New Frontiers in Civic Revitalization: Local Democracy Summit

The Public Work Academy at Augsburg University and the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service are co-presenting a local democracy summit in Wausau, Wisconsin.

New Frontiers in Civic Revitalization:
Local Democracy Summit

November 15, 2018 • 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

UW Center for Civic Engagement
625 Stewart Ave Wausau, WI 54403

 Register Now!   Registration is limited to the first 75 attendees

The theory and practice of “public work” are transforming civic and professional practice in the United States and abroad.           – David Mathews, President, Kettering Foundation

Communities across the nation face fragmentation and polarization. Yet cities and towns, large and small, also have the potential to be the seedbed for a rebirth of citizenship and democracy – providing an alternative to the national politics of blame and gridlock.

This summit at the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service will introduce civic leaders from Wisconsin to the new Midwest Public Work Academy’s Small Cities Democracy Network located at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Participants will:

  • Engage in a high-level conversation with thought leaders across multiple sectors – including business, education, government, health care, foundations, and more.
  • Share perspectives, examples and leading practices in citizen-centered efforts to address public problems and create shared community resources across partisan and other differences.
  • Learn from case studies of effective citizen-government and cross-partisan partnerships for the common good such as “Clear Vision Eau Claire,” “Better Angels” and “Public Achievement.”
  • Receive training from internationally recognized leaders in public work, including Harry Boyte, Marie Ström and Mike Huggins.
  • Receive a free copy of Harry Boyte’s new book, “Awakening Democracy through Public Work.”
  • Learn about how your organization or community can plug into the growing movement around public work being organized by the new Midwest Public Work Academy based at Augsburg.

Cost: $75 per person (includes lunch and book) For information, contact or call 715-261-6388.

In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement

The media casts Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as populists. But a civil rights activist reminds us that the great populist movements of the past channeled people’s anger into a force for constructive change.


(Rowland Scherman/US Information Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

Coming back to the US after time in South Africa, anger in the election is like a blast furnace. I’m also struck by the ubiquitous use of populism as a framework of analysis.

Trump and Sanders: Different Candidates with a Populist Streak,” reported Chuck Todd on NBC News. Most reporters and commentators use “populism” to mean inflammatory rhetoric. Thus Jonathan Goldberg, writing in the National Review, argues Trump and Sanders are “Two Populist Peas in a Pod,” stirring up “millions of people [who] are convinced that the system is rigged against them.”

Continue reading “In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement”

Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy (pt. 2)

Education Week
Bridging Differences
by Mike Miller


In the final piece of the rich “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy” Education Week blog exchange between Deborah Meier and Harry Boyte, Deborah says about her work in New York City, “…[I]n the early 1990s we invented a possible answer [to how to do democratic education] that, alas, we were never able to test out…If we hadn’t been stopped by a new chancellor and a new state superintendent we’d have learned a lot.”  Observing a similar experience in Boston, she writes of a similar democratic effort, “[T]hose in power seemed remarkably uninterested in this public solution, and preferred to put their money into charter chains or vouchers.”  She notes a similar experience in 39 NYC high schools, “Again with relatively little attention.  Amazing.”

She is, she says, “desperate” to broaden understanding of these efforts, presumably so they can be expanded upon in public schools systems.  She notes one consequence when they aren’t, “Some of the young admirers of these efforts feel stymied and turn to opening ‘mom and pop’ small charters with more autonomy…” and she asks, “How can we break through the silence by making these public alternatives more visible before they die off as their autonomies are chipped away?”

Continue reading “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy (pt. 2)”

Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy

Education Week
Bridging Differences

by Deborah Meier and Harry Boyte

Dear Harry and friends,

So what do I know from experience, observation and research about the essentials of schooling for democracy?    I know that education which prepares the young to join and even surpass the adult world, where learning sticks with them, happens best (maybe only)  when the novice is in the company of experts who accept the child as is and takes it for granted that she will become an expert over time.  It requires that the adults demonstrate their expertise in action, and the novice can observe, ask questions, and try out new knowledge in a setting where he/she can fail without shame.  That’s the setting children find themselves in at birth, with a ratio generally of several experts per novice.

What are the special features of such learning?  The novice is accepted lovingly, is assumed to be able to become an expert (an adult), has many chances to observe and to experiment, and has good reason to trust the setting and the people there. Adults delight in children’s early mistakes because we can see the beginning of understanding and competence.  We even cherish their mistakes.

Most rarely reach such a space again in life which rich and poor share. Continue reading “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy”

Should higher education reject elitism and return to solving real community problems?

In February, Harry Boyte and Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow were interviewed for a Civic Caucus Focus on Human Capital. Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

According to Harry Boyte, senior scholar at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, we must think of colleges and universities as more than a private good, more than a ticket to a job, but as a public resource. He believes that is the legacy of the land-grant tradition, in which there was a great sense of interactivity, partnership and collaborative work and university scholars were seen as grounded in the public problems of society. But he says that vision goes against the conventional wisdom of higher education today, where elitism has become common, along with detachment from community engagement.

Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow says colleges can play a critical role both in equipping students to go out into the world with a sense of agency, no matter what their profession is, and in finding ways to be part of the community.



Civic Agency and Executive Function: An Emerging Conversation

Here’s an excerpt from Harry Boyte’s column in Huffington Post from February 20, 2015:

A conversation is just beginning between practitioners and theorists of civic agency and scholars and educators promoting educational experiences which develop Executive function. It may have large potential.

Civic Agency

Today, most people feel powerless to do much of anything other than complain or protest about public problems from the local traffic sign to racial profiling, from school bullying to global warming. Young people in low income and minority communities especially feel powerless.

Check here to read the whole article.


Walker’s “Drafting Error” and the Democratic Promise of Executive Function

Here’s an excerpt from Harry Boyte’s column in Huffington Post from February 9, 2015: Today education is “delivered” to students seen as passive customers. This view has replaced the idea that students are agents and co-creators of their learning, as well as the idea that the purpose of education is not only to prepare students for individual success but most importantly to be contributors to a democratic society. The delivery paradigm produces no ownership. As economist Lawrence Summers, no champion of participatory democracy, nonetheless once usefully quipped, “Nobody washes their rented car.”

Check here to read the whole article