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VOL. 126 | NO. 20 | Monday, January 31, 2011

Civic Involvement Has Impact in Students’ Lives

The Memphis News

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There are many definitions of politics.

A definition for civic involvement, most of us agree, doesn’t necessarily include politics, especially if the definition of politics leans toward the one involving the perils of watching how sausage is made.

Yet the two do belong together if civic involvement is to produce tangible results and long-term commitments to a course of action.

The two “seven-figure gifts” made to Hutchison School and Presbyterian Day School by Abbie and Duncan Williams and the Martin family, respectively, point to a strengthening of civic involvement that is issue based.

This can only help transform an intimidating political atmosphere in which personality too often rules the day.

What we need is more political will in the mix.

Without it, the force of personality in our politics can sweep aside the best plans with the broadest consensus. When that happens, it can be difficult to keep those tentatively involved from washing their hands of any civic involvement.

We don’t need the circle of those raising their hands to become smaller. It has to become larger despite efforts by those controlling the process to discourage newcomers.

The answer is to make civic involvement a part of the lives of students.

On perhaps the most important civic issue for the future of our city – education – the work of training teachers and encouraging their development once they are in the classroom should know no school system boundaries regardless of what happens between Shelby County’s two public school systems.

We put together the efforts at Hutchison and PDS for more than the convenience of a cover story. Leadership and education reform go hand in hand. And nowhere is the ability to translate theories about leadership into practice going to be more tested than in education reform.

The city’s new partners in education reform from the Gates Foundation have repeatedly signaled they are up to the rough-and-tumble journey when another wrinkle in our local politics causes us to check in with them again to see if they have fled yet. It’s time for us to be just as persistent on our side of the bargain.

Our civic identity needs institutions like Hutchison Leads and the Martin Institute. We find it especially encouraging that each effort is based on a private school campus and in a common idea of creating institutions whose impact doesn’t begin and end on those campuses.

Our hope is civic involvement can move to a point where rolling up one’s sleeves isn’t seen as a prelude to sinking a pair of bare arms in mud up to the elbows. But it is unrealistic to expect that some dirt and sweat won’t be involved. That doesn’t have to mean mud is being slung. It’s a necessary byproduct of getting to the root of problems.

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