, it will help them put the quest for personal gain in
police force. the context of the larger social and civic aims of corporate lead-
ership, recognizing their responsibilities not only to stockholders
Smith, a moral philosopher as well as an architect of the study but to society at large. And those who become corporate direc-
we now know as economics, gave great attention to understand- tors will know how to ask the right questions and press for clear
ing how the social environment shaped this indispensable moral answers about corporate practicesas the directors involved in
sense. The case he made for government provision of basic edu- the current scandals have so conspicuously failed to do.
cation for all rested largely on its role in promoting moral and
civic development. It would of course be absurd to claim that any college education
can provide a guarantee against fraud or malfeasance. Nonethe-
Basic education may have done the trick in Smiths day, and it less, a determined effort by colleges and universities to promote
remains essential. Certainly nobody would expect a college to civic and social responsibility among their students could do
instill basic moral values in young adults who arrive bereft of much to improve the quality of civic life in America, and to
them. But in a complex postindustrial society, the responsibili- make demoralizing scandals like those we are living through less
ties of citizenship and of professional lifeincluding business likely.
lifedemand more sophisticated understandings than was true


The Debate Over National Service

by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Kayla Meltzer Drogosz

THE BROOKINGS REVIEW except when were
Fall 2002 Vol.20 No.4
not. Our public rhetoric has always laid heavy stress on the obli-
pp. 25
gations of citizenship. With rights come responsibilities The
Copyright 2002 statement rolls off the tongues of politicians without their giving it a
The Brookings Institution
moments thought. Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what
Reprinted by permission.
you can do for your country. John F. Kennedys words are so embedded in
our civic catechism that the mere mention of the word service automati-
cally calls them forth. On Veterans Day and Memorial Day, we rightly extol
the valor of those without whose sacrifices we would not enjoy our free-
dom. Bill Clinton praised the idea of service. George W. Bush now does
the same. It is one of the few issues on which our last two presidents agree.
Yet how firm is our belief in service? There is Texas Republican, described it as a welfare
no prospect anytime soon that we will return to program for aspiring yuppies that would dis-
a military draftand our own military is skep- place private charity with government-man-
tical that a draft would work. The number of aged, well-paid social activism, based on the
politicians who support compulsory national elitist assumption that community service is
servicethe case for it is made powerfully in not now taking place.
this issue by Robert Litanis small. President
Clinton succeeded in pushing his AmeriCorps And in truth, many Americans doubt that they
program through Congress, building on the or their fellow citizens actually owe anything
ideas of Will Marshall and others at the Demo- to a country whose main business they see as
cratic Leadership Council who sought to preserving individual liberty, personal as well as
reward young people with stipends and schol- economic. In a free society, liberty is a right
arships for giving time to their country. But owed to all, worthy and unworthy alike.
many Republicans denounced the idea as paid
Finally, Americans differ widely over which
volunteerism. Representative Dick Armey, the
kinds of national service are genuinely valuable.
Many who honor military service are skeptical
Americans differ widely over which kinds of national of voluntarism that might look like, in Armeys
terms, social activism. Supporters of work
service are genuinely valuable. Many who honor
among the poor are often dubious of military
military service are skeptical of voluntarism that service. Most Americans honor both forms of

might look like, in Armeys terms, social activism. continued on page 24

United We Serve workers whose lives were threat- can provide essential help for valu-
contined from page 23 ened, our men and women in uni- able institutions that we too often
formnot CEOs, high-tech wiz- take for granted. It is easy for
devotion to country, and we have
ards, rock stars, or sports figures. At politicians to talk about the
included here powerful testimoni-
a time when citizens focus on urgency of strengthening civil
als to the varieties of civic dedica-
urgent national needs, those who society. But through AmeriCorps
tion. But in our public arguments,
serve their country naturally rise in and other programs, the govern-
the skeptical voices are often the
public esteem. In the face of an ment has found a practical (and
attack that imperiled rich and poor, not particularly costly) way to
Our divisions about the meaning powerful and powerless alike, it was make good on the rhetoric. Para-
of service are rooted deeply in his- natural that, in Sandels words, a doxically, as Steven Waldman
tory. At the founding of our nation, concern for the whole and a points out here, AmeriCorps, a
liberal and civic republican ideas moral bond with the community Democratic initiative, fitted in
jostled for dominance. The liberals whose fate is at stake became more neatly with the Republicans
viewed personal freedom as the than abstract concepts. emphasis on faith-based programs.
heart of the American experiment. Democrats were acknowledging the
Accordingly, the politics of national need to strengthen programs out-
The civic republicans valued free-
service also has been transformed. side of government; Republicans,
dom, too, but stressed that self-rule
Even before the attacks of Septem- that voluntary programs could use
demanded a great deal from citi-
ber 11, President Bush had signaled governments help.
zens. The liberals stressed rights.
a warmer view of service than most
The civic republicans stressed obli-
in his party. In choosing two That national service has become a
gations to a common good and, as
Republican supporters of the bipartisan goal is an important
the philosopher Michael Sandel has
ideaformer Mayor Steve Gold- achievement. It is reflected in the
put it, a concern for the whole, a
smith of Indianapolis and Leslie White Houses Citizen Service Act
moral bond with the community
Lenkowskyto head his adminis- and in bills cosponsored by, among
whose fate is at stake. In our time,
trations service effort, Bush made others, Senators John McCain and
the clash between these older tradi-
clear he intended to take it seri- Evan Bayh. In this case, the world
tions lives on in the intellectual
ously. But after September 11, he of legislation mirrors the spirit of
wars between libertarians and
made service a central theme of his the moment. As Marc Magee and
communitarians. When it comes to
administration. In his State of the Steven Nider of the Progressive
national service, the libertarians
Union message, he called on Amer- Policy Institute reported this sum-
lean toward skepticism, the com-
icans to give two years of service to mer, applications for AmeriCorps
munitarians toward a warm
the nation over their lifetimes and have jumped 50 percent since Sep-
announced the creation of the USA tember 11, those for the Peace
Yes, we have changed since Septem- Freedom Corps. It was a patriotic, Corps have doubled, and those for
ber 11, 2001. Respect for service post-September 11 gloss on the old Teach for America have tripled. Yes,
soared as the nation forged a new Clinton ideasand the ideas of a difficult economy may have
and stronger sense of solidarity in John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, pushed more young Americans
the face of deadly enemies. What and his father, the first President toward such endeavors. Nonethe-
has been said so often in the past Bush, who offered the nation a less, their choices point to the
year still bears repeating: our view thousand points of light. power of the service idea.
of heroes underwent a remarkable,
There is a new acknowledgment But what is the connection between
and sudden, change. The new
across the political divides that the ideas of service and citizenship?
heroes are public servantspolice,
government support for volunteers
firefighters, rescue workers, postal
Citizenship and Service
There is a new acknowledgment across the political divides that Citizenship cannot be reduced to
service. And service-good works
government support for volunteers can provide essential help for
whether of faith communities, the
valuable institutions that we too often take for granted. continued on page 25

