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Preface The idea for this book began, without my knowing it, when as an undergraduate student I was invited to participate outside what sometimes felt like the “bubble” of the college campus in several courses that included community service. I soon became immersed in community problemsolving as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student working at the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota . These experiences introduced me to a new educational method as well as a different kind of politics. The relationships I formed across age, race, class, and cultural differences with people outside the campus were different from those I had with a teacher and my peers in the classroom. Both were learning relationships, but my experiences in the community allowed me to see more diverse perspectives ; they also had more public and productive dimensions. Learning in a community context was actually very natural and powerful , especially as I began to ask people to tell stories of meaningful learning experiences, along with stories of how they formed civic identities . Most, like me, engaged in meaningful learning outside the confines of the school building. People also tend to learn about public issues in community settings, like the local pizzerias, delis, and barber shops where I discussed the issues of the day growing up in Yonkers, New York. Simply put, I learned that it takes a village to educate a citizen. This idea is founded on the premise that schools are essential for the civic growth of children, but inadequate to the educational equation. Communities must also be educative. I’ve since realized that, as a society, we’re not doing so well at this. We rely too much on a single institution to solve all of our problems. Education has become confused with schooling . This is also true for the most fundamental of challenges: educating for democracy. While “civic education” is now a buzzword among policy makers and educators concerned about the state of our democracy, especially the ix disconnection of young people from public life, this field of endeavor is often too narrowly defined. Aside from the focus on schooling and curriculum, civic education tends to promote the easiest things to count—voting, volunteer hours, and the acquisition of civic knowledge. When this happens, civic learning is an isolated project, not part of a broader culture of democratic engagement. And, perhaps most significant , civic education becomes about getting young people to participate in the system as it is, rather than helping to create a different kind of public life. Yet there is a great possibility for a more expansive approach to civic learning. My experience with a different type of education and politics, of course, is by no means unique. There is an emerging movement for a citizen-centered democracy in an array of fields, including education, as Harry Boyte, Peter Levine, Carmen Sirianni, Cynthia Gibson and others have documented.1 What might be less apparent, however, is that this movement is part of a long tradition of citizens using education to build democratic communities. This book is an attempt to introduce a conception of learning and civic life in which education for democracy is a function of whole communities . To accomplish this, I draw on both the current and historical examples that see the importance of community in educating for democracy and argue for an ecological approach to civic learning. This conception traces back to the late nineteenth century with the settlement house movement and Jane Addams’s Hull House in urban Chicago, and then directly ties to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s with the educational efforts of the Highlander Folk School in rural Tennessee . These traditions, fortunately, are still very much alive in communities around the country, most especially on the West Side of St. Paul in a community-based civic learning experiment called the Neighborhood Learning Community. Education as the function of whole communities is about more than standardized tests, and it involves more than preparation for the workplace . It is also about more than preparing people to be part of the system “as it is.” This book attempts to tell stories that run counter the dominant political, educational, and research narratives. First and foremost, this book invites the possibility of a different kind of politics in striking contrast with the zero-sum “politics as usual” that today has created a divisive, bitter landscape of Red and Blue America. Moving beyond a limited scarcity model toward a...


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