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Civic Engagement: The Iowa Caucuses
Unformatted Document Text:  class with representatives from various campaigns trying to recruit interns, the session with Clinton’s Iowa Press Coordinator, and a session with a journalist who used to work at CNN but is now in charge of on-line news production for Newsweek – were all very well received by the students and provided additional insights into various aspects of the caucus process. One possibility here would be to coordinate such visitors with other classes at the same time. 12 Another is to give extra credit, or replace class, with visits to other events on campus revolving around the caucuses. But in spite of these difficulties, the class was largely successful in achieving its desired outcomes. Still, the Iowa caucuses are an opportunity that are available only once every four years. And if this model of “learning and action” is effective, it would be advantageous to figure out ways of incorporating such a model into other classes. I asked the students about this, and they almost all thought it was a good idea. As Des Moines is also the state capitol, a number of them suggested classes on state government where students did internships in the legislature. 13 Others suggested classes on the executive branch and bureaucracy where students worked as interns in various government agencies. One student suggested a class on interest groups where students worked for various groups that had active PACs and/or lobbying programs. And some students suggested a fall semester election class where students could intern in federal, state and local elections. All of these might, I think, make good experiences. I have had students do “stand alone” internships in all of these types of organizations. But setting up such a program in these organizations would probably take more work than doing so in the Iowa caucuses where we had campaigns continually attempting to increase the number of volunteers that they had. I have already spoken to my colleague who teaches the state government class, and she is toying with the idea. And in 2010, I would consider the fall semester election class option. The final activity for the class, as noted above, was a forum held on a Thursday evening at the end of January (the 31 st ) where my students discussed their experiences in the caucuses. I gave a very brief welcome and introduction to the audience (about 40 people not including the students in my class who were not on the panel of 7 who started the discussion), and then I turned things over to the student who had interned with the Iowa Caucus project, whose last official responsibility was to moderate the discussion. The students were honest in their feelings about what they liked and disliked about working on campaigns. But their passion for what they had done, and their excitement in being involved in “democracy as it should be practiced” (as one of them put it) was clear. And that was exciting for me. I hope that the other students in the audience were inspired by the excitement that my students expressed to become more engaged citizens themselves. Much of the political science literature today is filled with concern over the lack of engagement in our political process by American citizens in general and young people in particular. 14 This class, or others like it, seem to provide a way to reignite a 12 We could, for example, make sure there was a section of our introductory American politics class taught at the same time, insuring a large number of potential volunteers, making it more likely that campaigns would send someone. 13 The Iowa Legislature is a part-time legislature that meets from mid-January until mid- April, which would fit nicely with our spring semester. 14 See, for example, Mindich (2005), Macedo, et.al. (2005), Wattenberg (2007) and Sanders (2007). For a different perspective, one that emphasizes the ways in which

Authors: Sanders, Arthur.
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class with representatives from various campaigns trying to recruit interns, the session
with Clinton’s Iowa Press Coordinator, and a session with a journalist who used to work
at CNN but is now in charge of on-line news production for Newsweek – were all very
well received by the students and provided additional insights into various aspects of the
caucus process. One possibility here would be to coordinate such visitors with other
classes at the same time.
Another is to give extra credit, or replace class, with visits to
other events on campus revolving around the caucuses. But in spite of these difficulties,
the class was largely successful in achieving its desired outcomes.
Still, the Iowa caucuses are an opportunity that are available only once every four
years. And if this model of “learning and action” is effective, it would be advantageous
to figure out ways of incorporating such a model into other classes. I asked the students
about this, and they almost all thought it was a good idea. As Des Moines is also the
state capitol, a number of them suggested classes on state government where students did
internships in the legislature.
Others suggested classes on the executive branch and
bureaucracy where students worked as interns in various government agencies. One
student suggested a class on interest groups where students worked for various groups
that had active PACs and/or lobbying programs. And some students suggested a fall
semester election class where students could intern in federal, state and local elections.
All of these might, I think, make good experiences. I have had students do “stand alone”
internships in all of these types of organizations. But setting up such a program in these
organizations would probably take more work than doing so in the Iowa caucuses where
we had campaigns continually attempting to increase the number of volunteers that they
had. I have already spoken to my colleague who teaches the state government class, and
she is toying with the idea. And in 2010, I would consider the fall semester election class
option.
The final activity for the class, as noted above, was a forum held on a Thursday
evening at the end of January (the 31
st
) where my students discussed their experiences in
the caucuses. I gave a very brief welcome and introduction to the audience (about 40
people not including the students in my class who were not on the panel of 7 who started
the discussion), and then I turned things over to the student who had interned with the
Iowa Caucus project, whose last official responsibility was to moderate the discussion.
The students were honest in their feelings about what they liked and disliked about
working on campaigns. But their passion for what they had done, and their excitement in
being involved in “democracy as it should be practiced” (as one of them put it) was clear.
And that was exciting for me. I hope that the other students in the audience were inspired
by the excitement that my students expressed to become more engaged citizens
themselves. Much of the political science literature today is filled with concern over the
lack of engagement in our political process by American citizens in general and young
people in particular.
This class, or others like it, seem to provide a way to reignite a
12
We could, for example, make sure there was a section of our introductory American
politics class taught at the same time, insuring a large number of potential volunteers,
making it more likely that campaigns would send someone.
13
The Iowa Legislature is a part-time legislature that meets from mid-January until mid-
April, which would fit nicely with our spring semester.
14
See, for example, Mindich (2005), Macedo, et.al. (2005), Wattenberg (2007) and
Sanders (2007). For a different perspective, one that emphasizes the ways in which


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