Education

And Jesus, between all the bleedin’ and fightin’

I’ve been readin’ ‘n writin.’

Preamble

With the exception of George Washington, our founders were highly educated men. The three authors of the Federalist Papers were trained at what are now Princeton (Madison) and Columbia (Hamilton and Jay), prestigious then and now. The Papers reflect a sometimes irritating expectation that we, its readers, have comparable educations, so references to philosophers, famous and obscure, and histories, famous and obscure, will leap off the page with immediate recognition. However, they almost erase this implied obligation on the part of the reader with Madison’s exaltation of their genius novelties at the end of Federalist 14 and Hamilton’s direct quotation from Hume in the last Paper (whom Hamilton does not bother to name) that insists on experience as the only test of the new constitution’s worth and viability. We report Madison’s ringing of chimes in the ACT section from which you reached this section. In the quote above, Hamilton reports reading and writing, which in this case suggests understanding the past and creating the future that is not the same as the past. Indeed, the Constitutional Convention, whose manner of reaching decisions resembled more the free flow of cooked spaghetti dropped on the floor than any work from the chisel of Michelangelo, created an entirely new form of government, some of its parts familiar, its whole without historical precedent.

When we began this project some years ago, we felt an obligation to create a web version of the Federalist Papers with enough surrounding apparatus to make them accessible and useful. It became clear over time that we were not making much improvement on the more than two dozen printed versions that could be purchased from Amazon and an equal number available in used form. We claim the best set of summaries and easy navigation among them, with paragraph headings, plus accessible versions of related documents, plus the virtue of being free (which virtue is enjoyed by several app versions). But we were not changing any game. We also realized that all but one or two academic treatments of the Papers were interested in their meaning and importance at the time of their writing. Indeed, the glory of Federalist 10 was felt by many academics to be found in its claim that the size of the country would put a brake on national majority factions, a cherry on top of number 10 as the locus of true interest in the Papers generally. That argument would be laughable today. (We believe it was laughable then, but that is another story.) So we decided to distill from the Federalist Papers those positions it seems to articulate that would be relevant if written today. We supply the results in our Principles section.

Of course we hope this web site will be found useful in high school and college classes. As we observe in the section of this site on the Federal Papers themselves, they are still worth reading, in their entirety, as a check against what we say here about them otherwise, even though some of their words are out of date, some things they got wrong, and their writing style forbids easy reading. We refer to them as the American Gospel, hence deserve attention much like the King James version of the Christian Gospel, worth the trouble for their beauty and narrative quality if nothing else. But the last two of the general principles we claim they assert—that means must be commensurate with ends and the whole enterprise is a continuous experiment, a great unfinished symphony, means they were out of date when written. The first acts of Congress were additions and changes; the first filled a gap—the Constitution says nothing about how the President removes officers in his branch (the Congress decided that the President could remove without Senate approval), and the first ten amendments pushed through by Madison himself added the Bill of Rights that Hamilton declared unnecessary, even harmful, in Federalist 84.

It happens that the principal author of this web site taught the Federalist Papers in an undergraduate seminar at Stanford University two decades ago. As any teacher knows, he likely learned more from the experience than the students. What follows captures some of that experience, coupled with his own participation in protest and constructive politics. The suggestions are just that, suggestions. We offer at the end a short vehicle for getting suggestions back from you as you either engage in civic education or have thoughts contrary to what we have to say here.

What Should We Teach?

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It is widely reported that far too many students today graduate from high school and college knowing very little about how our government works, even simple things like the three branches. They also vote in smaller portions than people over the age of 29. The second we take as a serious problem. The first we believe is generally over-valued.

The National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP), a federal agency, reports low competence levels relative to civic understanding in America, with a falling trajectory. It is easy to be alarmed by such assessments. But we wonder if the NAEP is asking those of us who drive cars to understand the details of combustion and transmission gearing to make it from one block to the next. Here is what the NAEP believes should be the standard of knowledge for students exiting high school with an advanced level of proficiency:

Twelfth-grade students performing at the NAEP Advanced level should have a thorough and mature understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of constitutional democracy. They should be able to discuss advantages and disadvantages of confederal, federal, and unitary systems of government, as well as strengths and weaknesses of parliamentary systems of government when compared with those based on separate and shared powers. These students should be able to explain how the structure of American government and the nation’s social and political cultures serve one another. They should know which level and agency of government to contact to express their opinions or influence public policy. They should be able to explain and evaluate past and present individual and collective political actions aimed at narrowing the gap between American ideals and national reality. They should understand how elections help determine public policies, and they should be able to evaluate public policy issues in which fundamental values and principles are in conflict–liberty and equality, individual rights and the common good, and majority rule and minority rights, for example. These students should be able to evaluate the validity and emotional appeal of past and present political communication. They should be able to explain how civic dispositions such as civility, tolerance, and respect for law are important for preserving democracy, and they should be able to evaluate the many forms of participation in public affairs. Finally, they should be able to explain how American foreign policy is made and carried out and to evaluate its consequences.