United We Serve the ties that bind us as a nation? What if it cre- Citizenship cannot
contined from page 24 ates bridges across groups in our society that
have little to do with each other on any given be reduced to serv-
private sector, or communities of character day? What if service, as the New Lefts Port
cannot replace the responsibilities of govern- Huron Statement put it 40 years ago, can mean
ice. And service
ment. Service can become a form of cheap bringing people out of isolation and into good works whether
grace, a generalized call on citizens to do kind community? What if it fosters civic and politi-
things as an alternative to a genuine summons cal participation in a society that seems not to of faith communities,
for national sacrifice or a fair apportionment of hold the arts of public life in the highest
burdens among the more and less powerful, the esteem? In sum, what if service is not simply a
the private sector,
more and less wealthy. But when service is seen good in itself, but a means to many ends? or communities
as a bridge to genuine political and civic
responsibility, it can strengthen democratic Service and a New Generation of character
government and foster the republican virtues. Surely one of these ends is the engagement of
young Americans in public life. As Peter Hart
cannot replace the
Lenkowsky made this connection when he
and Mario Brossard argue here, the evidence of responsibilities of
urged attendees at a Corporation for National
many surveys suggests that young Americans
and Community Service conference to turn government.
are deeply engaged in civic activity. In his 2000
civic outrage into civic engagement by
campaign, Senator John McCaininitially a
increasing the reach and effectiveness of volun-
skeptic of national service, now a strong sup-
teer programs. No one can dispute visionaries
porterwon a wide following among the
like Harris Wofford and Alan Khazei, who have
young by urging them to aspire to things
shown how AmeriCorps, VISTA, the Senior
beyond your own self-interest. Service learn-
Corps, and the Peace Corps have transformed
ing, increasingly popular in our public schools,
communities. But Paul Light questions whether
has been linked with a heightened sense of civic
this transformation is sustainable. Can episodic
responsibility and personal effectiveness. If the
volunteerism build the capacity and effective-
new generation connected its impulses to serv-
ness of public and nonprofit organizations?
ice with a workable politics, it could become
And to what extent can we separate respect for
one of the great reforming generations in our
service through volunteerism from a genuine
nations history.
respect for those who make public service a
way of lifein the military, the local uni- And service could become a pathway to a
formed services, the schools and the hospitals, stronger sense of citizenship. As Jane Eisner
and (dare one even use the word) the bureau- argues, service must produce more than indi-
cracies? As Alice Rivlin notes, recreational gov- vidual fulfillment for those involved and tem-
ernment bashing saves us from facing up to porary assistance for those in need. It should,
how hard it is to make public policy in a free she says, lead to an appetite for substantive
market economy. Will the new respect for change, a commitment to address the social
service make government bashing less satisfy- problems that have created the need for service
ing as a hobby? Its possible, but we are not in the first place. Eisner suggests that as a
holding our breath. nation, we should celebrate the First Vote cast
by young people with the same fanfare that
Underlying the debate over national service is
greets other moments of passage to adult
an argument over whether service is necessary
responsibility. The goal would be to encourage
or merely nice. If service is just a nice thing to
a new generation that is gravitating toward
do, its easy to understand why critics, well rep-
national service to make the connection
resented in these pages by Bruce Chapman and
between service to the community and the
Tod Lindberg, express such strong reservations
very process that governs community life.
about government-led service programs. But is
it possible that service is something more than A focus on service and the links it forges
nice? What if it isas Bob Litan, Harris Wof- between rights and responsibilities of citizen-
ford, Carmen Sirianni, and Charlie Cobb sug-
gest in different waysa means to strengthen continued on page 26

At little cost to themselves, advocates of both conservative and zenship in our lifetime was
brought about by citizens driven
liberal individualism can use service to shroud their real intentions not by a desire to serve but by an
effort to overcome indignities they
in the decent drapery of community feeling. themselves have suffered.

United We Serve widely recognized and can be car-

Its an important point. But its also
continued from page 25 ried out by a mix of people whose
true that Rotarians are good citi-
interests, backgrounds, and
zens. Neighborliness, charity, and
ship could also offer new ways out resources may be quite different.
social responsibility are genuine
of old political impasses. For exam- Service as public work is the
virtues. It is both good and useful
ple, Andrew Stern, the president of essence of the democratic project.
to assert, as Rabbi Chaim of
the Service Employees Interna- It solves common problems and
Volozhin did, that my neighbors
tional Union, suggests that a two- creates common things. Public
material needs are my spiritual
year commitment to national serv- work entails not altruism, or not
needs. Its just possible that a
ice could become a pathway for only altruism, but enlightened self-
nation responding to the call to
undocumented workers to legalize interesta desire to build a society
service would, over time, become a
their status and for legal immi- in which the serving citizen wants
nation deeply engaged in questions
grants to speed their passage to cit- to live.
of public justice.
izenship. And former felons now
denied voting rights might earn It is possible to be cynical about
The debate over national service is
credits toward restoration of full the new call to service. It can be a
a debate over how we Americans
citizenship through service. terribly convenient way for politi-
think of ourselves. Its a debate over
cians to seem to be calling for sac-
how we will solve public problems
Jeff Swartz, the CEO of Timber- rifice without demanding much of
and what we owe our country and
land, offers practical proposals for citizens. At little cost to themselves,
each other. If our nation is to con-
business at a moment when the advocates of both conservative and
tinue to prosper, its a debate we
public demand for responsible cor- liberal individualism can use serv-
will have in every generation. For if
porate behavior is rising. He sug- ice to shroud their real intentions
we decide there are no public
gests that obligations to sharehold- in the decent drapery of commu-
things to which we are willing to
ers, to employees, and to the nity feeling. Service, badly con-
pledge some of our time and some
community are linked. One reason ceived, can distance citizens from
of our effortnot to mention our
his company is on Fortune maga- public problems. Those who serve
lives, our fortunes, and our sacred
zines list of the 100 Best Compa- can help people out there, as if
honorthen we will have quietly
nies to Work For is its program of the problems they have are dis-
abandoned our nations experi-
service sabbaticals through which connected from the society in
ment in liberty rooted in mutual
employees can spend up to six which the server lives. The sociolo-
assistance and democratic aspira-
months working at existing or gist Michael Schudson has argued
start-up nonprofits. Their purpose that President Bushs ideal citizen is
is not simply to do good works, a Rotarian, moved by a sense of
E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow
but also to build the capacity of the neighborliness, Christian charity,
and social responsibility, but in the Brookings Governance
organizations that promote social
change. untouched by having a personal Studies program and a columnist
stake in public justice. His point is for the Washington Post.
At its best, service is not make- not to knock Rotarians. Its to
work but what Harry Boyte and argue that self-interest in pursuit of Kayla Meltzer Drogosz is a
Nancy Kari, in Building America, justice is a virtue. As Schudson research analyst for the project
have called public work. It is notes in describing the civil rights on Religion and Civil Society in
work that is visible, open to movement, the most dramatic
inspection, whose significance is the Governance Studies
expansion of democracy and citi-

The Vanity of Volunteerism
By Sara Mosle

. . .
James is calling collect.

Copyright 2002 Im at 125th Street and need a has been in free fall for a year is at his mothers place in the proj-
Sara Mosle. token, he says. ever since his father lost his long- ects south of Houston Street, and
time job as a butcher when the he doesnt have any money to get
From the New York I strain my neck to see my bedside store closed after its owner died home, and its dark and there are all
Times Magazine, clock and flop back on my pillow, unexpectedly. Soon, the family was these crazy drunk people wander-
July 2, 2000. groaning. evicted from its apartment, and the ing around.
Reprinted by parents, who had been together all
James, its after midnight. My eyes are closed.
the time I had known them, split
It is June 1999 and James is 13 years upalthough the break doesnt
Why dont you explain to the
old. For the last six years, I have appear to be permanent. As a
token clerk and see if hell let you
been a mentor to him and his older result, James and Adam have lived
in, I suggest groggily. It would be
brother, Adam, and to several other in two different shelters with their
hard to overestimate how much I
kids who at one time all lived on or mother. Their father is working
dont want to go up there.
around a single block on West again, and their mother is newly
164th Street in upper Manhattan. employed, part time, as a conse- I already tried that, he says miser-
(To protect their privacy, I have quence of welfare reform. The boys, ably.
used their middle names, except who used to be on a tight leash,
when they dont have a middle now frequently go unsupervised. I am no longer even holding the
name, in which case I have used a Or at least, I think this is all correct. phoneits lying next to me on my
nickname.) Although James and I To be honest, I dont really know. pillow. You could try another
go weeks at a time without talk- Ive cobbled a lot of it together entrance, I say softly. A sweet
inghis family cant afford a from things James and Adam have nothing.
phonehe sometimes calls me col- said in passing and from conversa-
tions with one of Adams teachers. O.K. His voice is far away. I hear a
lect three times a day. We are in the
(Partly because of the phone situa- click and a distant dial tone. I am
middle of one of his calling jags.
tion, I havent spoken to the boys drifting, I am dreaming. I am
When the phone rings, I am a
parents in months.) dreaming of a little boy named
sleepy, grumpy and inadequate vol-
James who is lost in the dark. . . .
unteer, partly because what James
James is now saying something
really needs isnt a token. I sit bolt upright in bed, electrified
about how he was supposed to
spend the night at his dads apart- by the knowledge that I am an evil
You shouldnt be out this late, I
ment, on West 120th Street, but his person. I have to go get him. But
say wearily. James is often out when
father isnt in, and he thinks he where? On 125th Street? Or did he
I think a 13-year-old should be in
misunderstood and that his father say 120th? I have no idea. Twenty
bed. Despite the boom, his family
terrible minutes later, the phone
rings again. He is still on 125th
When the phone rings, I am a sleepy, grumpy and inadequate Street. Start walking down Broad-

