Program subject to change. Please check this page for the latest updates up until the conference dates.


Creating Civic Competence; the Critical Challenges

May 3 & 4, 2018
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Larsen Hall



Thursday, May 3

Larsen Hall Room 214

12:30 PM    WELCOME
Larsen Hall Room G08

Larsen Hall Room G08

Michelle Bellino, University of Michigan; author of Youth in postwar Guatemala: Education and civic identity in transition
Vidur Chopra, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Nikhit D'Sa, Save the Children
Guest Chair and Commentator: 

Sarah Dryden-Peterson

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Participatory action research (PAR) aims to validate the authority of indigenous and local knowledge, while democratizing the research process. Youth participatory action research (YPAR) shares these aims and is also distinctly pedagogical, with Freirian concepts of critical consciousness and civic praxis at the center of the collaboration. Given the centrality of civic agency in YPAR, how do we apply these principles in contexts where youth populations lack legal citizenship status? Young people’s lack of legal status does not suggest they lack agency altogether, but it does imply structural constraints on their capacity to critique institutionalized structures, engage in public work, and make demands on duty bearers, important elements of YPAR. These three case studies illustrate YPAR with refugee youth attending school in camps or urban settlements in three country contexts: Burundi, Jordan, and Kenya. The authors approached YPAR collaborations with distinct research methods, different positionalities, timelines ranging from a few months to multiple years, and varying levels of material resources and institutional support. In comparing our approaches across the three sites, we underscore the ways that YPAR became a novel, and at times a radical, form of citizenship education for a youth population traditionally positioned as passive recipients of both school curriculum and humanitarian aid.








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Identity, agency and the power of story: Meeting the civic challenges?

Helen HasteHelen Haste
Visiting Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education,
and Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Bath


Danielle AllenDanielle Allen 
James Bryant Conant University Professor, and
Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University


Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Peter Levine
Peter Levine 
Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Tufts University

Judith PurtaJudith Torney-Purta
Professor of Human Development, University of Maryland
























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Join us as we celebrate the New Civics Early Career Scholars Program and Civic and Moral Education Initiative, as well as honor the career of Director Helen Haste.


Friday, May 4

Larsen Hall Room 214

Larsen Hall Room 106

This panel addresses issues of civic action, democracy, authority, and freedom from the perspective of universities. The panelists will discuss who historically has controlled American higher education, and who ideally should control it — with an eye toward civic transformation.

  • The role of God: Is American higher education Christian?
    Bryan McAllister-Grande, Harvard Graduate School of Education
    American colleges and universities were founded partly as seminaries. Today, many universities write their mission as secular, while a growing number of smaller colleges have renewed or professed their Christian ties. I ask a deeper question than those addressed by surface appearances and mission statements. Is the knowledge that colleges and universities organize and create "Christian"? Is there a such thing as "Christian knowledge"?
  • Experiments in conflict: Contested visions of the experimental college and the social good, 1957-1979
    Reid HigginsonHarvard Graduate School of Education
    Progressive higher education leaders founded experimental colleges in the late 1950s to provide an efficient means of cultivating a liberally-educated citizenry. Despite initial popularity, by the late 1960s the schools erupted in turmoil as students and college leaders conflicted around student freedom, the place of students in college governance, and the role of college in society. As quickly as it started, the experimental college movement began to dissolve. By illuminating the history of experimental colleges, this presentation highlights the challenges of alliances between student activists and college reformers, and raises timely questions about balancing student freedom and professional expertise.

  • Populist politics and American higher education policy in the 1990s
    Brent D. Maher, Davidson College
    As postsecondary education’s relationship with the federal government developed in the 20th century, universities became subject to greater scrutiny and regulation. In the 1980s and 1990s, this regulatory environment was influenced by populism. I will discuss how populist skepticism manifested in two policy controversies, one related to research funding and a second related to voluntary accreditation. From a New Civics perspective, I ask whether public trust in educational institutions is a necessary precondition of education that aspires to develop agentic citizens. If so, what roles should those of us committed to New Civics play in regaining that trust?

Guest Panelist & Commentator:  
Julie Reuben
Julie Reuben, Harvard Graduate School of Education








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Larsen Hall Room 106

Networked responses to hateful protest: Educators’ perspectives

Emily Weinstein (co-author with Carrie James), Harvard Graduate School of Education/Project Zero
What are the implications of networked technologies for cornerstones of democratic life, including the right to protest and the protection of free speech? We examine educators’ (n=769) views about the appropriateness of using social media to publicly identify individuals who participate in hateful protests. We document a) the polarizing nature of this timely dilemma – 47% (n=361) sanction the practice, while 53% (n=408) disapprove – and b) educators’ underlying considerations, including divergent expectations of privacy and a tension between the desire to hold individuals accountable versus to move society swiftly toward a more just and tolerant future. We argue that innovations in digital and social technologies raise timely dilemmas that merit consideration in professional development and, ultimately, with students in classroom settings.

