Gayle F. Oberst
Assistant Coordinator for Replication
W. K. Kellogg Citizen Leadership Institute
Today's news is depressing and alludes to our declining quality of life. The headlines tell of children killing other children, plant closures and layoffs, the educational system of the United States being ranked behind almost every other industrial nation in science and math, and environmentalists clashing with land developers. America's communities are plagued with economic woes, racial tension, dwindling resources, crime, and unmanaged growth, and become more fragile with each passing day. The sense of community appears threatened, and that threat makes it difficult to solve pressing problems. Are citizens becoming desensitized, apathetic, and disillusioned? Have the American people become a nation of fearful, angry, and powerless consumers? Gulf Coast Community College ( GCCC) believes that the best in people will emerge when citizens face adversity.
The proposal was accepted in 1993, and the model, under the umbrella of the Citizen Leadership Institute (CLI), is reality. The CLI is charged with empowering "average" citizens and is founded on the premise that people share a collective desire to improve their quality of life; that citizens share common values regardless of their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities; and that individuals have the capacity to solve their own problems.
The CLI is an initiative to teach people from all walks of life to know themselves, to invite open discussions with others, to build a degree of trust and mutual respect, and most importantly, to ameliorate the perceptions of disconnection and alienation. The center of the CLI is a training model. The model is application based, allowing students to develop and practice citizenship skills. Most leadership programs teach awareness--the theories of leadership; the CLI curriculum extends beyond awareness to developmental stages of transformation, commitment, action, and renewal. Since the democratic form of government is predicated on the concept of well-informed citizens who accept responsibility, the CLI training model suggests that coalitions can exist among all kinds of groups, and that cooperative community spirit can be created. The model also seeks to provide common ground and the opportunity to engage in dialogue that weighs positions as well as facts and to practice listening, thinking, and defending divergent opinions.
While participatory decision making is germane to the democratic process, too few individuals in communities of today are availing themselves of the process. Many years ago when the observant Frenchman, Tocqueville, came to visit America, the spirit of community public talk (the basis of citizen leadership) impressed him. He noted the spirit was reflected in the many voluntary associations in this country, and it produced in the people certain attitudes and practices that Tocqueville called "habits of the heart." These "habits" make a special kind of leadership possible by cultivating skills that allow individuals to adjust, compromise, and correct their courses so that they can work through public conflict within a framework of common interest, concern, and commitment; to share scarce resources and make decisions about them when disagreement exists; and to take collective action even when visions differ.
As Michael Briand said, leadership requires collective judgment that incorporates the views and concerns of each individual within a given community and then draws on individual experience and ability. Because these views, experiences, and abilities are diverse in the extreme, problems such as drug abuse, poverty, crime, and economic stagnation inevitably trigger conflicting responses.
Community problem solving, directed by citizen leaders, is an art, and like the art of dance or the game of soccer, dispositions and skills of citizen leadership are learned by doing and reflecting on what has been done. Practicing the art of leadership transforms the citizen into a leader. Human beings are, after all, social beings--dependent on one another; however, the catch is that they are not always effective social creatures. While most folks have the potential to communicate, to resolve conflict, or to envision a better society, that potential is not always reached. To realize this untapped potential, deliberative learning is required. But how? What should the correct catechism contain.
The Kellogg Foundation grant provided GCCC an opportunity to delve further into this untapped potential. During year one of the grant, the CLI staff was involved in research to identify existing programs and determine schools of thought, resources, and needs. A conceptual model was developed that characterizes the citizen leader as a cornerstone, the foundation or basic element of a community; a catalyst, a provoker of change; a communicator, a conveyer and receiver of information; and a collaborator, one who works with others. Outcomes demonstrating effectiveness in each of these characteristics shaped content areas of the curriculum. Citizen leaders evolve by way of progression through the following six developmental stages: awareness, transformation, commitment, action, renewal, and facilitation of the growth of others.
GCCC contracted with individuals from community colleges, private colleges, and universities in Florida to develop the curriculum, which includes skill areas such as team building, change, problem solving, communication, community leadership, citizen leader, and diversity. Each skill area is made up of 16 clock hours of instruction. The topics within each area vary in length and may be taught as standalone units or may be combined with others from the same or different skill area.
The curriculum is packaged as skill area "course" guides, written in a "user friendly" manner so that average citizens may be as comfortable with the materials as college faculty. Skill area guides may be adjusted with the addition or deletion of materials, instructions, and activities to permit flexibility in presentation and delivery and to meet the background and experience of the target audience and presenter.
In addition to skill area guides, the CLI has produced adaptation guides, and a "how-to" guide. Adaptation guides provide suggestions as to how the curriculum may be adapted to meet the needs of target groups such as women and minorities, youth, civic and service members, those in the work force, and educators. Suggestions and examples range from "leadership across the curriculum" to town meetings, workshops, seminars and credit courses. The "how-to" guide details the process that GCCC used to develop and establish the training; therefore, it enables other Florida community colleges to cost efficiently replicate the training program.
The CLI staff discovered many leadership programs across the nation; however, few offer comprehensive training aimed at the "citizen" leader. It was the goal of the CLI program to reach the average citizen and to help them move beyond skill development to become productive. Most knowledgeable people agree that the single most important factor missing from traditional leadership programs is the ability to create action--action after a forum, workshop, or class. Each CLI module of instruction has been written to include service learning, experiential training, in-session exercises, and a commitment to "take the next step."
In 1995, GCCC will test the curriculum with select target populations and refine it as needed. At the same time, personnel from four lead community colleges (representing the remaining four regions in Florida) and individuals from outside the state (recognized for their expertise in key areas) will be asked to review the curriculum and make recommendations for enhancement. The following are serving as lead institutions: Indian River Community College, Lake Sumter Community College, Manatee Community College, and Santa Fe Community College. The model will be available for implementation by all Florida community colleges by 1997.
From its inception, GCCC has demonstrated a commitment to the comprehensive community college mission. The philosophy of the college as stated in its catalog is: "GCCC is founded upon the belief that a democratic society requires an educated citizenry; that each individual has worth, dignity, and potential; that an educational institution exists to provide people the opportunity to seek truth and knowledge about themselves, their fellow citizens, and the world in which they live; and that an educational institution should foster an understanding of and appreciation for the increasing interdependence of the nations of the world." GCCC is recognized as an initiator of community activities and has evolved as the "community space" for its service district. Since its service district mirrors Florida and Florida that of the nation, the citizen leadership initiative from Gulf Coast Community College is a natural step in fulfilling the college mission and in creating more desirable communities in which citizens may live, work, and prosper.
Briand, M. (1992). Public Judgement and Public Policy. Public Leadership Education: The Role of Citizen Leaders, VI, 22-24. Kettering Foundation.
Tocqueville, A. de (1969). Democracy in America. J.P. Mayer, Ed. New York: Anchor Books.