Taken at face value this set of requirements is beyond the reach of most if not all citizens regardless of age or training. It is likely that no elected leader could pass a test around this demand. It is just as a likely that no constitutional scholar from an elite university could supply all of this at a consistent level, or agree with peers about things they could supply. In his book on the problems with the American system of elections entitled They Don’t Represent Us, Harvard’s Laurence Lessig, a constitutional scholar, confessed to not knowing enough about constitutions in France and Germany to give a talk on their comparison to the U.S. Constitution. He might not pass the test above either. Entering the forest of liberty versus equality will only start an argument with no ending, although it might break down the current resistance to even admitting a durable tension between them that has dominated recent political discourse from both sides of the aisle, particularly at universities—we cannot move forward if we only focus on equality (the left), or liberty (the right).

Many of the thousands of students arrested in the 1950s and 1960s could not name the three branches of government or distinguish elected from appointed government officials. But they knew oppression when they saw it. Some student leaders knew more about government and theories of government than graduate students in these fields today (we think of Tom Hayden’s Port Huron Statement and Mario Savio lecturing administrators at UC Berkeley on the fine points of First Amendment law as examples), but most were energized by the evil they saw on the cover of Life Magazine every week and other students moved to dissent (herd mentality was as important as ideology). What these students had that today’s students do not seem to have is interest in political issues that led them to action. We admit that the key issues then—oppression of our black citizens and the War in Vietnam—were simple compared to our problems today, even those related to our black citizens and our continued zeal for military solutions that do not work. But nothing happens without interest first.

On Interest

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We recognize that interest is not something easily legislated or predicted. What is interesting varies from person to person, and within one person day by day or hour by hour. What is certain is that almost all humans have the power to be interested. We also recognize that inspiring interest in a classroom faces the capacities of the leader, the diversity of latent interests in students, and the general demands of measurable performance most classrooms require, even if not formalized in grades or test scores. Just getting students to participate, much less be interested, is often challenging, particularly in classrooms with one or two dominant (usually male) voices. This of course is not news if you are a teacher, and you no doubt already have strategies worked out. We are not going to offer any process advice here.

However, we do have some subject advice. We think students in high school and college will have a natural interest in their rights. We have an opening to this interest in our section on Facts. In fact, it opens with Mario Savio standing on a car at the University of California in Berkeley, not something recommended as a general practice, but interesting in itself. The material following may be boring, but it may start students down of path of recognizing that “rights” are complicated and of different types. If that is then stirred into the principles identified in the Principles section, one can imagine some stirring discussions about tensions, capacities, the different perspective on rights driven by different ideologies, and the consequent view of rights from the individual compared to the collective.

Another area of potentially inherent interest is our unwritten Constitution. We are trained to think of our written Constitution as the fountain of law, order, and liberty, all else subordinate to its glow and requirements. It is the written Constitution that calls forth as the subject of civics education. But that misses most of the picture. Why has every President after Franklin Roosevelt except Ford, Carter, and Reagan not been impeached and convicted of unauthorized war crimes of which they are, by any literal reading of the Constitution, guilty. The power to declare war resides with Congress. They have not done so since 1942. Yet Truman got us into the Korean War, Kennedy into the Vietnam War, it carried forward by Johnson and Nixon, Bush Senior began our adventures in the Middle East, Clinton in eastern Europe, the former expanded dramatically by Bush Junior, with Afghanistan added, and not ended until Biden finally called a halt to it. The answer is semantics and the unwritten Constitution. Those asked this question argue that if Congress appropriates the money, they have given de facto consent to the target. This is not in the Constitution. Indeed, the two-year limit on military appropriations, heralded by Hamilton and Madison as a secure brake on military misadventures, is laughable today with our standing army soaking up nearly $1 trillion in programs that have perpetuity written all over them. This should get a conversation going, even within the tenth grade. The many other elements within the unwritten constitution might raise similar eyebrows.

A third area off the ordinary course of study in this area is the administrative and regulatory state. There is nothing in the Constitution about this state. But it is now operating our government for the most part. We discuss it at some length in our section on Facts. One could argue that it would more important, and likely far more interesting, to have students take up a project of trying to figure out Medicare, or the Affordable Care Act, or the Office of Homeland Security, or the structure of how we try to manage water resources in America so badly, rather than churn through the “necessary and proper” clause, as interesting as that might be to constitutional scholars and lawyers.

