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Preventing Mass Shootings - How Should We Help the Public Work on this Problem?

by Patty Dineen

The December, 2012 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut re-ignited public talk about what "we" as individuals, and especially, what "we" as a society should do about it.  Can we do anything to prevent the next one?  Can we identify likely future shooters? Can we make public places safer without turning such places into prison-like settings?  Would we have to give up some cherished personal freedoms in order to get the results we seek?  These and many other questions are being asked, discussed, debated, and argued about.

This public issue--what can, and what should we do to prevent this kind of violence?--as we all know, is presently being framed by many entities; media, interest groups, government, experts, and individuals in all segments of our society.  You might think that would be enough, but we don't think it is. The National Issues Forums Institute has a 32-year-long interest in a particular kind of issue framing; that is, framing a public issue in a way that can help people deliberate; or carefully consider a spectrum of approaches to dealing with the issue.  Deliberation also requires unflinching consideration of the possible consequences, costs, and tradeoffs inherent of each approach.

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Citizenship as Education, by Jim Strickland

The foundation of democracy is the very human act of just talking with each other...This kind of citizenship is the most transformative kind of education there is.  You cannot emerge unchanged because continuous and responsible change is the name of the game. 

The term “public education” can be understood in a couple of different ways.  One common meaning is related to its funding source.  Public education is education that is publicly funded, as in our public schools and other publicly financed educational programs.

Another meaning of public education, however, is related to its primary purpose.  In this view, public education refers to our intentional efforts to create a public – that is, a body of citizens who have the inclination and the capacity to participate in the ongoing and responsible practice of self-government.  This broader understanding of public education encompasses the work done by our public schools, but extends far beyond them to include the institutions and political, economic, and social structures of the larger community.

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Watch and Share Your Comments - Shaping Our Future, Launching a National Conversation about the Public Purposes of Higher Education

Watch the Video
Muriel Howard, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, spoke during the "Shaping Our Future" launch at the National Press Club

We hope you will watch the video and share your comments, questions, and feedback.

You can now watch the video (approximately 2 hrs.) recorded during the September 4, 2012 launch of Shaping Our Future: How Can Higher Education Help Us Create the Future We Want? - A national conversation about the public purposes of higher education.   Through this initiative, students, faculty, administrators, employers, and members of the general public are invited to reflect on how colleges and universities might help the country tackle some of its most vexing problems. Shaping Our Future is organized by the American Commonwealth Partnership and the National Issues Forums.

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Watch Online, Sept. 4, 2012, Launch of a National Dialogue about Higher Education

Shaping Our Future How Can Higher Education Help Us Create the Future We Want?

Watch the launch online (A brief registration is required)

Join us online on Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to kick off Shaping Our Future, a year-long national dialogue on the future of higher education. Through this initiative, students, faculty, administrators, employers, and members of the general public will reflect on how colleges and universities might help the country tackle some of its most vexing problems. Shaping Our Future is organized by the American Commonwealth Partnership and the National Issues Forums. The kick-off event will include information about forums now being planned on campuses and in communities nationwide.

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At the University of Montana - Using Deliberation and Radio to Battle Rape

The following is guest editorial that was written by Denise Dowling,, Associate Professor and Chair, Radio-Television Department, at The University of Montana.

For the full list of suggestions and to listen to the audio.

The University of Montana is not a happy place to work these days.  We’ve had the wind knocked out of us as we’ve been pummeled with accusations of rape, complicity and cover up on our campus.  It’s forced a collective gasp from us, the employees of UM, for this is not the place we know. But there it is, like a hard, cold slap in the face.  Horrible things have happened here and now we must work through the calamity.

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Coursework that Worked - An Assignment that Turned into a Thank You Letter

The following piece was written by Nick McNamara to fulfill a course assignment when he was a student in Dr. Wanda Minor's 2011 course titled Social and Public Deliberation.  The piece is being reprinted here with permission from both Dr. Minor and Nick McNamara.