volunteer, partly because what James really needs isnt a token. continued on page 28

The Vanity of Volunteerism dent Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell touted the
continued from page 27 power of volunteerism. Now George W. Bush
has picked up his fathers theme of a kinder,
way, I say. Ill meet you at 110th. Soon, I am gentler America by pushing charitable
in a cab headed uptown. Of course, in the choicethe provision in the 1996 welfare
broader context of Jamess life, this kind of res- reform bill that allows faith-based organiza-
Of course, in the cue mission is vain, as one writer has put it, tions to contract with government to provide
broader context of in both senses of the word. But its a balmy social services to the poor. (Al Gore supports it,
night, and suddenly there is no place Id rather too, though less vigorously.)
Jamess life, this kind bewhich is to say, Im getting something out
of it, even if he isnt. Compassionate conservatives would probably
of rescue mission is claim that I am the kind of caring adult who
I am a volunteer. For three years, I taught pub- can transform the lives of disadvantaged kids
vain, as one writer lic school in New York City, and since 1994, the more effectively than any government program.
has put it, in both summer after my last third-grade class, I have Im all for volunteering, but I would disagree.
served as an unofficial mentor to the families of While I dont doubt that I have had some posi-
senses of the word. four of my former studentsAdam and James, tive effects on my kids livesstudies show that
Jaber (and his younger brother, Lloyd), Keemy mentoring can reduce dropout rates and drug
But its a balmy night, (and his older siblings, Clara, Elizabeth and use among teenagersthey have mostly been of
Angelo) and Burger, plus a few of their friends.
and suddenly there the boosting self-esteem variety that conser-
At any given time, the group, as we have all vatives, in other contexts, usually disdain.
is no place Id rather come to call it, has numbered from 6 to 12 kids, Besides, Im not a very good volunteer. To work,
a few of them Dominican, the rest of them mentoring has to be performed consistently,
bewhich is to say, black. I am 36 and white. over a sustained period of time and preferably
Im getting something one on one. For the first couple of years, I saw
Over the years, we have gone ice skating, bowl-
my kids as often as twice a week. But now Im
ing, to movies, to museums and on the occa-
out of it, even if he lucky if I see them once a month, and I almost
sional overnight trip (to Washington, the east
never see them individually. In their lives, Im
isnt. end of Long Island) and have generally hung
less a caring adult than a random one. And my
out. I have been on hand for happy moments
failure is representative.
(the 100th birthday of Jabers great-great-
grandmother) and sad ones (his grandfathers Although 55 percent of Americans reported
funeral). When I met my kids, they were 7 that they volunteered at some point in 1998a
and 8 years old, smaller than I am, and liked to 7 percent rise over 1995this jump does little
hold my hand when we crossed the street. Now more than recover ground that was lost in the
they are 15 and 16, nearly all are in high school early 1990s and represents just a 1 percent
and they hulk over me in puffy parkas or with increase over 1989. Moreover, the total number
long legs and gangly arms protruding out of of hours that people are giving has actually
shorts and tank tops. Not one of them would be declined. Its a new trend, says Sara Melendez,
caught dead holding my hand.
continued on page 29
For more than a decade, politicians and civic
leaders have been looking to volunteers like me
to take over the governments role in providing Compassionate conservatives
vital services to the poor. Although the move-
ment arguably began in 1988 with the candi- would probably claim that I am
date George Bushs invocation of a thousand
the kind of caring adult who
points of light as a response to Reagan-era cut-
backs in social spending, it has been embraced can transform the lives of disad-
by the current Democratic administration,
which has continued those cutbacks, and cul- vantaged kids more effectively
minated in the 1997 Presidents Summit for
Americas Future in Philadelphia, where Presi-
than any government program.

The Vanity of with an urge to give but only a Helen Bruant, the programs
Volunteerism few hours to killwith open- director. So, they ask, Why
continued from page 28 ings, arranged by time slot and dont you deliver in the
geographical location. But this evenings? Well, we looked at
the president of Independent Filofax approach to giving that. But for a lot of our
Sector, which compiled this often robs volunteerism of the clients, this is their only meal.
data. People are volunteering, very thing that was supposed They eat half at lunch and save
but when they do, its more of to recommend it over govern- the other half for dinner. Plus,
a one-shot dealhalf a day ment in the first place its not good for the elderly to
one Saturday, instead of once namely, the personal connec- eat a big meal at the end of the
a week for x number of tion that develops when you day. Therefore, the program
weeks. Overall, Americans regularly visit, say, the same must hire 30 percent of its
donated 400 million fewer homebound AIDS patient. drivers. Even paying people,
hours in 1998 than they did in Bruant cannot find enough
1995. And in a volunteers market, help. We cant compete with
not every need has a buyer. McDonalds, she says. It can
Consequently, while Powell People will come in and do a be draining working with the
has made recruiting 100,000 projecta school painting, a elderly. A lot of people would
new mentors a top priority of school wiringand think prefer to flip burgers. Yet, if
Americas Promise, his volun- theyve done a good service anything, the need is increas-
teer outfit, there is little evi- and go away, says Paul Clol- ing. The aged population has
dence that people are suffi- ery, editor of The NonProfit grown by leaps and bounds in
ciently answering his call. In Times. But its not the type of the last decade, Bruant says,
New York, for instance, Big traditional, week-in and week- but giving and government
Brothers/Big Sisters receives out volunteering that a lot of financing havent increased.
just 4,000 inquiries each year organizations really need. No
from potential mentors. Of case perhaps better illustrates Indeed, according to a study
these, two-thirds never follow how idealism has run amok by the U.S. Conference of
up once they learn they have than that of Bank of America, Mayors released in December,
to commit to seeing their kids which under the rubric of requests for emergency food
at least twice a month. volunteerism encouraged its and housing have climbed at
Another 700 lose interest after employees in San Francisco to their steepest rate since the
the initial training session or adopt an A.T.M.mentor- early 1990s. As a result, the
are eliminated through the ing it, so to speak, by visiting it heads of some of the most
programs rigorous screening regularly, sprucing up its sur- reputable nonprofitsthe
process. Only 600 people ever roundings, wiping away the United Way, the Salvation
become mentorsthis in a little smudges from its face Army, Catholic Charities
city with more than one mil- until the California labor have reported that they cant
lion schoolchildrenand commissioner ruled that the keep up with rising demand
While charitable
nationally, the program has a company had violated labor for their services. Were hav- giving is up sharply,
waiting list of some 50,000 laws by trying to get its ing to turn people away, or
kids. employees to work without ration portions, to stretch the growth has
pay. supplies, says Deborah Leff,
To help nonprofits cope with the president of Americas Sec- not kept pace with
this new unreliable work The experience of Meals on ond Harvest, the nations
force, groups like Impact Wheels in Dallas is typical. It
reductions in
largest network of soup
Online and New York Cares cant find enough volunteers kitchens. And while charitable government aid
have sprung up that act like to commit to even a few hours giving is up sharply, the
temp agencies, matching the a month to help deliver meals growth has not kept pace with to the poor.
interests (and busy schedules) to the citys elderly shut-ins. reductions in government aid
of what might be called the People cant get away during
impulse volunteer someone the middle of the day, says continued on page 30

