GOALS AND STRATEGIES

The goal of The Philosopher-Citizen Institute is the steady improvement of the quality of citizen decision-making in America via the renewal of the discipline of philosophy as a home for citizen education.  There are two major sub-goals of the Project:  1) Consistent delivery of high quality, in-depth citizen education programs by institutions of higher education, aimed at busy, working adults in their surrounding communities; and 2) The development of a citizen-philosophy sub-discipline, where the philosopher-citizen scholarship can be housed and promoted, where graduate programs can be developed, and where graduate and undergraduate faculty can be certified.

BACKGROUND 

Over the last several years there has been a convergent recognition by many scholars that Americans need to be better served in their roles as citizen decision makers, and that our institutions of higher education are capable of playing an important role in this effort.  Although several worthwhile new programs have been developed, most are aimed at traditional full time students, and those that are aimed at adults focus on developing communication skills and/or community project groups.

But these programs do not address several deeper, philosophically oriented, challenges that face the individual citizen-thinker, namely: information overload, intellectual/paradigmatic/ expertise conflicts, conflicting yet legitimate ethical tensions, and the emotional challenges that result as we try to confront the awesome nature of the responsibilities we bear as citizens.  Nor do they deal with a group of related institutional and academic problems, such as: inadequate time, space and incentives for postsecondary institutions to provide in-depth citizen education for adults in their surrounding communities; and the “professionalization” of the discipline of philosophy into an esoteric, specialized subject while seriously undervaluing its generalist/citizen roots.

Our strategies aim at the intersection of the areas described above.  Using the discipline of philosophy as an intellectual base, colleges and universities can provide the time and space for citizens in their communities to develop the philosophically-oriented skills they need to confront the informational, intellectual and ethical challenges they face as citizens. Also, in partnership with graduate level philosophy programs, we can serve as home base for activities to catalog and promote the long-existing yet scattered philosophical scholarship relating to citizen-oriented, generalist philosophical inquiry (“integrative philosophy”).

Thus, there are two major components involved:  1) Developing and regularly delivering citizen education programs that can serve as a model for the regular establishment of similar programs at other institutions, & 2) Developing a citizen-philosophy sub-discipline that focuses on the heretofore scattered scholarship of citizen-oriented “integrative philosophy” and will thus become a stable source of producing philosophy professors who can foster and facilitate additional citizen education programs.

#1) DEVELOPING & DELIVERING CITIZEN EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Pasadena City College is one of the nation’s outstanding community colleges, located in one of the nation’s outstanding multicultural communities; thus PCC provides an excellent home for Component #1 of the Institute – the development and delivery of citizen education programs that can serve as a model for the establishment of similar programs at other institutions.  Following are some of our programs:

1)  The Responsible Citizen Seminar – A class that has been especially designed to help busy citizens meet the ethical, intellectual, and emotional challenges that face them in the 21st Century, promoted to adults in our community. The seminar emphasizes learning through practice.  During the semester, each participant focuses on one major public policy issue of his or her own choice.  Then, they practice applying a variety of ethical decision making tools as they slowly develop expertise in their issues (e.g., analyzing arguments, researching current issues, handling informational complexity, examining the cultural and psychological influences on our decision-making, and becoming acquainted with the major systems of ethical decision making in the Western and non-Western traditions.  Also, participants work in groups together, so that they can build on each other’s strengths and better confront the “mess” that is our geo-political environment.

2)  The Philosopher-Citizen Salon – Public forums, where students, the audience, and experts/ scholars are invited to participate in philosophical discussions about the difficult social issues that were being studied in the Seminar.  The Salon also serves to introduce members of the community to the program at PCC.

3)  Learning Communities – Participants in both the Seminar and the Salon are being supported to form learning communities (modeled on a book club format), where groups of interested citizens will meet regularly to study and discuss specific public policy issue areas.  Under the supervision of PCC faculty members, these groups will be facilitated by graduates of The Responsible Citizen Seminar. Additional faculty members/experts will be made available as the needs of the learning communities require them.

4)  The Responsible Citizen Certificate Program --With The Responsible Citizen Seminar serving as the core course, PCC will designate a series of related social science course offerings (e.g., political science, American history, media studies) from which citizens can design a certificate program, tailored to their own needs and interests.

5)  Research and Publication – Since the major goal of this first component is to serve as a model for the establishment of similar programs at other colleges and universities, it is essential to produce and publish a research document that can aid other institutions in developing their own programs.

#2) DEVELOPING A CITIZEN PHILOSOPHY SUB-DISCIPLINE

The first step of this component will be to collect and disseminate the literature of “integrative philosophy” (generalist-oriented, citizen-related philosophy) so that it becomes acknowledged as a legitimate sub-discipline of philosophy.  This will lead to a stable source of philosophy professors who can facilitate citizen education programs at their institutions.  (Note:  A long-standing literature already exists within this field; however, it is not yet recognized as a focus area of philosophy.)

