Monthly Archives: May 2007

Ze Frank’s humorous summary of Social Capital

Ze Frank, the webvideo artist, has a humorous video that describes Robert Putnam and social capital about 2/3 of the way through (in typical Zezian style).  Warning:  some of the language is a bit ‘dodgy’ as the Brits would say.

 What else have you heard or read humorous or engaging on social capital?

Johnnie and Janie learn civics better

Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores; Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally (Washington Post, 5/17/07, p. A9, Jay Matthews) reports that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) chronicled a rise from 69% in 1998 to 73% in 2006 in the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above basic level; high school seniors’ civic scores remained flat. [History scores also rose from 64-70% over this period for fourth graders and rose for high school seniors.]

The 2006 Civics Report is available here.

“Experts said the rise in fourth-grade scores might be linked to strenuous efforts…to improve the teaching of reading in kindergarten through third grade. ‘Higher scores in fourth-grade history and civics go along with the recently reported higher reading scores,’ said Karin Chenoweth, a writer for the District-based Achievement Alliance and author of the book  It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. In the last NAEP reading report, fewer students — particularly African American and Latino students — scored below the basic level in the reading test, which means that more students are able to read and learn about history and civics. This could very well explain the higher history and civic scores at fourth grade, which are most pronounced among African American and Latino students.”

The civics test measures: Civic Knowledge, Intellectual Skills and Civic Dispositions.

Civic Knowledge tests concepts like the foundations of the American political system, the relationship of the U.S. to other countries, the rights and roles of citizens.

Intellectual Skills measures skills of mind and analysis to enable citizens to put knowledge to civic effect through identifying/describing, explaining/analyzing, and evaluating/taking positions/defending positions.

Civic Dispositions tests the traits of public and private character necessary to preserve an effective democracy, such as: participating in informed, thoughtful and effective manner in civic affairs, respecting individual worth and human dignity, or promoting the healthy functioning of American constitutional democracy.

Sample question booklets here.

Increased youth engagement; Massachusetts Civics on the Hill

Mike Sances’ blog points out that youth are likely to be a force in the 2008 elections, citing the Boston Globe front page article “Youth Voters a Force in ’08” (Susan Milligan) 

 and the attached graph of increased youth turnout in 2004 presidential election. 

This is something that we’ve been pointing out for a while on the Saguaro website

But in this light, it is interesting that Social Capital Inc. and the Deval Patrick Administration (Commonwealth of Mass. Public Liaison Office is launching Civics on the Hill (May 21, 2007).   Massachusetts youth can register for this historic event through MassYouth.org.  [Deval Patrick made civic engagement a key theme of his candidacy.] 

At Civics on the Hill, youth, through an afternoon of civic engagement, can experience the energy of being an active citizen by learning about civics, and touring the state house.

Schools of choice boost civic values

In a meta-analysis of 21 quantitative studies, Patrick J. Wolf (Univ. of Arkansas) found that schools of choice (private and public) better inculcate students in 7 civic values  necessary for democratic citizenship: political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political participation, social capital, civic skills, and patriotism.  Study called “Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values” in EducationNext journal (Summer 2007). Among the more rigorous studies analyzed, 23 of 59 findings (52%) show school choice or private schooling as having statistically significant positive effects on civic values. [Ten findings show a neutral effect and only one finding showed a negative effect of school choice on civic values.]

All these studies control for selection bias in addition to differences in student backgrounds in the various schools. Most of the studies  compared students in private schools with those in public schools, but the effects were found in Catholic and non-Catholic private schools.

Wolf concluded that “These results suggest that the expansion of school choice is more likely to enhance than diminish the civic values of our next generation of citizens.”

Neurological basis of morality (II)

A postscript to the earlier blog post Neurological basis of morality.

This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Neurotechnology. New brain research is leading to second thoughts on our morality (Utne.com Reader,

The promise or peril of neighborhood listserves

Are you being listserved?(Financial Times, 5/11/07, Holly Yeager) on the social capital impact of listserves, including quotes from Keith Hampton about their general effectiveness.  [Results from Keith's e-neighbors experiment on this topic will be printed in Neighborhoods in the Network Society: The e-Neighbors Study. (forthcoming). Information, Communication and Society 10(5). ]

For sure, localized electronic networks are usually more powerful than geographically-distant e-networks since they are more likely to be supplemented by or buttressed by real face-to-face encounters.  That said, the story highlights one listserve disaster in NYC where the building’s residents used e-mail as an excuse to say highly uncivil things to their neighbors that they would never say face-to-face.