Using an interactive website and popular movies to promote civic dialogue

Perry GaoUS-China Youth Education Solutions Foundation / Harvard XMedia Lab
We, at Harvard XMedia Lab, strongly believe in the power of storytelling—a good story can not only entertain people but it can also inspire and enlighten people to think deeply about civic, social, ethical, and historical issues. We will share a project of our lab’s that uses the best-selling novel Wonder and its recent movie adaptation to develop an interactive website, on which students from around the world will have the opportunity to experience a student-centered learning opportunity by engaging in discussions and debates with students in other schools and even in other countries.

Performing under pressure: Building epistemological credibility and creating new futures through performative participatory action research

Alen AgaronovHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a disciplined inquiry into what we do not know now, but need to know, to make the world a more just place. Time travel aside, creating new futures can only be accomplished with citizen participation. However, social time travel is marginalized in the science community. “It’s not rocket science.” Or is it? My presentation looks at my experience as a ‘space suit salesman’ at a science conference to show the performance of PAR – both literally and figuratively – and how it can help astronauts/civic agents look past the star/science wars and peek into the future.

The Cafe at Gutman Library is open for lunch.

Larsen Hall Room 106

Constructing responsible citizens: Competing responsibilities of class cadres in the Chinese classroom

Liu Jiang, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Central to the construct of citizenship in China is the concept of responsibility. As the meanings of responsibility shift and diversify in the Chinese conception of citizenship over the past several decades, it is important to examine these different meanings and modes of responsibility articulated in school practices for citizenship education. I focus on the class cadre system, a widely institutionalized school practice, within which students have to enact various and often competing civic responsibilities in relation to both their peers and adults in authority. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork in two 10th-grade classrooms in a Chinese high school, I illuminate these competing modes of responsibility, as well as their tensions and limits, as articulated and enacted by teachers and students engaging with the class cadre system.

“Friendship brought me into it, but commitment bought me into it”: Civic engagement among a group of highly-engaged Asian American youth

Amy Cheung, Harvard Graduate School of Education
I examine how 14 highly-engaged Asian American youth make meaning about civic work and describe motivations driving civic engagement. Past research has examined the structures of opportunity that support or obstruct youth civic engagement, but has not investigated the personal motivations youth describe as influencing their decisions to engage in particular civic activities. Additionally, limited research exists on Asian American youth civic engagement specifically. I examine how youth characterize motivation over time and find initial forays into civic engagement are distinguished by instrumental motivations. Continuing civic engagement, however, is supported by relational commitment to teenage colleagues in their civic endeavors and an empowering sense of self-efficacy.

Understanding high school students’ parenting attitudes and knowledge of child development 

Eleanor Barron O’Donnell, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Parenthood is one of the most important civic roles and yet very little guidance is given to individuals to prepare them for that role. Thirty-two US states have at least one high school standard relating to parenting or child development, yet evidence suggests they are not very active in attempting to meet those standards. Through a questionnaire and informed by the theory of the “developmental niche” (Super & Harkness, 1986), this study provides a first picture of what a broad sample of high school students believe and have learned about parenting and child development. With this information, it may be possible to improve childhood outcomes by better preparing tomorrow’s parents.

A technical problem, a just solution: School quality measurement as a tool for social justice and equity

James NoonanCenter for Collaborative Education 
Partly in response to persistent achievement gaps, education policy proposals in the United States over the last two decades have centered on the creation of data and accountability systems that measure student performance using standardized tests. Despite the proliferation of these data systems, achievement and opportunity gaps persist. In this theoretical paper, I examine the history of school quality measurement as well as shortcomings of contemporary approaches. I then analyze an alternative approach – the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) – that privileges collaboration, deliberation, and equity and offer implications for civically just and equitable accountability systems.  


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A sizeable 'civic engagement gap' exists in the United States, where youth and adults from low socioeconomic backgrounds are substantially less likely to vote, participate in the local community, or engage in political activism compared with their more socioeconomically advantaged peers (McIntosh & Muñoz, 2009; Verba, Burns, Schlozman, 2003). For millions, the gap is complete, as millions of adults are permanently disenfranchised altogether (The Sentencing Project, 2018). Widening income inequality and disproportionate discipline, have the potential to exacerbate these gaps. This panel explores “what comes before”-- including childhood experiences associated with income inequality, exposure to violence, and difficulty accessing protective experiences such as extracurricular activities—that exacerbate the development of the civic education gap and increase the risk of outright exclusion.