As a teacher, I had a legitimate role in my kids lives. much fun. I was trying to be reasonable. Or, I said
I always tried to give my students an oryou could
As a volunteer, however, my involvement has been not hit me, and we could get together at lunch and
maybe there would be some other way of working this
far more artificial and superficial. Im a day-tripper. out. He considered his options. He lowered his fist.
This was his secret strength. Even when enraged, Jaber
was willing to talk through anything.
The Vanity of Volunteerism
continued from page 29 My school was under registration review, meaning
that its reading scores were so low that it was in danger
to the poor. People have replaced some of it with vol-
of being taken over by the state. The school grouped
unteering, some of it with cash, but not all of it, says
students by ability, and that year, I had Room 306, indi-
Richard Steinberg, a professor of economics at the
cating that I was teaching the third grade and had the
joint campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities in
sixth, or bottom, monolingual class. There was noth-
Indianapolis. He estimates that for every dollar of
ing subtleno apple or banana groupsabout the
assistance thats cut, charitable organizations can
distinction; everyone knew what the number meant. I
recoup at most a third.
had twice as many boys as girlsnot because boys are
As someone who once worked in the New York public less intelligent than girls at that age, but because theyre
school system, I am not inured to the problems of gov- rowdier. They get labeled behavior problems and are
ernment bureaucracy. I have not forgotten the asbestos often put in the worst classes. This is one reason I
crisis (which sealed my own classroom), the idiocy of ended up mentoring boys instead of girls.
the custodians contract, the mind-numbing hours I
And in truth, the class was challenging. Although
spent at the Board of Education trying to get someone,
Adam and Keemy were sociable and outgoing, they had
anyone, to answer a straightforward question about
severe learning disabilities and entered third grade still
licensing. But whats so odd about the current volun-
reading in primers. They were best friends and lived in
teer movement is how the broad claims often made on
two-parent households. Burger and Jaber were stronger
its behalf run counter to the on-the-ground testimony
academically but remained far below grade level. Jaber,
of those, like Bruant, who actually do the hard work of
a gifted athlete, lived with his mother and his younger
ministering to the poor. Compared with someone like
brother, Lloyd. Both of Burgers parents had died. He
her, of course, I am pathetic. Still, in the words of a
was being reared by a disabled grandmother who
protesters placard at the volunteer summit, Ive vol-
struggled to care for him. While other kids labored to
unteered enough to know volunteering isnt enough.
trace action heroes, Burger was a wonderful artist and
As a substitute for the social safety net, I am as ineffi-
could draw almost anything freehand. He was also a
cient, indifferent and arbitrary as any government pro-
better reader than his scores indicated; he just got
gram. The problem isnt with volunteering, but with
bored easily and couldnt sit through the exams.
what were asking it to do.
Had I not first seen my kids for five hours a day, 180
Im going to punch you, said Jaber (the name rhymes
days a year, I doubt that I would have ever learned that
with Babar). His arm was cocked, his fist like a hard
vision problems accounted for a lot of Adams reading
plum. It was the fall of 1993, and we were standing
difficulties or that Jabers older brother was beating up
near the front of my third-grade classroom. His eyes
on him (which accounted for some of his anger then)
were dark, like windows with the shades suddenly
or that James loved to watch cooking shows on televi-
pulled down. I knew he wasnt going to hit me, but he
sion (an odd fact that emerged on one of the many
didnt know it. Jaber was often angry and sullen. (He is
afternoons that he and Adam visited my classroom
nothing like this now.) He would crawl under his desk
after school). As a teacher, I had a legitimate role in my
or into the coat closet, and no amount of pleading
kids lives. As a volunteer, however, my involvement has
could coax him out. You would peer in and see his
been far more artificial and superficial. Im a day-
tight little face, the size of a saucer, staring back from
beneath a pile of parkas.

You can hit me if you want, I said, but then well continued on page 31
have to call your mom, and that probably wont be

The Vanity of Volunteerism years. Poverty relief, disaster Around this time, I wrote an Op-
continued from page 30 reliefits a very thin slice, says Ed article for The Times about how
Ann Kaplan, the editor of the my students didnt have enough
Volunteering has always been inef- annual report Giving U.S.A. opportunities to play. In response, I
ficient. Most volunteers are concen- got a letter from a group in Wash-
trated in affluent suburbs far from In fact, a lot of what passes for vol- ington called the American Com-
blighted urban neighborhoods, unteering used to be called simply mittee to Invigorate the King Holi-
where their assistance is needed parenting: people helping out in day, which seemed to be some
most. There is an extraordinary their own childrens schools or quasi-civil-rights organization with
mismatch, says Lester Salamon, coaching their own childrens soc- an executive committee in perpet-
the director of the Johns Hopkins cer teams. Kids with parents who ual formation. The group offered
Center for Civil Society Studies, already have resources end up ben- me a few thousand dollars to start a
between the geographical locus of efiting the most. (One reason I program for my former students.
the need and the geographical even have time to volunteer is that The money was funneled through
locus of the giving. It would often Im single and dont have children my old school, as it had to go to a
take me 45 minutes each way by of my own.) And while the rich nonprofit organization, and I
subway just to pick up my kids. If give to the rich, the poor, it is worth invited Adam, Jaber, Burger and
we then headed back downtown, pointing out, give to the poor. Keemy, some of their siblings and
thats another round trip. I would Keemys older brother, Angelo, won three girls from my old class to par-
often travel three hours just to take a national award for volunteering ticipate.
my group on a two-hour excursion. some 30 hours a week handing out
used clothes to people in his neigh- Some might argue that this is how
Partly because of this mismatch, borhood who are even needier than the system should work: plucky
volunteering is also regressive. Far he is. Op-Ed writer gets nongovernment
from alleviating the gap between money to run efficient after-school
rich and poor, it tends to aggravate While it might seem, at first glance, program, entrepreneur-style, for
it. Thats because people are most as if I am an exception to some of former students. But I wasnt effi-
likely to give if they are asked to by these rulesafter all, I am crossing cient. I enjoyed no economies of
someone who knows them or if race and class lines to see my scale. My little program served just
they already have strong ties to an kidsI am not. I didnt decide, 12 kids. And to the extent that I
organization. This is why universi- after some careful needs-benefit succeeded, my success cant be
ties do such a good job of fund- analysis, to become a volunteer. I replicated on a large scale. There
raising: they get your old college would have never called Big Broth- were 1,500 other children at my old
classmate Biff to call you up and ers/Big Sisters on my own, for the school who could have greatly ben-
ask you to contribute to an institu- same reason that most Americans efited from an after-school pro-
tion to which you already have a dont: reluctance to commit to a gram. Where were these kids men-
connection. Its a double whammy. regular schedule. (As a journalist, tors? And even if the volunteers
Im often on the road.) I also have a were suddenly to materialize en
Consequently, time and money proper respect for the flake factor masse, who would finance their
tend to stay in a donors immediate in my personality. Rather, I fell into programs? There arent enough
socialand economicworld. volunteeringthe way a socialite American Committees to Invigo-
When people talk about giving, suddenly finds herself in charge of rate the King Holiday out there to
they are often talking about con- the charity ball. I was asked to give support them.
tributing to institutions, like the by someone I knew well (Adam) to
Metropolitan Museum of Art or an institution (in my case, a neigh- Although I was never a better vol-
the New York City Opera, that con- borhood, Washington Heights) to unteer than I was that first year, my
fer prestige on the donor and which I already had strong ties success owed far more to the finan-
improve the quality of life prima- (because of teaching). He didnt ask cial and institutional support I was
rily for the middle class. Despite me to mentor him in so many receiving than to my idealism. My
the roaring economy, organizations words. He just walked 100 blocks to apartment in New York was too
that work with the poor have actu- my apartment one day after school small for me to have all my kids
ally seen their proportion of the to see me. It was the hard sell.
charitable pie narrow in recent continued on page 32