Social and Public Deliberation Reflection

by Nick McNamara

I remember signing up for the section PR-498-51 entitled social and public deliberation.  I can honestly say that I did not have any idea what the course entailed.  Maybe it was the name of the course or the time slot of the course, but something compelled me to register.  So I just decided to take a shot in the dark and hoped that I would enjoy the class and learn something at the same time.  After receiving the required readings from the bookstore, I made the grave mistake by judging the course by the book covers.  I skimmed the abstracts and let my preconceived notions take over my thought process.  I thought to myself that I was about to enter a world of political rhetoric and bland functions of policy makers.  What I did not know was that my viewpoint of this course would be radically different than my preconceived notions.

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Journalism as a Democratic Art - Essays by Cole Campbell

Journalism as a Democratic Art, a new collection of essays by public journalism pioneer Cole Campbell and edited by Tony Wharton, is now available from Kettering Foundation Press. Campbell, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 53, was an acclaimed journalist as well as a longtime Kettering colleague. Each piece in the collection expresses Campbell's belief that "people expect the press to help their communities solve problems." As one-time editor of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, and then the Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, Missouri, Campbell worked to align his profession with that belief, often facing considerable resistance from other journalists. Campbell's essays address a variety of subjects, including a partly-finished dictionary for journalists; timely essays written in the months after Hurricane Katrina and 9/11; and an interview by Jay Rosen, longtime professor of journalism at New York University.

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The Making of a Public by Craig Paterson

from a blog post by Craig Paterson at Deliberative IDEAS

We all have a place and a role in the ‘public.’ This appreciation of an all-inclusive participation in a shared, human environment goes back at least to the Greeks as they pondered their common good and civic purpose. The Greeks had already recognized that an awareness of a ‘public’ as an entity in its own right…larger and more significant than just the accumulation of disparate individuals. Those of us who seek to hear the voice of the ‘public’ today are challenged with all the classical barriers to public conversation AND some modern barriers that are presenting themselves for the first time in human history.

The ‘public’ exists and functions without our awareness…it doesn’t need anyone’s permission to be powerful. But…our awareness and appreciation of the ‘public’ CAN have some significant benefits…as we solve problems together, as we organize together to maximize our effective use of resources, and as we build great communities together. We have learned through the years, however, that this ‘public’ awareness doesn’t happen by itself…it requires its own careful attention.

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Capitol Hill leaders observe two National Issues Forums held in Washington, DC, December 5, 2011

This post was written by Diane U. Eisenberg

On December 5, 2011, some sixty persons – forum participants and representatives of various Congressional offices and national and state associations – met at the Hall of States on Capitol Hill to address “A Nation in Debt”, a featured issue on this year’s National Issues Forums (NIF) agenda.

Given the size of the group, it was decided to convene two forums in adjoining rooms. Forum participants included delegations from the Legacy Leadership Program at the University of Maryland, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) members from Victoria Falls, Maryland, and a student government class from Montgomery College, Maryland, thereby, adding an intergenerational perspective to the deliberations. One forum was co-moderated by Sharon Simson and Doris Goodlet of the Center for Public Life at the University of Maryland. The other forum was co-moderated by Bill Corbett and Beth Offenbacker, Center for Voter Deliberation of Northern Virginia. Michelle Scott, Montgomery College, served as recorder.

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Deliberation as an Alternative?

(The following is Gerald Ott's response to a guest columnist's piece  titled "One Helping of Irony is now Being Served" in


Nice piece in today's Des Moines Register. Near the end you say "Instead of disparaging those seeking to be heard, those in elected office need to give these throngs a voice by trying to collaborate to improve America’s situation."

On Saturday I attended a forum at the DM Central Library. The seven of us "deliberated" about the national debt, using a moderated process and materials from the Nat'l Issues Forums ( It seemed the few at the library were collaborating, but the throngs were in the streets. Any thoughts about how the two might get together (along with elected officials)?

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