University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students Ganelle Blake, Nathan Davis, Allison Tschiemer and Brian Wegner created several educational frameworks that enhance learning initiatives and promote deliberative democracy at four institutions.
Since last September, the students have been working with representatives from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.; Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena, Ark.; MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock, Ark.; and U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, Ark.
“When museums engage in deliberative democracy, they become more valuable institutions,” said Wegner after working with the museums as part of a Clinton School Practicum project. “Instead of simply being a keeper of knowledge and artifacts, they become public spaces where history is just as alive as the present.”
The creation of the Arkansas Historic Decisions Learning Exchange (ARHDLE), a coalition of officials from local museums who seek to use public deliberation as a tool to enhance outreach programs, gave Clinton School students an opportunity to develop instructional materials that engage communities in substantive discussions about important historical issues and current events.
The materials include educational frameworks on: the Great Flood of 1927 (Delta Cultural Center), the trial of David O. Dodd (MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History), the integration of Ole Miss (U.S. Marshals Museum), and public concerns about controversial monuments (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art).
“Part of deliberative democracy, or the public deliberation process, is encouraging people to listen to one another, explore the unbiased facts of an issue, test ideas, weigh options and balance tradeoffs before making a joint decision,” said Kathleen Pate, project coordinator and past president of Arkansas Museums Association.
“The people who use these frameworks and participate in discussions will discover where their diverse interests overlap so that they can better understand each other and act together to confront social and economic ills,” said project supervisor Dr. Malcolm Glover.
The ARHDLE initiative was made possible by a research grant from the Kettering Foundation. A nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research, Kettering’s primary research question is: What does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation.
“I think this project [was] very important,” said Richard Spilman, the education coordinator for the Delta Cultural Center. “[These new educational frameworks help us] correlate past events with future events so we prevent the mistakes in the past from happening in the future.”
The Clinton School’s Practicum projects take student teams into Arkansas communities, including the impoverished Mississippi River Delta, to foster community development and social change in areas such as public education, economic development, environmental awareness, youth leadership development and health improvement. These projects foster teamwork and the direct application of classroom skills.