The Vanity of strong, attended the Young Peo- the slugs and tadpoles from the
Volunteerism ples Concerts at Lincoln Center, reflecting pooluntil Tyrees
continued from page 31 where Wynton Marsalis had the grandmother reduced several to
kids riffing on plastic kazoos. I was tears by dumping out their aquari-
over at once. Because the school demanding and strict. We saw only ums.
was the ostensible sponsor of my movies that I deemed appropriate,
program, it let me borrow a class- even when the kids moaned, as in She and I finally came to verbal
room after hours for my group. the case of Babe, that they didnt blows next to the Apollo space-
This meant desks! And access to want to see no pig movie and craft. We were waiting to see an
scissors, crayons and glue. There that thats wack. I often felt like a IMAX movie on the space pro-
was a chalkboard for writing out slightly fraudulent magician, gram, and the grandmother, who
assignments, a tape player for play- pulling back the curtain on each had filled in for another parent at
ing music, an easel for displaying new delight of the city. It was a the last minute and had been
charts, a class library and so on. season of firsts: the first time ice insisting that we return to New
Because we were officially associ- skating, the first time bowling, the York since before we had arrived,
ated with a school, we could also first trip on the Circle Line cruise was again demanding that we leave
ride the subway free whenever we around Manhattan, the first trip to immediately. I had just bought the
took field trips on weekday after- the zoo. Some of it was almost tickets and had no intention of
noons. Together, these itemsthe obscenely easy: What do you mean wasting them. Lets take it out-
room, the basic supplies, the free youve never been on a swing? side, I said, preposterously, as the
transportationconstituted a kids looked on, goggle-eyed, barely
considerable capital investment in Thats not to say everything always able to contain their snickers. To
my program, all of it provided at went smoothly. There was the time this day, Keemy likes to refer to
taxpayer expense. This in turn Lloyd had a meltdown on 161st the time Ms. Mosle and Tyrees
helped me make the most of my Street and St. Nicholas Avenue grandmother got in a fight. But by
grant money. Government spend- hysterically screaming, kicking, my and large, the trip was a success.
ing causes volunteering, the econ- physically having to restrain him We visited the White House and
omist Richard Steinberg explains. so he wouldnt bolt into traffic, as the Lincoln Memorial, among
You cant have a volunteer in a people stared, shaking their heads other landmarksalthough for
school without a schoolhouse. at my poor parenting skillsall the kids, the highlight was spend-
Government institution-building because I wouldnt let him go to ing the night at the Holiday Inn.
increases volunteering. McDonalds. And there was the
time I started yelling at the grand- Still, after two years, my mentoring
It certainly made my own efforts mother of Tyree, a boy who was was beginning to seem awfully
more effective. My kids and I were briefly in our group, on the steps vague and open-ended. I was earn-
able to do all sorts of projects. We of the National Air and Space ing about $40,000 a year freelance,
learned about art theory, which Museum in Washington. The occa- and several of my kids had begun
colors made which, how to draw a sion was the 1996 Childrens to age out of the child category.
portrait (how the eyes, surpris- March. I was working as a writer They could no longer ride the sub-
ingly, are in the center of your and had persuaded a magazine to way free and were beginning to
face), went to museums, made send meand my kidsto cover require adult admissions, effec-
panel narratives like Jacob the event. (The grant money had tively tripling the cost of many
Lawrence and cut-out composi- long since run out.) I drove 12 outings. A bowling trip, including
tions like Matisse. We studied kids, and Tyrees grandmother, meals and transportation, often
jazzI played them My Favorite who was acting as a chaperon, cost me more than $200. Plus, the
Things from The Sound of down in a rented van. Most of the kids were tired of bowling.
Music and then the Coltrane ver- kids had never been out of New Although the three girls had
sionand we talked about the York. The creative financing dropped out, the group was
importance of imitation, or prac- required that we actually attend becoming unwieldy. Whenever I
tice, and improvisation. We saw the march, squandering a precious went up to the block, a crowd of
documentaries, traveled to Queens afternoon. But the kids had fun,
to see an exhibit on Louis Arm- creating water-bottle worlds for continued on page 33

The Vanity of Volunteerism One obvious reason for the decline in volun- My idea was not to
continued from page 32 teering is that Americans are working harder.
With the rise of the two-income family, Paul improve the citys
kids would form, begging me to take them with Clolery says, the traditional volunteer who
me, as the drug dealers on the corner looked stayed at home with the kids no longer exists.
schools systemati-
on, smirking. I wasnt very good at saying no According to one study, middle-class parents callymy children
it all seemed so arbitrary, who could come and now punch the clock 335 hours more each
who couldntand I began to understand why yearthats eight solid workweeksthan they would almost
the age-grouping of kids by grade had ever did in 1979. I dont know how you ask people
arisen as a custom: it provided a way for adults who are working 50-, 60-hour weeks, who certainly take the
to care about children, and then to stop caring already have children and elderly parents to
about them, without the kids ever feeling
places of other poor,
care for, to volunteer on a more regular basis,
abandoned. Sara Melendez says. The rhetoric about volun- equally deserving
teering hasnt caught up with the reality of peo-
My apartment was littered with to do lists ples lives. studentsbut to
get all the kids tutors, get them into summer
campthat I never quite made good on Between 1995 and 1997, for example, I cut back pass the kids off,
because of the logistical or financial hurdles the amount of time I saw my kids by three-
involved. Even the Washington trip had been
into new caring
fourths, to about once a month. The reason
little more than a grand gesture on my part to wasnt that in 1995 I was a good person and in hands, like batons.
make up for the fact that I was no longer seeing 1997 I was a bad one. Rather, in 1995 I had a
as much of the kids. And when I did see them, I flexible job with a lot of downtime, and in 1997
found I was becoming less and less ambitious: I took a full-time job as an editor and often
instead of a unit on jazz, we had seen an worked into the evening or on weekends.
awful lot of movies lately. Their titles testified
to the growing poverty of my imagination: had Before I made the shift, I began to look for an
I really taken them to see Spawn and Home exit out of my kids lives. At one point, I was
Alone 3? approached about a job in Washington and fig-
ured that was how my mentoring would end: I
In the tipping point, Malcolm Gladwells would leave the city. But the opportunity fell
book about social epidemics, he cites an experi- through. I eventually decided I would get my
ment devised by two Princeton psychologists to four original students into a good, small junior
test why people give. The experimenters met high. (I also helped Angelo get into a good high
individually with a group of seminarians and school.) The younger siblings, I figured, could
asked them to prepare a short talk. Some were then follow suit. My idea was not to improve
asked to discuss the parable of the Good the citys schools systematicallymy children
Samaritan. Others were given a more neutral would almost certainly take the places of other
topic. Then, just as they were about to leave for poor, equally deserving studentsbut to pass
their presentations, they were told either that the kids off, into new caring hands, like batons.
they were running late or had a few minutes to
spare. On the way, the seminarians would Look at this pizza! Jaber exclaimed in mock
encounter a man slumped in an alleyway, horror as we sat in a booth at Johns Pizzeria on
coughing and groaning in obvious distress. The the Upper West Side. The pie had arrived
idea was to see who would stop and help. slightly burned around the edges, and Jaber was
Invariably, people assume that those who were feigning outrage. Why do they give us the
asked to talk about the Good Samaritan were black pizza? He intoned, as the other kids dis-
the most likely to assist the man. In fact, the solved into helpless giggles. Do they give the
only factor that influenced the outcome was black pizza to the white man? Nooooooo! he
time. Among those who thought they were in a said. They give the black pizza to the black
hurry, only 10 percent stopped to help. Among man! I had never heard Jaber talk this way.
those with extra time, 63 percent stopped. As Should the black man accept the black pizza.
Gladwell concludes, context, far more than
conviction, influences behavior. continued on page 34