1) Collecting the ScholarshipThere is now an interdisciplinary Scholars Committee under the auspices of PCC’s Social Sciences Division.  In combination with scholarly institutes on neighboring campuses, the committee will initiate and co-sponsor colloquia to establish the following three activities:
a) begin the job of cataloging the scholarly work from a variety of disciplines: philosophy, education, social psychology, humanities, religion (publish resource volume with excerpts from selected scholarly writings);
b) sponsor a well-publicized conference to introduce academe to the scholarship;
c) publish interdisciplinary dialogues &conference proceedings.

Graduate Courses:  Neighboring graduate institutions will offer graduate seminars (under the aegis of the philosophy department) in “integrative philosophy” with the intention of first developing a concentration, and second developing a program of graduate study:
a) as part of M.A. in philosophy, students could concentrate in integrative philosophy—to be marketed as an excellent preparation for community college teaching of philosophy;
b) as the market grows, this will necessitate the development of a Ph.D. program/concentration.

OUR MARKETING PLAN

Our most fundamental methodology is to present educational programs to attract our target population, namely people who are already aware that they are not being well-served in their roles as citizens.  We do this by offering in-depth educational activities that are stimulating and in-depth, yet tailored to meet the needs of busy, hard-working citizens. Then, they will recommend their friends and associates and our numbers will grow. We plan to make ethically-based thinking and discussion more popular than emotionally-charged, knee-jerk reactivity, and thus induce citizens to want to overcome the powerful obstacles in their way to becoming independent thinkers. Thus, it is important that all of our activities and promotional efforts contain elements of intellectual adventure and passion, along with a sense of social communion with our fellow thinkers.

We also need to reach out to interested academicians, particularly philosophers, political theorists and others whose work is directly related to promoting carefully reasoned approaches to public issues.  For example, many philosophers are attracted to the discipline because of its generalist roots – to serve the citizen and thinker.  These philosophers and other scholars want a disciplinary home.  The Philosopher-Citizen Institute plans to support the development of a stable academic home for citizen-related scholarly research and educational programs.

WHY WE DESERVE YOUR SUPPORT

Helping people think carefully and independently about complex, emotionally-charged social issues is one of humanity’s biggest challenges.  The Philosopher-Citizen Institute’s educational programs are actually delivering results.  Although this task is never easy (nor is it possible to achieve perfection), our participants are more able to confront difficult ethical issues without oversimplifying them; their minds are more open to self-examination; and their hearts are also more open: they are more willing to feel their connections to others.  On the deepest of levels, most of our fellow citizens truly desire to act with ethical courage and integrity, but they need an atmosphere of respect, that fosters and supports these qualities. The Institute’s programs create this atmosphere, with regularity and stability.

MEETING THE CHALLENGES FACING CITIZENS

Being a citizen in a democracy is an awesome responsibility, requiring courage and integrity.  Our citizen decisions affect not only our own lives, but also the lives of others – our families, our friends, our fellow Americans, and our fellow human beings around the world.  Most people want to help other people, not hurt them.  We try to do what we think is “right,” or “ethical.”  But in our roles as citizen decision-makers, we face serious challenges.

The social issues about which we try to make decisions are highly complex, requiring far more attention than we have time for. We often receive information in disjointed pieces.  At other times, we receive information in predigested packages, and we wonder if we can trust the agendas of the packagers.  We live in a society that has a tradition of adversarial and divisive political communication.  This style of communication promotes an emotionally charged political climate, which makes it very hard for citizens to think clearly about complex issues.

It is not surprising that many people have shut themselves off from people and ideas that threaten their comfort zones, and that others have disconnected completely from their roles as citizens. But that doesn’t make the problems go away.  We are immersed in a complex “mess” of interconnected societal and world problems, whether we decide to look at them or not.

The Philosopher-Citizen Institute provides busy, overwhelmed citizens with a set of philosophical tools (as well as psychological tools) and that enable them to look at and then develop a more comprehensive understanding of the “mess.”  As a result, they start to become more confident about their abilities to make ethical decisions about complex social issues.  And as they become more confident citizen decision makers, they gradually experience a renewed energy and a willingness to become active, caring participants in the process.  Slowly but surely, people rededicate themselves to their awesome roles as citizens in a free society.  We invite you to join us in our fight for reasoned political thought and discourse in America.

2005-06 PERSONNEL AND SUPPORT

PROJECT DIRECTOR:  Dr. Linda S. Handelman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy.

SOCIAL SCIENCES DIVISION SCHOLARS COMMITTEE:   Dr. Michael Finkenbinder, Dean of Social Sciences Division; Professors Cheryl Beard, Kathryn Dabelow, Edward Feser, Alberto Juarez, Philip Regan, and David Uranga

COMMUNITY STEERING COMMITTEE: Brian Biery, Janet Blum, Carolyn Clark, Molly Kennington, Linda Lasley, Mary Schander, Janann and Eugene Strand

FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS: The Morris Smith Foundation, The PCC Associated Students, and The PCC Flea Market Board