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On November 4, twenty-five students, faculty, and administrators at St. Edward’s University (SEU) participated in a deliberative forum on Democracy’s Challenge: Reclaiming the Public’s Role. Organized by the SEU New College, the university’s program for working adults, the goal of the forum was to explore different ways that students can learn and practice their roles as citizens.

During the two and a half hour forum, participants explored the role of higher education in helping students to recognize their own unique contribution to our democracy and discussed ways to inspire them to become engaged citizens. Using a discussion guide prepared by the National Issues Forums Institute, participants considered three perspectives of what it would take to reclaim the public’s role in democracy.

Even though participants agreed the the university needs to provide students with opportunities for citizen engagement, the group recognized various barriers within educational institutions and within society that can prevent people from participating fully.

The lack of trust in government, the disconnect people feel with the process, the inability to talk about tough issues without polarizing around the differences, the loss of our public spaces used for public deliberation – all of these items were explored with a spirit of curiosity and respect. One of the most compelling ideas to come out of the discussion was an awareness that civic engagement in the future might look very different than what it has looked like in the past.

While it wasn’t immediately clear how dialogue and deliberation could be used more fully on campus, there seemed to be agreement that the skills would be important for SEU graduates, and that students could use these skills out in the community as they talk about issues that matter to them. New College is also considering whether or not to use this process in their required mission courses that every student takes upon entering New College. The university has already scheduled a follow up to the forum, which will be a two day Moderator Training on Jan. 8-9 on the St. Edward’s campus.

Following the event, Vicki Totten, who helped organize the event for New College faculty and students, said

I am excited about the potential of using dialogue and deliberation to help students talk about difficult issues in the classroom.

She added that deliberation might be an important foundation for any student, since in order to work on difficult issues, it is important to be able to know how to move a discussion from a debate toward true dialogue.

Another important aspect of the deliberative model is that it emphasizes the need to understand the important role that values play in forming our perspectives, an important hallmark of a St. Edward’s education.

This forum, a project of the LBJ Presidential Library was one of dozens of forums being held by all twelve presidential libraries across the country, and made possible with funding from the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Issues Forums.

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Coping with Health Care

On October 7, Texas Forums will hold forums on Coping with the Cost of Health Care using the National Issues Forums discussion guide. The event will take place on the 10th floor of the LBJ Presidential Library, 2313 Red River St. Registration, refreshments, and resources will be available at 5:30 and the forum will take place from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

The LBJ Library is joining with all 12 Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration to hold forums on health care and other topics between Labor Day and the November Election.

We are pleased to be joined by some outstanding local partners in this venture who will be on hand to provide information about the state of health care in the state of Texas. Our partners include: the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Christian Life Commission, Texas Impact , and Texas Health Institute. Students in the Fielding Graduate University Certification in Dialogue, Deliberation and Community Engagement will serve as our moderators.

“Hosting National Issues Forums at the Presidential Libraries is consistent with our emphasis on civic education,” Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, said.  “Presidential Libraries are public places and it is appropriate for citizens to engage in intense discussions of major public policy issues in the midst of a presidential campaign.  However, the goal should be hosting discussions which are balanced, civil in tone and fair-minded.”

“Participants in a forum,” NIFI Chairman William Winter, said, “deliberate with one another, eye-to-eye, face to-face, exploring options, weighing others’ views, considering the costs and consequences of public policy decisions.  In a democracy, citizens have a responsibility to make choices about how to solve problems and forums help enrich participants’ thinking on public issues.  By offering citizens a framework for deliberative forums, NIFI helps the public take an active role in acting on public issues.”

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On Thursday, October 18th, about 60 teachers, administrators, parents, government officials, and youth  gathered at Reagan High School in Austin, TX for a series of three forums on “Too Many Children Left Behind: Closing the Achievement Gap in Central Texas.” The diverse group is gathering on behalf of a diverse Austin Independent School District. Other area districts are involved in the same types of forums, which are sponsored by many groups including Texas Forums, E3 Alliance, Austin Voices for Education and Youth, the United Way, Univision, and KEYE TV42.

The welcome spelled out the reason for being there. It was said that “Despite advances, we know that it is not enough–it’s unnacceptable. You see great stories in some schools, but not districts. It’s a regional problem. We need everyone’s thinking in the region on this issue.  We’ve got to work smarter, work together. Tonight is the first of three sessions. Give us your best thinking with an AISD perspective.”

It was also said that “If we don’t solve this problem, it affects the market in this state–whether kids are college ready–in a globally competititve economy. The problem is not enough graduate and not enough go to college or get a post-secondary degree.  This leads to less salary, less access to healthcare, and more of a chance of going to jail. The loss will be $40 billion in earnings by 2030 if gaps are not closed.”

Tonight’s dialogue and other related forums will culminate in a regional forums and a regional blueprint. Everyone’s experiences are the lens to look at possible options and opportunities. Next blog posts will include participants’ comments made during their small group sessions such as the youth who shared that “Some kids have an attitude. They’re wasting my time and the teacher’s time. I’m here to learn. Teachers have motivated me to do my best.”