The Vanity of Volunteerism Crack dealers be wandering all in there! This elicited only tanta-
continued from page 33 over the ocean, James said. We lized squeals. The kids appealed to
were walking on a path toward the me with loud wails, Ms. Mooozz-
No! The black man should demand sand dunes near Amagansett, on zlleeee, nigger put toothpaste in my
the white pizza! I was laughing, the eastern end of Long Island, on hair! or alternately tried to get
too. a summer night in 1998. Seven away with things. Shhhh! Ms.
city-bred kids, scared of the coun- Mosle will hear you, in a loud
I took the performance to be an
try dark, were simultaneously stage whisper. Id say, I can hear
impression of Al Sharpton, who
hanging off my arms. I had driven you. More peals of laughter.
had been preaching outside Jabers
them early that morning to a cot- Finally, at about 3 in the morning,
window during the previous
tage I had rented. Several had the house was quiet. Sometime
month to protest the death of
claimed to have never seen the later, a car alarm went off. I heard a
Kevin Cedeno, a 16-year-old boy
Atlanticeven at Coney Island. tiny voice in the dark. It was James:
who was shot in the back by police
How could you live on an island I told you crack dealers be wan-
on the corner of 164th Street and
off the coast of America and have dering all over the ocean.
Amsterdam Avenue in the wee
never gone to the ocean? All after-
hours of April 6, 1997. I had inno- My renewed commitment, how-
noon we had played in the waves.
cently picked up my paper the next ever, didnt mean I was any more
The kids learned about tides (why
morning, and there on the front effective as a volunteer. Nineteen
was the water receding?) and the
page were pictures of the block ninety-eight was not a good year
principles of sand-castle construc-
my block, our blockcordoned off for most of my kids or their fami-
tion (namely, dont build too close
with yellow police tape, the famil- lies, but I did little more than stand
to the water). James, marveling
iar hubcap store and bodega where on the sidelines and watch help-
that nature would leave free
the kids and I often bought sodas lessly as events unfolded in some-
shells on the beach, hauled 100 or
in the background. I thought, He times tragic ways. After Adam and
so back to the cottage. We barbe-
could have been my kid. Jabers family was evicted, the boys
cued in the backyard. Burger
revealed heretofore undiscovered began to unravel. Adam, who had
At the time of the shooting, I had
skills of food presentation as Jaber always had good attendance,
not seen the group in months. In
dragged a boogie board around the stopped going to school and was
some ways my strategy had
yard, the wrist leash attached to his apparently hanging out on the
worked. At their new school, Jaber
neck like a giant ornament worn by streets in the South Bronx. He was
and Adam had come under the
Flava Flav. It was a cloudless night, avoiding our outings. James also
wing of a wonderful teacher
and I pointed out the Big Dipper seemed at loose ends. One after-
named Natalie Novod, whom I had
and the Milky Way. (More firsts.) noon at work, I got a call from the
known my first year teaching and
Down the beach, there was a bon- Toys R Us near the shelter where
who worked with them individu-
fire, and a party, and for a while we his family was living in Brooklyn. It
ally as a resource room instruc-
lingered at its edges. seemed that James had damaged
tor. (Burger and Keemy didnt have
some producthe often spent
her, which they frequently
The cottage had only two rooms, long hours in toy stores yearningly
lamented.) Novod later told me
so we separated the mattress and looking at video games he couldnt
that the kids had been completely
box springs to create four double affordand was being held by
unstrung by the shooting, and I
beds. I slept on the sofa in the liv- security. The store couldnt reach
took Jabers routine to be just
ing room. I felt like a single mom his mother (since there was no
another way of coming to grips
at her sons first slumber party. The phone). Could I pick him up? Oth-
with Cedenos death. But the kids
kids talked among themselves. erwise, he would be turned over to
continued to call. Before long, we
There were thumps and giggles and the police. I did the quick calcula-
started seeing each other again,
some mooning. There was discus- tions in my mind: at least 40 min-
though less frequently, and I real-
sion of a girl who appeared to be utes by subway just to get there. It
ized that I wouldnt be breaking my
the object of much sexual fantasy. was 4:30, and I was editing an arti-
bond with them. I resisted this
When things threatened to get out cle that had to go to press that
knowledge for a while. Then I
of hand, I mouthed the cliches of
parenthood: Dont make me come continued on page 35

The Vanity of had recently been released from he will have a hard time affording
Volunteerism jail. William had begged his it. His family is destitute.
continued from page 34 mother and sister to let him live
with them. I didnt know my For all the talk about children in
afternoon. It was out of the ques- father and wanted to have a rela- this country, we do very little for
tion. (The security guard took pity tionship with him, he explained. themor their families. What my
and let him go.) His mother and sister were reluc- kids really need, I cant give them:
tant but relented. Shortly there- better housing, less crowded
Burger, meanwhile, was having after, everyone but the father went schools, access to affordable health
trouble in school, and the school on a family outing in Queens. In care, a less punitive juvenile justice
recommended that he be placed in their absence, the father stole every system, and for their parents, bet-
foster care because his grand- item in the apartmentclothes, ter child care (so they can work
mother was having a hard time CDs, even the food in the refriger- without leaving their kids unat-
caring for him. For a while, he ator. William now felt horribly tended) and a living wage. Even the
lived with an uncle, in a kind of guilty. A few months later, in a sep- churches, in whose name the
compromise, but was eventually arate incident, his apartment claims of volunteering are often
placed in a group house in Brook- building burned. For the next sev- made, have begun to protest. In
lyn during the week and returned eral months, the family lived, with February, a surprisingly large and
home on weekends. no heat, in the charred shell as they diverse coalition of religious lead-
waited for new housing. Only ersfrom the conservative
Keemys father, although a present Jabers life remained relatively sta- National Association of Evangeli-
and caring parent, has struggled ble during this time. cals to the liberal United States
with drugs. In 1998 his addiction Catholic Conferencecame
worsened. He started stealing from But this recitation of sorrow cre- together in Washington to inaugu-
the family, and Keemys mother ates a hopeless picture. None of rate a new group, Call to Renewal,
threw him out. He broke back into these kids are in any serious kind to insist that government do more
the apartment, shattering a win- of trouble. They are all good, to fight poverty. Since welfare
dow, which cut up Keemys sister sweet, decent kids. After six reform passed, all these problems
Clara. For the first and only time, months or so, Adam stopped hang- have been dumped at churches
one of my kids called me to ask ing out in the Bronx, not because feet, says the Rev. Jim Wallis, one
directly for assistance. Keemy left a of any intervention on my part, of the organizations founders.
heartbreaking message on my but because he broke his leg and But we cant do it all.
machine, asking, all in a rush, if I was homebound in a cast for sev-
could lend the family some money. eral weeks. This broke the spell of As it stands, the government isnt
(I did.) His mother was now scared the streets. Angelo, Keemys older even doing what it said it would.
his father would return again and brother, has continued to excel and One reason that hunger and home-
wanted to move. After months of is headed to college in the fall on a lessness are on the rise is that many
wrangling, they finally got a new partial scholarship. (I am also states, including New York, have
place, but it turned out to be in a helping, by paying his room and prevented even the deserving
terrible neighborhood, and every- board.) Burger seems happy in his working poor from receiving basic
one came to regret the move, par- group home, and this may in fact benefits, like health care and food
ticularly after the father and the be a good solution for him stamps, to which they are legally
family were reconciled. although it is worth noting that as entitled. Nationwide, a million
a volunteer, I had nothing to do people have lost Medicaid benefits
Sometimes my kids would just with it. Jaber and Keemy are both and are now uninsured. As a result,
drop these devastating bombs. One doing well. And Williamwell, many working families are worse
day as we were riding the subway William is the Rock of Gibraltar: off financially than they were
downtown, another kid, William, a bright, self-possessed. He will under the old system. Minnesota,
late arrival to the group, was sitting almost certainly go to college. I say by contrast, has offered ample
off to one side. He looked differ- that. He should and wants to. But
ent. I realized that his clothes were unless he wins a full scholarship, continued on page 36
too big. I asked him what was up.
He quietly explained that his father

