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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 31, 2015

Power, Protest, and the Future of Democracy

Meira Levinson
Pages 183-193

Reply to Critics
A Citizen for All Seasons? The Promises and Perils of a Trans-Ideological Vision of Civic Empowerment

In No Citizen Left Behind, I argue that the United States suffers from a civic empowerment gap that is predictable, pervasive, shameful, and avoidable. Citizens who are well-educated, middle-class or wealthy, and white are systematically more civically and politically empowered than are citizens who are less well-educated, working class or poor, and non-white. Although these disparities have been well documented for decades, they have been treated as inevitable and as such have failed to generate outrage. This fatalism is normatively inexcusable and empirically unjustified. Schools and districts can and should shrink the civic empowerment gap by revising their history and social studies instruction, civic identity construction, school culture, pedagogical practices, service learning, action civics, and standardized curriculum and assessment policies. I am pleased that Zachary Hoskins, Krista Thomason, and David Leichter find these arguments generally convincing, especially as they come from three somewhat different ideological standpoints. At the same time, I caution against each commentator’s tendency to overgeneralize. In contrast to Hoskins, I argue that schools’ pervasive, intrusive, and excessive regulations over children’s behaviors should be understood as civic microaggressions—and the same is true for adults in many urban communities of color. In response to Thomason, I agree that the state should foster autonomy, but disagree that autonomy requires assumption of new, particularistic identities rather than expansion of one’s current identity to be more inclusive. Finally, I embrace Leichter’s proposed extensions of action civics, but warn that such approaches could be deployed across the political and ideological spectrum.

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