Baseline inequalities: Why social skills matter for preschoolers' early math and (later) civic skills

Bonnie B. MackintoshUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln
Low-income children often enter kindergarten behind higher-income peers academically. To close the achievement gap, many publicly-funded preschool programs—typically serving low-income, minority children—shifted to academic-only curricula. This study examines the moral and civic implications of ignoring social skill development in public preschool curricula, questioning whether education really is the great equalizer. Using longitudinal growth modeling, results indicate social skills at preschool entry are associated with differences in rates at which children (3-6 year-olds; N=76) learn math skills across the year, suggesting that low-income children with more social skills—when they begin preschool—learn math faster compared to peers with fewer social skills.

Poverty and the building blocks for civics: Inequality in the early experiences that shape civic participation

Kathleen Lynch, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Research suggests that children's involvement in extracurricular activities is a key predictor of future civic engagement (Mahoney, Larson, Eccles, & Lord, McFarland & Thomas, 2006; Settle, Bond, & Levitt, 2011; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). However, as income inequality in the United States has widened, we have little knowledge of how income gaps in the precursors to children's future civic engagement have changed over time. In this paper, I remediate this gap by comparing how socioeconomic gaps in children's early extracurricular experiences have changed over time. I use quantitative analysis of nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) to compare the extracurricular experiences of two cohorts of children who entered kindergarten in 1999 and 2011. I find that socioeconomic gaps in children's extracurricular experiences have widened in several areas. This research contributes to our understanding of how the 'civic engagement gap' may change in the future.

The etiology of social isolation and civic exclusion

Krista Goldstine-Cole, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Nearly 6 million American adults, including 7.7% of all African American adults are disenfranchised following conviction for a felony (The Sentencing Project, 2018).  At the same time, evidence increasingly suggests that “civic reintegration” (Behrens, 2004), including restoration of voting rights promotes pro-social behavior and prevents recidivism.  Drawing on evidence from developmental traumatology and the school-to-prison-pipeline construct, this talk explores the origins of social isolation and exclusion from the social contract. Arguing that the roots of civic exclusion can be found in childhood exposure to violence, it will raise questions regarding the potential role(s) of schools preventing conditions that come before civic exclusion, including healthy response to risky behaviors (Goldstine-Cole, 2015) and promotion of school connectedness (Goldstine-Cole, in process).


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The tensions of critical global citizenship: A qualitative study of Chinese international students’ construction of being and becoming in US higher education

Siwen Zhang, Harvard Graduate School of Education 
Cultural forces manifest in different ways for those caught between cultures. In the US higher education context, Chinese international students are experiencing US democracy under a volatile administration when China is also undergoing rapid sociopolitical change. This creates new opportunities for them to reflect on and contribute to resolve the tensions they experience. I will share a preliminary Foucauldian discourse analysis that examines how Chinese international students define the boundaries, priorities and expectations of their obligations and responsibilities in the moral and civic sphere of higher education, and reveal what larger discourses are made available to them through their responses.

Advancing global civics: Moral questions and relevance from the security and political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Francis LomamiHuman and civic rights advocate and community educator / Generation Revoltee d’Afrique (Generation R) / Université Libre de Kinshasa
Can Congolese humanitarian crisis and the limits of the United Nations’ massive intervention generate possible and meaningful paths to advance the conversation about global civics? In this reflection, we discuss the global moral deficit that has once again allowed an humanitarian catastrophe to happen to the humanity and the inadequacy of traditional technocratic and formal mechanisms in responding to that crisis. The Congolese conflict and its continuing humanitarian impact are an important key to understand both the need and relevance of global civics, which should be partly based on global consciousness on moral responsibilities and rights humans should have to each other beyond national borders.

No human is small and no nation is sub-nation 

Maung Nyeu, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Indigenous peoples around the world are subject to dehumanizing narratives from the colonizer or from the majority or dominant groups. The Indigenous peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, experience such demeaning narratives as Upo-Jati (meaning inferior sub-nation) and Kudro NriGhosti (meaning small minor race). Based on a six-month ethnography, this study explores how indigenous youth perceive, receive, accept or not, the narratives of Upo-Jatiand Kudro NriGhosti. This study also explores the perceptions and views expressed by the youths from the dominant Bengali majority, justifying or not, use of these terms to identify indigenous peoples in the country.

The weight of school colonial history on youth civic engagement

Everardo Pérez-Manjarrez, Autonoma University of Madrid
This paper discusses the narrative construction of school colonial history and its impact on students’ civic engagement. The analysis focuses on the ways in which the personal narrative of colonial heritage inhibits or encourages one’s own social participation. Empirical research is presented showing the influence of nationalism and colonialism in the students’ ideas of history and citizenship. Additionally, case studies are presented demonstrating how young people negotiate, resisting or challenging, mainstream historical discourses in order to construct active ways of civic engagement. Finally, new possible intersections between history and citizenship are discussed, as well as implications for civic education.