What is your experience? 

If you’re interested in starting a neighborhood listserve, i-neighbors is one way of doing this.

YouTube Election: Increasing power of individual

The YouTube Election (Vanity Fair, June 2007, James Wolcott) discusses how YouTube is likely to change the 2008 presidential election.  YouTube increases the power of individuals — to produce news rather than consume it in election and to spread important videos via social capital to their friends.

The article discusses videos that have widely circulated on YouTube of candidates. Examples of this are the anti-Hillary Clinton ad that spoofs the original introduction of the Apple Computer;  in this version, created by a Barack Obama supporter, a courageous individual hurls an object at a giant Jumbotron screen playing a sound clip of Hillary-babble.  Other examples where YouTube highlights gaffes of candidates are Hillary’s horrendously off-key singing of the national anthem, George Allen’s macaca moment, Joe Biden claiming that only Indians can go to 7-11s, George Bush kissing Joe Lieberman (which Lieberman’s campaign opponent, Ned Lamont, exploited to tie Lieberman to Bush), etc.

The power of such YouTube videos is that they can spread powerfully and quickly through watchers’ social networks (electronic and word of mouth).  The downside is that it increases the chance that ANY gaffe gets circulated widely.  If that gaffe reveals the secret and true, unscripted candidate, it may be a good thing;  if it simply rewards robo-candidates that are controlled enough or lucky enough not to slip up, it may be a bad thing. 

Ironically, the YouTube factor may work to try to make candidates MORE controlled and artificial rather than less since they fear that unscripted moments that turn out badly are likely to gain wide circulation. 

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

Neurological basis of morality

“Scientists Draw Link Between Morality And Brain’s Wiring” (WSJ, 5/10/07, Science Journal, Robert Lee Hotz) Describes a recent experiment of neuroscientists at Harvard, Caltech and the University of Southern California that uncovered why most of us have an intuitive sense of right or wrong, i.e., because there is a neural wiring that produces moral judgment. If certain brain cells were knocked out with an aneurysm or a tumor, the ability to think clearly about some issues of right and wrong was permanently skewed. These subject had injured an area, located in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex several inches behind the brow, that links emotion to cognition. “When that influence [the role played by unconscious empathy and emotion] is missing,” said USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, “pure reason is set free.” See also, Moral Judgement Fails Without Feelings (USC, May 2007).

ServeNext and more universal national service

ServeNext was launched in the Spring of 2007 to be a political advocacy organization for more universal national service in the United States. At the Saguaro Seminar, we believe that both research and common sense supports the notion that broader-scale national service could be very effective at three goals:

1) cultivating the spark of increased political engagement we see among 18-25 year olds today;
2) helping to build more cross-class solidarity at a time when the gaps between rich and poor are as great as they have ever been;
3) related to #2, building increased bridging social capital (as exemplified by the service group City Year), during a time when we increasingly live in more segregated communities and when our ethnic and racial diversity is almost inevitably and desirably increasing over the next 10-30 years.

ServeNext was mentioned in a 5/10/07 Boston Globe Editorial Service: a Corps Campaign Issue, which stated that: “All of the presidential candidates will soon be asked to sign a pledge to more than double the size of AmeriCorps, from some 70,000 in a given year now to at least 170,000 by 2010. The effort is being coordinated by a new group, ServeNext.org, with the support of many advocates of public service. A unanimous or near-unanimous response from the candidates would help bridge the partisanship that divides American politics today, and inject an optimistic note into the campaign.”

We hope that ServeNext succeeds in getting the candidates to commit to this and that the candidates follow through on this commitment. 

Pearls Before Breakfast: Life in Cocoons

There was a fascinating story called Pearls Before Breakfast: can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out (Washington Post, 4/8/07, p. w10, Gene Weingarten) The story is not about social capital per se, indirectly about the cocoons that we live in such that 1000 commuters in Washington, DC, almost without exception, didn’t hear or stop to listen to the sublime beauty of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell who was busking in the Washington Metro as an experiment. One has to assume that these cocoons affect not only hearing Joshua Bell but also our ability to connect with friends and strangers.