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UPDATE ON THE SECOND MEETING OF THE SAGUARO SEMINAR
Note: this is only a description of some of the issues and ideas considered. For our official set of recommendations, see our BetterTogether report.
Our second meeting, Saguaro II, was held in early September, 1997 outside of Boston, MA. It focused on adolescent youth – a primary issue to philosophers from Aristotle to Rousseau to William James which compelled them to ask: "What virtues and skills are essential for citizenship in a democracy, and how can they be inculcated?"
The Seminar focused on the more pragmatic issue of what practical innovations can raise levels of civic engagement and social capital among the next generation of Americans beyond levels prevailing among our own generation.
Our shared purpose in Saguaro II was to identify possible avenues for improvement in the civic engagement and social capital of American communities, not to dwell on the details of our problems. In that spirit, we considered three domains of possible solutions:
The problem: There is healthy debate about what is up and what is down with respect to civic engagement and social capital in America; however, most agree that the data show significant generational differences – the generations coming of age in the last 30 years (especially in the '80s) are generally less engaged than their predecessors, even controlling for the perennial fact that older people are almost always more engaged with their communities than younger people. For example, comparing the values and self-reported behavior of successive classes of high school seniors and college freshmen over the last 20-30 years, one detects declining interest in community affairs and politics and rising interest in material goals. Similarly with respect to voting turnout, most of the aggregate decline over the last 20-30 years is explained by a steadily decreasing turnout among each new cohort of 18-21 year-olds rather than current voters deserting the voting booths. In addition, while levels of trust have always been lower among adolescents than older people, this gap is widening (relative to adolescent cohorts in the 60s and 70s).
This disengagement matters greatly over the long-term. Evidence suggests that the maxim "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree" applies to civic engagement. One’s life-long propensity to engage civically is generally forged in the coming-of-age years, even though the levels of engagement tend to rise over the life cycle for any given cohort. Recent cohorts are starting at a lower level, so that even as they move along the life cycle of increasing engagement, they are unlikely to offset the losses caused by the very involved elders at the end of their lives simultaneously departing the civic stage.
At Saguaro II, we sought strategies to increase the long-term civic engagement of the "baby echo" generation, a timely issue since they are now swarming elementary schools. Despite the widening gap between adolescents and older generations in trust and political action, the Saguaro group saw a large opportunity for adolescent civic connectedness. We considered three, successively broader, concentric circles: schools, out-of-school activities, and broader enabling conditions. A youth focus group enabled us to hear how young people are civically engaged and challenges they face. Each session was facilitated by one or two Saguaro participants to broaden the Seminar’s leadership.
Useful ideas surfaced which we will report in greater clarity down the road as we have not yet gained group consensus on these ideas (nor may we ever on some). Below are listed a few of these, part of a civic "tasting" menu, culled from a much longer list:
The BetterTogether report has the group's more final thinking on adolescent approaches that have power to strengthen our bonds of trust and reciprocity.
We have created a list of related readings and links, available via the link below.
Meeting I – General Introduction/history
(Cambridge, MA, April 17-19, 1997)
Background meeting focusing on social capital and lessons from the Progressive Era that could apply to the current crisis.
Meeting II – Youth and civic engagement (Boston, MA, September 8-10, 1997) Our second meeting focused on adolescent youth and civic engagement.
Meeting III – Government and social capital (Indianapolis, IN, December 7-9, 1997) Hosted by Indianapolis Mayor Steven Goldsmith (a Saguaro participant) this meeting focused on the inter-relation between government and community engagement: both how government can affirmatively boost civic engagement and how to minimize any harm that government does to civic engagement.
Meeting IV – Politics and social capital (Los Angeles, CA, February 13-14, 1998) The fourth meeting addressed the relationship between and issues surrounding politics and civic engagement.
Meeting V – Faith and social capital (Washington, DC, June 12-13, 1998) At this meeting we examined faith-based efforts which weave a stronger community fabric.
Meeting VI – Work and social capital (Tarrytown, NY, October 16-17, 1998) Our sixth meeting focused on work and civic engagement.
Meeting VII – The arts and social capital (Santa Fe, NM, June 11-13, 1999) The seventh meeting focused on the arts and civic engagement.
Meeting VIII – Technology and social capital (Cambridge, MA, March 31-April, 2000)