On Understanding

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If students can be interested, they next need some training in understanding. Let us say that understanding is to knowledge as the sundae is to ice cream and chocolate syrup, a more advanced state that combines the elements into something not then reducible to the elements. What is on the Internet today may be knowledge, may or may not be truthful, and it may reflect someone else’s understanding, but it does not convey understanding, it only provides the ingredients. Understanding happens in the mind. (We are not attempting a consensus view of this historically troubled word; we are attempting to make a point about human cognition.) Understanding something requires understanding its various associations, its use in various contexts, its implications in various contexts, its complexities in various contexts, its value in analogies and metaphors, and history. Of course, most people do not “understand” most of the words they use in this comprehensive sense. But students should know what it means to “understand” something in this deep fashion for enough words and ideas that they understand what it means to understand.

For example, the first Amendment is simple enough: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” A student memorizing the language and thus passing an exam on what is in the first Amendment has not gone very far. Does he or she know the full range of the word “speech”? Is burning a U.S. flag “speech”? Is donating to a campaign a form of “speech”? Does he or she know under what conditions this freedom is actually punished if exercised? Does he or she know if this freedom is also recognized by all states, or not, and if so, by what mechanism given that this is the federal constitution. Do lies count? Can we say whatever we want in a courtroom? Why can judges in a courtroom silence people, or prevent witnesses from telling the “whole truth” when witnesses have been sworn to do so? What about trade secrets, or military secrets? What about threats, or personal attacks, or racists aspersions, things that people now lose their jobs over? How do we justify the level of censorship growing today on both sides of the political arena? And here is a big and relevant one: why have classrooms become the epicenter of censorship in America, from left and right? If “different opinions will be formed,” why cannot they be expressed in class, even if contentious or against the liberal stream?

It seems to us that taking students through a few examples like this, with extensions in Supreme Court cases, actual laws and how they have worked, not worked, been repudiated, and the complexities of associations, contexts, and implications would give students the tools necessary to conduct similar investigations on their own when a particular interest provokes such. If combined with an interest in their rights, or the unwritten constitution, or the administrative state, one can imagine a flow of ideas and papers that would be perfect backgrounds for student participation in government, a subject with which we will end this brief set of ideas.

Moreover, students will inadvertently find themselves forced to think. There is a general view that critical thinking has left the academy, at least in the high school and undergraduate years, replaced by emphasis on creativity, collaboration, and quick information access as avenues to realize diversity, equity, and inclusion, the combination hostile to criticism, a necessary part of critical thinking. True or not, the level of thinking one sees today in social media and commentary on the Internet would tend to support the claim. Critical thinking can be trained, of course, but it requires criticism, of student work and statements, by teachers and other students, in public as well as private commentary. There may be some ways to sneak up on the challenge through another door, the one suggested here, of getting students to work through one facet of our current state and figure out how to make it better. They would have to think their way to some new ideas.

In this respect, there is some pedagogical value in explaining to students a central intellectual tension in the Federalist Papers.  In Federalist 37 Madison impugns the value of history in providing positive examples of what to do.  He reinforces this position at the end of Federalist 14 with his hymn to innovation, the new arising amidst the ashes of the old, the pride of our Constitution its utter novelty.  But he and Hamilton equally trumpet experience, the “oracle of truth” (Madison in Federalist 20, Hamilton in 25 and elsewhere).  On the other hand, in Federalist 30 Hamilton insists that “IN DISQUISITIONS of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend,” seeming to cut the legs from under experience as the oracle of truth.   How do we establish “truth”?  From logical deduction based on established or accepted principles, or from appeals to the real world, the world of facts and experience?  And how do we establish the truth of innovations for which we have no basis in experience (they are too new) or principles (they are not deductive, already contained within principles from which they would be derived).  We can add of this clutter of puzzles an implication of Madison’s speech about laws requiring “liquidation” through particular adjudications (also in Federalist 37), namely, that principles cannot be fully derived from experience, an essential problem with inductive processes.  Is this the road to skepticism, the post-modern world in which nothing is secure?  No.  But these three seemingly incompatible positions expressed within one work that strives for coherence (they do not make it, but that is another story) should warn us about the inherent diversity within the framework we use to establish truth.  Students should be asked to explain their positions, even if new, with the intellectual apparatus of ways of thinking built into the experience.

