Friday, September 29, 2006


Approach two: Reinventing citizenship

What is referred to as "Approach two" in the discussion guide for revitalizing democracy focuses on reinventing citizenship through a web of connections.

Here is a short discription: "Democracy requires the ability to work together on common concerns—civic skills that most people learn in clubs, church groups, and local associations. The public square is emptying because many Americans aren’t making the civic connections that form the habits and sharpen the skills of citizenship."

Have you had an experience that fits with this approach? Or perhaps you know of a club or group that is making and forming these connections? If so, please share.

Monday, September 25, 2006


What are others saying about impact of moral decline?

Here are a few of things others are saying about “approach one” to revitalizing democracy. Read over the ideas and then share your thoughts.

Public actions favored by Approach One

• Schools should integrate character education into the curriculum.

• Various measures should be taken to reinforce the message that marriage is not something easily entered into or quickly dissolved. Divorce laws should be tightened and premarital counseling should be readily available.

• Reward marriage and discourage childbirth outside of marriage by ending the “marriage penalty” in the tax code and taking other measures.

• Television networks should agree to a code of content that reinforces social responsibility rather than undermining it. The Federal Communications Commission should use its power to regulate use of the airways in the public interest by minimizing toxic messages and reinforcing socially responsible values.

• To underline the importance of public responsibility, public service should be required of all young people.

What others are saying about/against Approach One

• The sky is not falling. Americans are no less moral today than in the past. The erosion of public life has many causes.

• Most Americans don’t want to legislate morality. They reject black-and-white depictions of how people should behave, and they reject the view that America is morally bankrupt.

• Separation of church and state is a fundamental American principle, not to be abandoned lightly. Moreover, some of the values taught in religious institutions are incompatible with democratic life.

• The United States continues to be one of the most religiously observant countries in the world.

• The real source of our public troubles lies elsewhere. Among the root causes is the erosion of civic associations.

Remember, the questionnaire for the “Revitalizing Democracy” forum is now online. After reading the blog and submitting comments (to foster further discussion) please take the online questionnaire. Click here to take survey.

What do you like, or dislike, about this stated position so far?

Thursday, September 21, 2006


A Final Indication of moral decline?

A final indication of moral decline, say advocates of this approach, is that the value of sacrifice is conspicuous by its absence. Self-restraint, once considered an honorable character trait, is widely considered quaint and unnecessary. The dominant cultural lesson—reinforced by an endless stream of media messages—seems to be: Grab all you can. Why wait? Make your own rules. Don’t worry about the next generation.

To advocates of this first perspective on what has gone wrong with America’s public life, these developments are different facets of a single, fundamental problem: the erosion of the moral foundation on which public life in a democratic society depends. Many have begun looking for ways to restore these foundational values to the place they deserve. Choosing to take seriously the values on which democracies depend will require a series of changes in family life, in the schools, in the messages featured in American culture, in our preference for favoring individual rights over collective responsibilities.

You can read rest of Approach One in the (Democracy discussion guide) online.

Remember, the questionnaire for the “Revitalizing Democracy” forum is now online. After reading the content of this blog and submitting comments (to foster further discussion) please take the online questionnaire. Click here to take survey.

What do you like, or dislike, about this stated position so far?

Friday, September 15, 2006


Answer online questionaire about Revitalizing Democracy

The forum questionaire for the Revitalizing Democracy forum is now online. After reading the content of this blog and submitting comments (to foster further discussion) please take the online questionaire found at Click here to take survey.

A call to Civil Society?

In a democratic nation, the connection between moral foundations and civic health is immediate and inescapable. “America’s civic institutions are declining,” the nonpartisan Council on Civil Society pointed out in a recent report entitled A Call to Civil Society: Why America Needs Moral Truths. That is “because the moral ideas that fueled and formed them are losing their power—the power to shape our behavior, to unite us as one people in pursuit of common ideals. Too many Americans view morality as a threat to freedom, rather than its essential guarantor.”

In the name of personal freedom and respect for diversity, the family—which has long been the first and most important place where values are learned—is under assault. “The family is the cradle of citizenship,” as the report A Call to Civil Society puts it. “It is in the family that a child first learns, or fails to learn, the essential qualities necessary for governing the self: honesty, trust, loyalty, cooperation, self-restraint, civility, compassion, personal responsibility, and respect for others. . . . Families can teach standards of personal conduct that cannot be enforced by law, but which are indispensable traits for democratic civil society.” Along with families, schools have traditionally played a crucial role in teaching and reinforcing our shared moral heritage. For all the attention devoted to teaching children about respecting individual rights and honoring diversity, one report after another has noted the neglect of civic education that teaches the values of democratic life and its corresponding obligations and responsibilities.

Just as the erosion of family life and neglect of civic values in the schools have undermined the moral foundation, so too, say advocates of this choice, has the marginalization of religious institutions. The repeated message, in the words of the Council on Civil Society, is that we should be “a society sanitized of public religious influence.” The virtues promulgated by religious institutions—tolerance, compassion, and the importance of conscience, to name a few—are essential to democratic society.

You and read rest of Approach One (in the Democracy discussion guide) online.

What do you like, or dislike, about this stated position so far?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Rebuilding the moral curriculum

WORK. FAITH. COMPASSION. Responsibility. Sacrifice. These are some of the values Americans have traditionally honored, values that are essential to a robust democracy. They provide the moral foundation that gives America its strength. For most of the nation’s first two centuries, these moral qualities were an integral part of the cultural curriculum. They were taught in the family and the schools and reinforced in places of worship.