The Vanity of Volunteerism their own bravery were worth the price of
continued from page 35 admission. But I couldnt even lure the others
onto the Ferris wheel. I kept trying to explain
assistancecash allowances to supplement that the scariest ride we had been on all day
income, job training, more opportunities for was the New Jersey Turnpike. But they were
The best way to health and child carein addition to requiring unmoved. I was dumbfounded. When I was
that welfare recipients work. The approach their age, I had already graduated to the full-
help kids, in short, hasnt been cheap, but the results, according to throated screamers. What was going on here?
a widely praised study released in June, have
is not to recruit been remarkable: not only have poverty and Then I realized: when I was their age, I had
homelessness declined but the marriage rate been going to Six Flags since the time I was 2. I
strangers to take had watched an older brother try every ride
has also risen, domestic abuse is down, truancy
the place of parents, rates have fallen and children are doing better before I did, giving me confidence that I
in school. The best way to help kids, in short, is wouldnt die on, say, the parachute plunge.
but to help those not to recruit strangers to take the place of par- Over the years, I was slowly introduced to each
ents, but to help thosetheir families and new level of fright. To my kids, however, Six
their families and teacherswho are already in the best position Flags was a foreign world to which they had
teacherswho are to help them. been introduced all at once, relatively late in
life. They were 13 and 14, already at that tender
already in the best Thats not to say that volunteering has no age of adolescence when they werent inclined
value. But it doesnt offer a systematic solution to set themselves up for embarrassment or
position to help to entrenched problems like hunger, poverty or ridicule by trying a ride they couldnt fully pre-
homelessness. If I had to say what Ive done for dict their reaction to. But if Six Flags scared
them. Thats not to my kids, Id point to the Six Flags effect, them, how frightening must a real roller
say that volunteering named after our first trip to the amusement coasterlike collegeseem? How do you
park two years ago. Its going to be a imagine a world that youve never been to or
has no value. But it scorcher103 degrees, my clock radio seen? If Ive done anything for my kids, its to
announced on the morning of our departure. introduce them to new worlds: chopsticks,
doesnt offer a An hour or so later, I and six teenage boys Avery Fisher Hall, the Staten Island Ferry, Mex-
systematic solution crammed into a Ford Escorttwo in front, ican food, Duke Ellington, even the Hamptons.
four in backthat I had rented from Rent-a-
to entrenched Wreck. It didnt have air-conditioning. Jam- They have done the same for me. A year later,
ming to Hot 97, their favorite station, we drove we returned to Six Flags, and sure enough, the
problems like along the sweltering highway as they tried to kids were now nonchalant, pronouncing rides
top one another with brave boasts about which boring that they found terrifying just a year
hunger, poverty
rides they would soon conquer. None of them before. Some of this was clearly bravado. But
or homelessness. had ever been to Six Flags. By the time we got its as if their entire youth had been condensed
to the park, even I couldnt wait, despite the into a few months. They had gone from being
heat, to witness their first roller-coaster ride. babies, as they would put it, to adults, with-
out ever getting to enjoy the time in between. I
But once inside, the mood suddenly darkened. sometimes felt this about their entire lives.
I led them to a set of airborne swings that on When I first started seeing my kids, people
the scare-o-meter ranked just above a merry- would smile at us on the subway, as in, Look
go-round. Suddenly, my tough inner-city kids at the nice white lady with the cute little black
were balking. Im not going on no swing ride, children. Now I found, when I was standing at
Jaber announced first. Keemy chimed in, the center of a group of teenage boys, people
Thats wack! Its just a giant swing, I sometimes shot me expressions of alarm, as in,
implored. Remember swings? Wed been on Are you O.K.?
swings. It was this way ride after ride. Adam
and Burger were slightly more adventurous. In the publics eyes, my kids had morphed, in
Through sheer force of will, I managed to get the matter of one or two years, from being
them and James onto the Runaway Mine Train;
their shocked, amazed expressions afterward at continued on page 37

The Vanity of Volunteerism happy to have abandoned my kids. While I suddenly realized I had known him half
continued from page 36 I would be lying if I said I didnt some- his life.
times still wish that my kids lives had
cute to being potential superpredators. never become linked to mine, in truth, If were going to insist on smaller gov-
I often noticed as we walked around the when I try to imagine my life without ernment and lower taxes, says Sara
Upper West Side how people gave us a them in it, I cant: it would all seem so Melendez at Independent Sector, then
wide berth, how store managers stiffened pointless and empty, I thinkmy 30s were going to have to give more individ-
when we walked in, how people moved with nothing to speak of but career. ually. But if what were really saying is
when we sat down in a theater, how, if I that were giving as much as we can, that
hailed a cab and my kids stepped off the When did I first meet you? James asked were volunteering as much as we can,
curb, it would screech away or how, in February, a few weeks before I left. I then we have a choice. We can either say,
incredibly, the ticket agents at the was paying him to help me pack up. As he I dont care what happens to people in
Museum of Modern Art once refused us worked, I was trying to reassure him that need, or we can make sure that we have
admission, insisting that a group of six I would be coming back, that we would the government policies in place to pick
with one chaperon was too largewould stay in touch, that I would even have a up the slack.
six Chapin girls have received the same toll-free number, so he could continue to
call me collect. For his part, he was try- One night, as I stood on the block of
treatment?until I threatened unspeci-
ing to earn enough money to buy one of West 164th Street, the usual crowd having
fied legal action. I wanted to hit people
his beloved video games. formed, a kid who hoped to join our
when these things happened. My kids just
group cried out, Ms. Mosle, you need to
shrugged. It wasnt news to them, and it
You remember, I said. He claimed not start a center! I laughed. I knew what he
shouldnt have been to me. But all I can
to. You were 7, I said. You used to come meant. What these kids needwhat all
say is that its not the same until it hap-
with Adam to my classroom after school. these kids needisnt me, but a real
pens to you.
after-school program.
Oh, yeah, he replied.
I finally did leave New York, as I hoped I
would. (I now live in Texas.) But I am not

The Good Citizen: A History of American Life
reviewed by David Greenberg

. Atomized Americans, its said,
selfishly guard our rights and entitlements, shirking civic
obligations and shunning the public sphere. We telecommute
from gated communities, indifferent to our neighbors.