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It would be interesting if they said something we hadn’t heard. Barack makes a joke about “No Child Left Behind” and talks about the money left behind but doesn’t get a big response here. Bonnie observes that most of the people here are taking it all blandly and no one is getting up and cheering. That’s the plight of this kind of crowd.

And Dennis Kucinich can get cheers from the crowd at the forum but little response from these folks. Mike Gravel has the freedom to talk truth because nobody takes him seriously.

So let’s talk about this event, as Yours Unruly plans to jet, and what the overview should be: the crowd should have been larger certainly, there should have been more journalists here to get the opinions of the average person – most of whose concerns are really about the economy, health care and having a government that isn’t riddled with corruption. I heard that tonight, walking from one table to another. I watched the people sitting here, Black, Asian, Latino and White and most them – as mentioned – had no idea about the “Covenant” but had serious ideas about what they wanted for this country. Many of them expressed their desire for common ground. This Blogger was happy to hear that.

At the same time, as a long-time journalist, I would rather have attended an event where more of the people got to speak instead of watch, an event where there was involvement and interaction instead of observation. Passivity is not what is needed now. Action is what is needed now.

The next stage of politics is involving the polity.

This was certainly worth doing but more is needed, more conversation.

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Tavis’s show at PBS is now begining and it’s talking about the “Covenant with Black America.” The G21 team here, Allaina and I are Blogging on the event. It turns our that Yours Unruly is a celeb because I’m the only working journalist at the event. I was interviewed by a reporter from the University of Texas newspaper, The Daily Texan, therefore and a couple of people wanted to know about my writing at Slashdot.org.

So now we get into Tavis’s night, the All-America Forum.

The candidates are talking and Hillary gets first crack. Very prepared, as usual, after all she has the best teacher in politics around living with her in New York. Joe Biden comes up next but we all know nobody is taking him seriously. (Hate to be snarky but I know this game, as I said earlier.) Man, I hate to feel like a writer from Wonkette, but I’d love to have a shot right now. I’d like to make a shot game: have a shot when any candidate brings up the word “race.” Let’s face it, since Smiley is running this show, you could have one heck of a party. Snored through Bill Richardson and now I’m listening to “Smiling John” Edwards. In one ear. Now Barack is talking. This should be his shining hour.

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28 June 2007: This evening I’m reporting from the LBJ Library at the University of Texas (UT) on Tavis Smiley’s Public Broadcasting System (PBS) forum with the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. Like many other Bloggers here tonight, I’m suppose to be an ear to what our community thinks about the pols and their policies. The difference, at least for me, from some of the other Bloggers is that I’m a working journalist and a former political hack. I know this game. So I’ll try to share with you what is meant by what is being said, instead of being a parrot.

In the process, I’ve brought along a few friends, included my Gen Y Personal Assistant, to look over my shoulder, take some digital photos of this crowd, and correct my impressions when I tend to act like an old curmudgeon.

The citizens at the each table were asked to have a Blogger like me write write about what they think. Live blogging is an interesting exercise in that we, the bloggers, should act as the ears of the people.

What I find interesting is that people at my particular table are talking about Dick Cheney, global corporations and corporate greed – compared to personal sacrifice – and nothing NOTHING about Tavis Smiley’s “Covenant for African-Americans” which is about what this forum was set up to look at. This Reporter walks around to a few of the tables at this meeting to ask if anyone had heard about Smiley’s initiative. Even the few Black people here have ever heard about it.

My Personal Assistant, Bonnie, is snapping people in the crowd right now. We’ll upload them later.

The issue is being brought up that most people didn’t know, in the pre-forum discussion that most of the attendants were ignorant to the fact there was a “Convenant to Black America.” So we have an audience who doesn’t know why they came here. They are learning that during this discussion.

7:47 p.m.: It’s gettting touchy-feely now. People are talking about how the even here in Austin we are becoming a *very* segregated community, all acknowledged. Now we’re going to hear from the Democratic Presidential candidates and Tavis Smiley.

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Steve Long (Long’s Graphics in Dayton, OH) provided me with the graphics he created for the Kettering Foundation framing, “Too Many Children Left Behind“. As noted in an earlier posting, Texas Forums will be assisting with the community engagement initiative to close the achievement gap in Central Texas. Partners on this project thus far include E3 Alliance, Austin Voices for Education and Youth and the United Way Capital Area. (I say “thus far” because, based on the enthusiastic response we are getting from the school superintendents, grass roots organizers, university presidents and local nonprofits, the list of partners is about to explode!)

I uploaded these graphics to the Texas Forums flickr site. This will make it easier for us to access these gaphics AND to make comments about which ones are and are not appropriate for us to use in our own local framing. Steve offered these for fellow National Issues Forums colleagues and anyone around the country who is holding forums on this issue. Thanks Steve!

Here’s a sample:

Split Classroom Pulling Statues Teacher in Classroom Too many kids

There are also some graphics in black and white for those of us on a budget!

Later I’ll post some of the graphs and charts that Susan Dawson and the E3 Alliance team have collected. It’s a wealth of information and surprisingly, it’s information about the state of education in Central Texas that is not readily available.

