Civic Intelligence in Education

From civicintelligence

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The idea of education and intelligence are seemingly intertwined. We expect public institutions in the education sphere to build knowledge and skills that will make individuals more productive members of society than they would become if left to their own devices. However, there are certainly many serious concerns about how well modern institutions achieve these goals. There is one type of intelligence, specifically, that has little to no attention by a majority of people, but that should be taught and practiced within the educational systems and especially within the political realm. If this perception of civic intelligence could be embodied in a public sphere there would be less acts of desperation in the forms of crime, violence, etc., as well as more public involvement in communities regarding issues including but not limited to: minority group outreach programs, political involvement, whole care health education, free and non-propaganda media organizations, not-for-profit organizations, environmental awareness programs, sustainable lifestyle programs, and the list goes on.

civic intelligence activists.

A strong foundation is the answer to developing a lasting civically intelligent community. One builds a strong foundation by starting at the roots, or base of an idea. Naturally, the roots of society is the young generation who will become the future leaders and influencers in communities. In The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto writes:

Our official assumptions about the nature of modern childhood are dead wrong. Children allowed to take responsibility and given a serious part in the larger world are always superior to those merely permitted to play and be passive. At the age of twelve, Admiral Farragut got his first command. I was in fifth grade when I learned of this. Had Farragut gone to my school he would have been in seventh.

What Gatto is pointing to is the importance of engagement in learning that is often missing in todays public education. An important component of civic intelligence is the integration of individuals into the civic body to build a stronger collective whole. When individuals of all ages are focused on tackling the concerns of their community, learning will naturally take place. This phenomenon of group intelligence, for individual knowledge to merge together into new widespread understanding and realization shows how the work of cultivating civic intelligence can be intertwined with education. In primary school, educators should start asking questions to young children that allow, and in some cases, push them to think beyond the safe fences of their familiar homes. Presenting questions such as why corporations are allowed to use natural resources and not replace them; why harmful and destructive chemicals are being used in the environment as well as the healthcare system; what is the difference between a white-skinned child and a brown-skinned child if we all have the same internal structure; why do the people who need help the most like displaced peoples and people in need, have such limited resources available to them. These questions may not even be able to be answered by adults, but asking them will allow children to ponder them; the questions will float around in their minds and eventually drift into their subconscious space where they will develop a hunger to know the answers. They will reflect on their own lives and wonder if anything will or even can be changed in hopes that different questions can be asked. Questions such as, “how can I help others to have the same opportunities available to me?” “what can I do to help others get the resources they need?” Etcetera. We cannot hope for our children to truly comprehend these questions without some real experience of what goes on outside of their school. How will children experience the real world beyond the safe confines of their school walls?

Real-world experience. The children of today’s age, at least in America, do not have a realistic view of what goes on in the world. Children are citizens of this planet as well as adults; age does not classify who is or can be a citizen. Experience is the only authentic way to compassionately understand how individuals struggle, therefore children must be allowed to experience what lies beyond their white picket fence to realistically explore questions similar to what is presented above. Minors should have volunteer projects during school within their communities to allow them to make and witness real change. These projects could include visits to homeless shelters, volunteering at food banks, developing an organic, sustainable community garden, green roof projects with kid-friendly education on sustainable living. These are only a couple of the myriad of possibilities that lie in the educational development for a civically intelligent child.

In this chapter we will explore formal and informal aspects of education that exemplify civic intelligence. Worth considering is the academic environment of The Evergreen State College, how it broke from traditional models when it was founded, and how its current incarnation has played into the development of this project.

    Some useful topics:
  • Learning about civic intelligence
  • Learning to do civic intelligence
  • Learning outside the academy
  • Institutional and other structural support for civic intelligence education within society

Case Studies

One or more case studies that show different facets of this perspective. Our decision was, as much as it's possible, not to artificially separate thinking and doing. At the same time we do want to present a variety of approaches, some of which will be better suited for think-work and some will be better suited for action (that plays out in the "real" (or material?) world.