But, as advocates of Approach One (in the Democracy discussion guide) see it, that foundation has weakened because the moral curriculum has been neglected. Families, schools, and places of worship no longer instill or reinforce the values that are essential to democratic life and self-government. The erosion of our moral foundation is a key cause of our public troubles.

As a nation, we have become self-indulgent and self-absorbed, inclined to accept neither hard choices nor sacrifice in the interest of future generations and their welfare. Civic obligations such as voting, jury duty, and military service are routinely avoided. As individuals, and as a society, we use natural resources with little regard for the future.

“The more serious problems of American democracy,” writes Don Eberly in The Soul of
Civil Society
, “have to do with the erosion of democratic character and habit. A society in which men and women are morally adrift and intent chiefly on gratifying their appetites will be a disordered society no matter how many people vote.”

What do you like, or dislike, about this stated position so far? Do you think this perspective is accurate so far? What are some drawbacks?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Is our democracy in decline?

Do a google search for "is our democracy in decline" and you get 15.9 million hits.

It is a topic of great discussion among bloggers and media types. Special interest groups seem to be chirping about the topic too. But what about the common American citizen? Do they think our democracy is in decline? If Americans do think it is in decline, they are not acting with any type of urgency about fixing the problem. Heck, voter turnout of 10% does not suggest to me a high interest in our democracy?

What can be done? I know this much, there is not a magic bullet or easy solution. I've had some calls from groups to come and speak about this issue and public issue forum available on the topic of revitalizing democracy. The funny thing is that everyone seems to want a speech that is 20 or 30 minutes long and comes with a solution.

I don't have a solution. Do you?

I'm guessing that the answer comes one person and one community at a time. Have you started a discussion about democracy in your community? If so, let me know about it.

Free Materials for Discussion of Important Community Issues

A healthy democracy is one where citizens take an active role in governing.

But to take an active role, citizens must be able to have civil discourse about issues important to the democracy.

Americans have forgotten how to discuss topics, and develop solutions, without thinking there is a winner and a loser. The format of public issue forums let participants address important topics and find common ground for a solution in a positive and peaceful manner.

I’ve done public issue forums for invitation only groups, for clubs and organizations, for city groups and for the public at-large. Forums can be productive in any of those settings if attendees are willing to prepare ahead of time and be able to deliberate and listen to each other during the two-hour process.

University of Missouri Extension has specialists involved in hosting and moderating public issue forums on a variety of local and national topics. MU Extension also provides training for persons wanting to moderate public issue forums on their own.

You don’t have to be an expert to be a moderator. Many moderator guides are available from your local Extension center for free and those booklets provide everything you need to host a forum or study circle in your neighbor, at your local library or even at church.

Some of the most popular issue forums with materials currently available online (or through your local MU Extension office) include: "Democracy's Challenge: Reclaiming the Public's Role," “The Social Security Struggle,” “Making Ends Meet,” “News Media and Society,” “Land Use Conflicts: When County and City Clash” and “Should We Ban Fireworks?”

A complete list of available guides for public issue forums, as well as the materials needed for various forums, is available HERE.

Fixing Social Security - deliberation in review

Fixing Social Security means some people will get short-changed for the good of the program.

At least, that was the perspective of most participants at a public issues forum I hosted by University of Missouri Extension in early 2006.

The forum was aimed at deliberating Social Security, whether or not it needs to be fixed and some possible ways to fix it.

Participants (even those approaching retirement) agreed with reducing Social Security benefits by eliminating the $250 funeral benefit, slowing annual "cost-of-living increases and removing the $90,000 ceiling on payroll taxes.

A majority of attendees also agreed with lowering benefits for middle- and upper-income retirees, requiring Americans to work longer before becoming eligible for Social Security benefits and reducing the number of non-retirement related programs Social Security funds.

The group also thought it was important to revisit the purpose of Social Security. President Roosevelt said it should be one leg of a three-legged stool (pension, savings and Social Security) instead of what it has become – the only source of retirement for many.

The first approach deliberated dealt with personal accounts, which, the group opposed. Too many questions and concerns, the greatest of which was serious doubt that Americans would be able to manage personal accounts.

Approach two of the deliberation emphasized the promise that has been made to working Americans and retires. The group agreed Social Security needs to be kept viable although no one thought the promise could be maintained at its current level.

In the post meeting survey, 90 percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We need to make drastic changes to save Social Security from bankruptcy." Sixty percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We should scale back Social Security to encourage people to take more responsibility for their financial future."

Revising Social Security for a new generation was considered in approach number three.
Participants felt like we need to begin the process of rewriting Social Security now but not implement new rules on people over age 55.

In the post meeting survey, 80 percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We should slightly reduce Social Security benefits for middle- and upper-income retirees to guarantee benefits for those who need them most."

What attendees at this meeting said loud and clear is that Social Security needs an overhaul that ignores partisan politics and instead focuses on making sure the program remains solvent without increasing payroll taxes.

Notes from the Nov. 3 forum are online at

Friday, September 01, 2006


Is the public no longer needed?

One side of the deliberation about democracy says we Americans have entered into an age of politics that no longer needs a public. In fact, some say being a citizen has become a role with little substance.

If you would like to explore this idea, as well as ways for getting citizens more involved, please request a copy of the "Revitalizing Democracy" discussion guide materials from me.

Otherwise, you tell me, what is left for a citizen to do? What is the answer?

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