Susan uses this data and slides to tell an inconvenient truth about education that should be made into a documentary.

Hey, there’s an idea!

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I’ve discovered a cool tool for embedding comments and links that allow you to jump to a particular place in a podcast. This is one way to create a discussion about pieces in a podcast or to quickly find specific references within a podcast.

If I’ve done this right, this link will take you to a podcast interview with Diane Miller from last year. I’ve broken the podcast down by the questions she was asked so that people could add their own responses via text. Cross your fingers that this works! Eventually I’ll get Elaine to show me how to embed the player along with a link!

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The following is a summary of the new National Issues Forums discusion guide on Energy posted in the Kettering Foundation’s Friday Letter from Home produced by KF resident journalist, Bob Daley. Texas Forums will have a limited number of these issue books available for free to organizers of these forums. You MUST use a trained volunteer moderator (I’ll match you up!) and agree to submit participant questionnaires and a brief report on your forum. Just leave a comment here if you are interested or send me an e-mail.

“This country is facing an energy problem with an uncertain future and it is time to face up to some difficult choices, some people say. An NIF has a new issue book written by KF Associate/Researcher Brad Rourke, to help with the public deliberation.

Our way of life seems threatened by unstable sources of energy and there is growing evidence of environmental damage. We may soon reach a point of no return, Brad points out in the introduction.

Why is it so serious? Experts say we are “just one unfortunate event away from real trouble, and the world seems increasingly filled with unfortunate events.”

How did we get here?  Following World War II, the economic boom was powered by plentiful domestic oil and coal. We fell in love with the automobile and the affiar intensified through the 1960s and the early 1970s. We had cheap gas and better roads and the number of cars on the highways doubled between 1950 and 1972.

Then came the long lines at gas stations after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped shipping petroleum to countries that had supported Israel in the Yom Kippur war. In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the amount of oil exported by Iran fell drastically. The price of oil jumped from $3.75 a barrel in the 1970s to more than $70 a barrel last year. At the pump, the cost of gasoline hovered around $3 across the country.

The environmental impact is increasing, too. Global warming is increasing faster than had been predicted. Five of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 10 years while hurricanes are getting more intense and frequent.

Three approachhes for deliberation are offered:

* Unreliable Sources – Reduce our Dependence on Foriegn Energy

Much of the oil we use comes from the Middle East and other  politically volatile countries that cannot be relied upon to continue supplying our needs. This poses an ongoing threat to our security. The United States has many untapped reserves of oild and natural gas. Our best courses of action is to make all possible use of these domestic energy sources.

* Emissions Warning – Get Out of the Fossil Fuel Predicament

The escalating use of fossil fuels is wreaking havoc on our environment. Most scientists agree that global warming has begun in earnest and, unless we slow down the burning of fossil fuels, we face catastrophic climate changes. We must get serious about developing alternative energy sources, such as wind farms and solar power, and rethink the use of another clean energy source – nuclear power.

* Curb Our Appetite – Reduce Our Demand for Energy

We are missing the point when we go looking for new sources of energy. We need to find ways to use less energy in teh first place or use it more efficiently. The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but uses more than 20 percent of its energy. Cutting back on consumption is the cleanest and most workable way to deal with impending shortages.

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Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC) has been developing outstanding materials for study circles on issues like racism, poverty, education, immigration and police-community relations for fifteen years. Study circles can help people from a variety of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds examine the gaps among racial and ethnic groups where they live, explore approaches to creating greater equity, and create lasting change in their community.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Mott Foundation, SCRC will conduct a free orientation / organizing clinic in partnership with Texas Forums on February 21 at the LBJ Library, 10th floor Brown Room to introduce their new discussion guide, Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation. We will meet from 10 – 3 and the orientation will include a free working lunch.

We are delighted to be able to offer this full-day organizing clinic to our Texas Forums network and partners. We are recruiting individuals and organizations to partner with us in promoting this opportunity. In exchange, partners who organize study circles will receive free training for discussion leaders and free materials. Communities that have used these materials have seen dramatic changes in the diversity of the city’s leadership, a change in how newspapers report on issue, PBS television coverage, and festivals designed to decrease stereotyping of ethnic groups and neighborhoods. Click here for four case studies, and here to read endorsments from Senators, Congressman, University Presidents, philanthropists, City officials, actors, and nonprofit leaders.
For more information, join us for one of two upcoming informational meetings with SCRC staff.

January 31 at 10 a.m. (Central) by phone.

Call 1-503-767-1200 and enter 21619#.

Note: there is a long distance charge for this call.

February 2 at 2 p.m. (Central) in the Texas Forums Virtual (OPAL) Room.

Go to http://www.opal-online.org, click on the tab labeled, “meeting rooms” and scroll down to “Texas Forums” or click here!

You will need to enter your name and download a java script. Don’t be intimidated. The software walks you through it!

You will also need to log in on a PC with Internet Explorer and you will need speakers. If you have a microphone on your computer, you will be able to talk. Otherwise, you can listen and contribute by text. There is no charge for this service.

Please contact Taylor Willingham or Robyn Emerson if you are interested in participating. You may also RSVP at our web site.

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