Case Study 1 Name of case study 1


Case Study 2 Wolf Haven International: Wolf Conservation and Education


   Historical decline of the wolf 

Long before humankind became the dominant species on Earth, wolves held that place of honor. Wolves are considered a keystone species that sits atop of the food chain. They maintained a balance in the eco-systems they inhabited. At one time, wolves covered much of the North American continent. According to wolf biologist L. David Mech, the wolf was originally “the most widely distributed mammal in the world” (Busch 2007). Unfortunately, as humans evolved and expanded in population as well as into the top predator, they began to have conflicts with wolves. In many cultures, the wolf became a thing of evil and danger. As far back as 600 B.C, stories attributed to Aesop talked about the cunning and wickedness of wolves (Busch, 2007). This fear and loathing spread from Asia and Europe and made it’s way to North America. The Native Americans did not share this feeling towards the wolf. They respected and revered the wolf as one of the great spirit animals. Europeans however saw them as a problem that needed to be eradicated and began hunting and trapping wolves by the hundreds of thousands, such that by the 1970’s the only wolves left in the wild could be found in Alaska, Canada and the north eastern tip of Minnesota

   Endangered Species Act of 1973 

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created to “help endangered and threatened species recover from their low numbers so that they are no longer in danger of qualifying to be classified as endangered or threatened in the foreseeable future” (Archibald, 2004). By this time it was determined that the gray wolf population had been reduced by almost 95% of it’s historic population. Scientific estimates believe that prior to Europeans settling in North America there were as many as 400,000 wolves in the lower 48 states alone. The only wolves that remained in the wild in the lower 48 were a few hundred located in northern Minnesota and Michigan.

When the wolf was listed on the ESA in 1973, only the subspecies, Rocky Mountain Gray wolf was listed. In 1978, the ESA was amended to include all subspecies of the gray wolf as well as the Red wolf. In 1982, the federal government once again amended the ESA to allow for the reintroduction of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park,central Idaho and Western Montana. After numerous legal challenges to the idea of reintroduction, wolves were relocated from Canada to Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana. Since those reintroductions, the population has grown where now there are over 1,500 wolves located in the Rocky Mountain region that encompasses Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. In the Great Lakes region the recovery is even greater with an estimated population of over 5,000 wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Mexican Grey wolf that was at the very verge of total extinction in the wild. There are currently about 42 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico and the struggle to have those numbers increase continues.

There are a number of organizations and sanctuaries that work for wolf conservation. Most of these began in the 1970’s and ‘80’s and are non-profit's that operate via contributions, gifts and volunteer support. They include but are not limited to the following:

   Wolf Haven, International
   Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
   Wolf Mountain Sanctuary
   Runs with Wolves Sanctuary
   Wolf Education Research Center
   International Wolf Center
   Defenders of Wildlife
   California Wolf Center
   Endangered Wolf Center
   Northern Rockies Wolf Collaborative
   Animal Welfare Institute
   National Wildlife Federation
   Sierra Club
   Wolf Song of Alaska
   National Parks Conservation Association
   Greater Yellowstone Coalition
   Idaho Conservation League
   The Wilderness Society
   Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
   Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
   Lakota Wolf Preserve
   Seacrest Wolf Preserve
   Timber Wolf Information Network
   White Wolf Sanctuary
   Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary
   Wolf Conservation Center
   Wolf Hollow
   Wolf Howl Animal Preserve
   Wolf Park
   Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania
   Wolf Timbers


As noted above, the number of organizations that contribute to or are directly involved with wolf conservation in some form is lengthy. This list does not even encompass the large number of organizations worldwide that do similar work. In order to look at how the issue of wolf conservation is dealt with using civic intelligence, I will concentrate on one organization as an example.

Wolf Haven International (WHI), located in Tenino, Washington, is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1982 by a couple that wanted to provide a home for captive born wolves. As WHI grew over the years the mission became that of "working for wolf conservation by protecting wild wolves, providing sanctuary for captive-born wolves, promoting wolf restoration in historic ranges and educating the public on the value of all wildlife". (WHI mission statement)


WHI's existence is due to a love and respect for wolves. This is shared by all that work for WHI. They operate under a guiding set of principles and perspectives. First and foremost is wolf conservation. To achieve this, WHI provides a sanctuary for captive-born wolves, promotes education on wolves to the general public and partners with other wildlife conservation organizations on issues of wildlife conservation and protection.

In addition to the conservation of wolves, WHI works to help restore wolves to their natural habitat. They participate in the Species Survival Program, a federal program developed to save the Red wolf and the Mexican Gray wolf both of which were on the verge of extinction. As a participant of this program, WHI is a recognized breeding facility for the Red wolf and one of only 3 breeding and pre-release facilities for the Mexican Gray wolf.

To maintain it's focus on these goals, WHI staff and volunteers concentrate on using scientific data and knowledge to make decisions on care for the wolves as well as the information that is shared through educational and political outreach. The organization understands that the love of wolves alone will not help them survive either in captivity or the wild.


