Creating a Case for Public Engagement
While we have provided several “cases” for engaging the public in discussions about the purposes for public schools, developing local cases can be much more valuable when a problem is steeped in the context of your particular setting. The following template or guide sheet was developed to assist you in developing a case of your own. We invite you to create a case with a scenario that you believe will engage your community in conversations about some aspect of schooling. The scenario, along with a few objectives, questions and resources make up the case. The scenario is the heart of the case because it is written in such a way as to provoke thinking and encourage discussion. Please see our sample cases to get a better idea of what constitutes a good scenario.
Because we have a set of beliefs expressed in the Agenda for Education in a Democracy, our general objectives for creating cases will vary little. These objectives are intended to be inclusive in the sense that they lend themselves to an endless variety of scenarios.
Scenarios are created to engage groups in considering one or more of the following issues:
- Taking seriously the need to be politically informed and to participate in civic decision-making about schooling.
- Assuming responsibility for interacting with others in ways that promote democratic values and respect for others.
- Preparing students for both the democracy we currently have and the possible democratic future we can build together.
- Providing access to multiple forms of knowledge for all children and youth equitably and fairly.
- Assuming a nurturing approach to teaching which includes high standards, good modeling, cultural competence, and an ethic of care.
- Accepting responsibility for being good stewards of the public schools through active participation, financial support, and mobilizing the public will.
Developing a good scenario to promote public engagement may be as straightforward as describing a problem or issue that arises within the school community. Truth can be stranger than fiction. School issues can be complicated and controversial by there very nature. Simply try to capture and describe the relevant facts of what is going on. Challenge the readers to weigh in on proposing a solution to the problem or problems embedded in the scenario.
For our purposes, good scenarios are crafted to provoke thinking around issues that relate to one or more of the objectives above. Good scenarios center around the often complicated problems of educational policy or practice. Swampier problems make for better scenarios than routine problems. Often swampy problems contain numerous sub-problems that describe the subtle complexities of life in schools. Carl Glickman once suggested that we should not confuse problems with dilemmas. Problems have single solutions whereas dilemmas have multiple solutions. In other words, there may be no “right” answer when addressing the dilemma(s) invoked by your scenario. A successful scenario can be judged by the amount and quality of the interaction it evokes.
Writing a good scenario does not have to be difficult. For our purposes, it should be relevant to any aspect of education in a democracy. It should be authentic. It should be engaging. It should be provocative without being offensive. If you are writing up a local example, be sensitive to children, parents, teachers, and others by using pseudonyms and masking locations. Before you go public, it’s a good idea to preview the scenario draft by asking someone who was involved to make sure it’s not offensive. According to Bridges and Hallinger (1995), features of distinctive problems include having high impact on the community, typical or recurrent, high importance to the stakeholders, messy rather than narrow, realistic, not contrived, and ones in which sufficient information is available.
Cases may benefit by including a list of guiding questions. Guiding questions should stimulate consideration of alternative viewpoints. They should link back to addressing the objectives. They should help focus the conversation without appearing to be a simple “to do” list. Two possible guiding questions are:
- “What do you see as the problem here?”
- What are the implications of this problem for your discussion of schools?
In some cases, including readings and other resources can enhance conversations. You will find many sources from which to choose on this web site, including resources about how to facilitate public engagement successfully. Developing a case may include providing a list of recommended reading, web sites, or Utube sites.
Bridges, E, & Hallinger, P. (1995). Implementing Problem Based Learning. Eugene, Or: ERIC