Government, captive to special interests, remains unfazed by such alleged threats to the
ignores our voices; and so we abandon the republic as the dominance of TV or our forget-
political parties, mock our leaders, and rarely fulness about Watergate. No matter what the
bother to vote. Journalism has degenerated topic, he calmly breaks down the conventional
into tabloid sensationalism, manipulative wisdom into its premises and proceeds to
sound bites, and horse-race-style political cov- explain why those premises are faulty.
erage, leading us to distrust reporters and stop
reading the papers. In this disunited America The Good Citizen showcases Schudsons gift for
this culture of narcissismmeanness has tri- upending received wisdom. Repeatedly, he
umphed, the habits of the heart have atro- explodes myths of a great bygone age of flour-
phied, and everyone is bowling alone. ishing civic virtue. Why cant we recreate the
town meetings of colonial America, where citi-
Such a portrait of an impoverished society, zens assembled as equals to resolve their prob-
Michael Schudson notes in The Good Citizen lems? First, Schudson suggests, we might recall
has scarcely to be argued; the only question is that the New England town meetings allowed
what to do about it. Yet in this erudite, clever, only property-owning men (and sometimes
The Good Citizen: and original book, Schudson does indeed argue only churchgoing property-owning men) to
A History of American the pointand persuasively. Employing not so participate. Even among these few, public
Civic Life much polemic as instruction, Schudson leads a mindedness flagged, as voter turnout for elec-
tour of American history to point up the tions hovered near 10 to 25 percent.
by Michael Schudson
changing ways citizenship has been construed.
Free Press, In the process, he shows that many of the com- Likewise, we should be wary of romanticizing
390 pp.; $27.50 monplaces about our supposedly tattered civic the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln
condition stem not from the objective state of and Stephen Douglas. The Senate candidates,
our national health but from the unreasonable after all, threw ad hominem attacks and unsub-
This review appeared in stantiated slurs at each other, pandered to
standards we use to judge it.
[civreviews] entertainment-seeking crowds (who werent
NovemberDecember A professor of communication at the Univer- allowed to vote for their own senators), and
sity of California at San Diego and a
1998, Vol 2. No. 6, and is continued on page 39
MacArthur Grant recipient, Schudson blends
reprinted with permission.
history, sociology, and media studies in his
work; in his first two books, Discovering the Schudson leads a tour of
News and Watergate in American Memory, he
turned this hybrid into a trademark genre. Lib- American history to point up the
eral, skeptical, and optimistic, he takes the long
changing ways citizenship has
view to put in perspective whatever cultural
threat has lately panicked the cognoscenti. He been construed.

The Good Citizen other popular associationsdrew Voter turnout has fallen, and we
continued from page 38 the suspicion of the genteel leader-
ship. George Washington, for one, romanticize the past. But Schudson
wrote derisively of self created
droned on interminably. There is doesnt say things are worse any more
bodies, forming themselves into
much to learn from the Lincoln- permanent censorsunder the than he says theyre better.
Douglas debates about the politics shade of night.
of the 1850s, Schudson notes, but knowledgeable about the issues
there are no lessons to apply to Soon, however, the democratic (hence, literacy tests), to value their
our own time, certainly not in the tides released by the Revolution informed opinions over party loy-
form of a rebuke to a purportedly further eroded the class-stratified alty (ticket-splitting grew com-
diminished political culture. social order. By 1824, every state mon), and to vaunt the public
had granted all free white men the good. The League of Women Voters
But The Good Citizen is more than franchise. Martin Van Buren, leader and similar institutions sprang up.
a series of debunkings. Although of New Yorks Democratic Party,
Schudson bases his research mostly helped turn political parties into Did they create a better system?
on the work of other historians, his vehicles for organizing the newly Schudson asks of these reformers.
synthesis is a creative one. He mobilized masses. Parties swelled in He doesnt answer directly. They at
braids together the histories of sev- power and respectability through- least created a different one. The
eral interrelated democratic institu- out this second period of citizen- esteem for the independent,
tionsthe presidency, the fran- ship, culminating in the Gilded Age informed citizen, after all, has had
chise, political parties, voluntary and its love of election-season bal- its downsidesin particular, an
private associations, the news lyhoo: banners and bands, torchlit excessive pressure on citizens to
media, and otherseach of which processions and carnivalesque fes- make onerous and unnatural sacri-
helps define what it means to be a tivity. Local clubs thrived with fices. Voter turnout has fallen, and
citizen. With so many variables at active members; newspapers took we romanticize the past. But
play, its natural that our notions of openly partisan stands, and even Schudson doesnt say things are
citizenship should metamorphose many among the colorful array of worse any more than he says theyre
over time; and Schudson appreci- ethnic immigrants were able to find better. And his refusal to pass judg-
ates the fluid nature of his subject. a voice in politics. ment signals not only his open-
Still, he identifies three main peri- mindedness but his appreciation
ods of American history, each gov- This era, in turn, passed when the that giving the thumbs up or
erned by a different conception of rage for rationalization, reform, thumbs down to history is a fools
citizenship. Explaining the evolu- and expertisethe hallmarks of game.
tion of these conceptions forms the the Progressive Eraushered in a
core of his book. third concept of citizenship. Civil Thus, when it comes to the present,
service reform stamped out the he is disinclined to join the chorus
First was the early republic, when rampant patronage that had made of doomsayers. I do not join the
ideals of social hierarchy still held for widespread corruption. Innova- common practice of beating up on
sway. Although the American Revo- tions such as referenda, secret bal- our own era because it fails to live
lution had shattered the rigid lots, and popular election of sena- up to the standards of another day,
monarchical order of English soci- tors weakened the parties. he writes. We can gain inspiration
ety, certain habits, such as deference Journalism became a profession, from the past, but we cannot
to ones social betters, persisted in replete with press clubs, salaried import it. None of the older models
the new political culture. Politics writers, and professional schools; of authority and citizenship will
remained an avocational activity like all professions, it placed new suffice. We require a citizenship fit
for gentlemen, most people could- faith in objectivity and disinterest- for our own day. Society has
nt vote at all, and those who could edness. As Schudson puts it, Pro- changed radically since the Progres-
chose among upper-class candi- gressive Era politics instructed peo- sive Era: Television now shapes the
dates. Grassroots organizations ple in a citizenship of intelligence news; a civil rights revolution has
political parties, workingmens rather than passionate intensity.
clubs, philanthropic societies, and continued on page 40
Citizens were now supposed to stay

The Good Citizen in delegated experts to handle their jobs, how it might reorient politics. Nor, does
continued from page 39 checking in when theres reason to worry. he imagine and respond to objections
We rely on the farms, milk processors, others might have to it.
shifted power among the electorate; inter- and government inspectors to see that
est groups have proliferated. Yet, we stick milk is pasteurized, we do not do it our- Then again, Schudsons book isnt meant
to the same basic notions from that dis- selves, Schudson notes; and so we should to be a manifesto so much as a prole-
tant period. And so in his concluding sec- regard political issues. Like parents watch- gomenon. The bulk of his opushis
tion, Schudson puts forward a provocative ing children at a swimming pool, monito- review of the historyshould clear the
suggestion for thinking about a citizen- rial citizens look inactive, but they are decks of the tiresome laments about how
ship fit for our own day. poised for action if action is required. our civic life pales next to that of our
They are still protective of their rights, golden past. His notion of monitorial
Can a rights-conscious citizenship build still concerned for their communities, and obligation, while still sketchy, should
institutions that allow people to be citi- yet relieved of the moralizing demands for inspire a range of our best social thinkers
zens without forcing them to be saints? unreasonable sacrifice that may drive to begin discussing citizenship in terms
Schudson asks. Can it demand of citizens them away from the public sphere alto- that are hopeful rather than despairing,
ordinary but not heroic efforts at infor- gether. constructive rather than instructive,
mation-gathering and civic participa- encouraging rather than admonishing.
tion? He believes the answer is yes, or at Monitorial obligation strikes me as an And, if were lucky, Schudsons will be
least probably. astute and highly promising way of recon- among the voices that continue to weigh
ceiving our rights and responsibilities as in.
The name he gives to his proposed way of citizens. Duty should fit not like a strait-
construing citizenship is monitorial obli- jacket but like a freshly starched shirt, David Greenberg, a Richard Hofstadter
gation. Instead of omnicompetence and clean and comfortable with its slight stiff- Fellow in American history at Colum-
omniscience, Americans can rest easy ness. Its unfortunate, then, that Schudson
with a modicum of competence and bia University, is a columnist for Slate
devotes only five pages to elaborating this
knowledge about current affairs. They idea. Its the thrilling climax of his book, magazine.
should read the papers, or maybe even but he treats it more like an afterthought.
just scan the headlines, to keep generally Schudson doesnt draw out, for example,
aware of events. But they should also trust how this concept would work in practice,

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