WHI is a 501(c)(3) organization that is comprised of a Board of Directors, an Executive Director, a small paid staff that includes dedicated animal care staff and a large contingent of volunteers that are committed to the organizations vision of wolf conservation.

The paid staff and volunteers work closely together to maintain the day to day activities of the sanctuary as well as the promotion of the ideals of WHI. The organization works hard to incorporate all players. The volunteers are involved in decision and policy making right along with the paid staff. WHI believes that everyone has a voice and that it takes collaboration of all parties to make positive changes for wolf conservation.


WHI's main goal is conservation of wolves in the wild as well as in captivity. To do this, they utilize a number of different tactics.

They continually work on educating the general public about wolves. This is accomplished with tours of the sanctuary as well as outreach trips to schools, presentations at community events and civic meetings and providing and maintaining social media outlets, i.e., web page, facebook and twitter.

WHI is involved in several communities as a member of their Chamber's of Commerce and continues to work with other civic organizations to promote not just wolf conservation but an understanding of how all wildlife play a keen role in maintaining the balance of nature.

WHI is also involved on the political front providing time and energy in meeting and working with local, state and federal officials on all issues related to wildlife conservation.


Basing decisions and ideas around scientific knowledge instead of strictly passionate opinion allows WHI to provide a sound and fundamental educational approach to the issue of wolves and wolf conservation. This issue is one of the most contentious environmental issues in the country today. With the recent de-listing of the Rocky Mountain Grey wolf, this scientific and reasoned approach will be put to the test. Can this approach be maintained in the face of growing anti-wolf sentiment at the state and federal levels? WHI is working to answer this question by building partnerships with other wolf and wildlife conservation groups to promote a unified approach to counter the growing anti-wolf trend. Time will tell if this approach is intelligent enough to work.


When looking at WHI as an organization that purportedly uses civic intelligence, there needs to be some type of tangible outcome to help illustrate that usage. For WHI, the long term goal is stated in their mission statement. The goal of wolf conservation and reintroduction remains the same. The process to get there is constant and ever changing. Short term goals to help facilitate the long term goal, center around continuing education for everyone and the ongoing battle with those who seek to derail wolf recovery and reintroduction.


Since WHI is a non-profit organization, it relies on money. Money from tours, merchandise sales, token wolf adoptions, memberships, in-kind donations and grants. To generate this monetary support, WHI works hard to market it's mission to the general public by participating in outreach events and fundraisers throughout the year.

As important as money however, is the need for talented volunteers with a love of wolves and a desire to contribute their time and efforts to protect and care for them. Without dedicated volunteers, Wolf Haven would not be able to continue operations.


Organizations and groups that exhibit civic intelligence are normally those that center around making things better for humankind in different ways. There are a large number that work for the environment and the planet we live on. By saving are environment we save our very existence and future. Wolf Haven International does this by trying to save one of the keystone species in the web of life. Understanding that we are connected with all lifeforms, including those we've feared, will go a long way towards saving our environment. When the top predator in the wild was removed, the effects on the balance of nature were significant and devastating. Since the reintroduction of the wolf into some of it's natural habitat, that balance has slowly come back.

Unfortunately, the fears and paranoia of a select few are once again moving forward to derail the progress that's been made. The recent de-listing of the Rocky Mountain Gray wolf could set in motion the near eradication that occurred in the 19th and 20th century's. By using aspects of civic intelligence, such as deliberation, communication and collaboration, Wolf Haven International continues to work hard to try and educate as many people as possible on the need for the gray wolf to provide the balance in nature and a better future for all of humankind.


Busch, Robert H., The Wolf Almanac: A Celebration of Wolves and Their World, The Lyons Press Guilford, CT. 2007

Archibald, Catherine J., Recovery of the Gray Wolf under the Endangered Species Act, Animal Legal & Historical Center 2004 web article

Pattern Language Association

   Civic Intelligence 
   Earth's Vital Signs 
   Shared Vision 
   Voices of the Unheard 


Case Study n-1 Developing Civic Intelligence Games

At the onset of the program it was determined that the students in the Civic Intelligence program at Evergreen were going to develop games related to civic intelligence. As with the project in the next case study, this was to be accomplished over one quarter, a ten week period.


Case Study n Developing a Civic Intelligence Text Book

For the final case study in this section, we look at the development of this book. As the reader knows, this "book" is being developed by undergraduate students over a 10 week period using wiki technology. The teacher also played an active role (in fact is writing these words, but not necessarily the next ones...)


Exercises for Future Exploration