A further point made within this web site that might provoke some useful conversations is the claim that any serious political topic will give rise to (1) alternative constructions based on the ideological dispositions of the students, who will have them even if inchoate, and (2) any comprehensive conceptualization of the problem requiring examination through the tensions created thereby, not from one ideological point of view alone.  While we are dismissive of the NAEP requirement to grasp the tensions between liberty and equality, individualism and the public good, we believe much can be gained by exposing specific problems to the tensions between the two even if a coordinate rock-solid description of the two sides acceptable to all is beyond human powers.  

Reading the Constitution

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We are not arguing against reading the U.S. Constitution as a necessary component of civics education. We are against reading it straight, as if what carries the common name of the U.S. Constitution is the current U.S. Constitution. What is made available here within the section on the Federalist Papers, which includes both the Articles of Confederation and the most common form of publishing the so-called U.S. Constitution, misleads relative to the latter. Unlike every other constitution in America, the published version for the U.S. leaves intact all of its original language. The various parts that are no longer relevant may be interesting from a historical perspective, but they are no longer constitutional. Four of the five provisions protecting slavery stand out of course (leaving an interesting test to see if anyone knows which one remains after one has found all four that are no longer relevant), but the retention of the original language on Presidential elections no longer obtains. But these are not the only problems. The full “constitution” must recognize all of the “unwritten” components that have the same power and effect as the “written” parts. Just consider the Presidential elections section just mentioned. The first text was replaced by text from the Twelfth Amendment, which does not come close to describing how we conduct Presidential elections today. The absence of judicial review leaves an enormous gap considering the critical role that unwritten power of the Supreme Court has enjoyed since 1803. Presidential practices since WWII have eviscerated the declaration of war power granted the Congress. Independent regulatory agencies feel unconstitutional even though no text in the Constitution as written forbids them. Any treatment of the “Constitution” that ignores these various forms of excision and addition is not a treatment of our Constitution.

To be frank (and we suppose egotistical) we think a better introduction to the Constitution is contained in the five principles expressed in the Principles section of this web site. The third principle outlines the key structural elements—republicanism, federalism, and separation and balance of powers. These govern all U.S. Constitutions, of which we have 51 (plus a large number of city charters). The purpose of these three elements is not printed on their collective face. It is rather found in select Federalist Papers, such as 51 and 73, namely, to sufficiently constrain the inner workings of the government to avoid it tilting into autocracy. Except for instances within the Civil War and World War II, where the exigencies of war forced Presidents to act as autocrats, the constitutional forces so designed have worked.

But they work with a price. The common price is efficiency in law making. Seldom have the two houses of Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court been on the same page. “Different opinions will be formed.” Hamilton predicts this condition in Federalist 73. The current levels of noise issuing daily now from Washington are loud, but by no means unique. John Adams ran into the same problems. Congress and the President after the Civil War and Lincoln’s death just carried the war on another four years. Franklin Roosevelt had a hostile Court until 1937 and a hostile Congress from 1938 until WWII started, at which point Roosevelt became a dictator of necessity. We only got the Great Society Program because President Johnson was from Texas, knew the landscape, had a Democratic Congress that followed his lead, and a sympathetic Supreme Court, a perfect storm. No President after has had the same luxury, in part because all southern Democrats became Republicans.

One option to consider when teaching the Constitution is to give the subject a treatment like the one just suggested, show students the web sites from the Heritage Foundation and Justia that give chapter and verse on every article of the written Constitution, then ask them to chase down the same level of information on one term of the unwritten constitution, say the war powers act or judicial review. With tools today like ChatGBT, students can rapidly build a library of resources that will likely conflict in some ways, but will provide the materials for the cake. Then get them to justify the cake.

You may have noticed in the mountain the NAEP wants students to leap in a single bound is knowing who to call in our government “to express their opinion or influence public policy.” Almost all public elected officials maintain a kind of open door through staff, even at the federal level. But effective communication hoping to influence public policy takes a mob with the prospects of affecting the next election. Short of that, it’s a waste of time. “Different opinions will be formed.” On almost any issue of real interest, our elected leaders will hear incompatible views, strongly felt, seldom justified. Our problems are complex. Our elected leaders do not understand them; their staff are lucky to understand them. Furthermore, even if they accepted some position for change, the processes by which they might be turned into law usually preclude any clean or uncompromised outcome. Add to this condition that most of what goes on in government now arrives through the unelected administrative state, itself not quite immune to popular input, but one either uninterested or unable to change. Understanding our Constitution will not change this condition.

Three other features of the American political ecosystem remove focus from the U.S. Constitution. One is the degree to which those things that affect us and those areas on which have the best chance of influencing are local, and subject to local rules and regulations, which vary considerably from one municipality to the next. The second is our evolving form of federalism. We started with almost pure divided sovereignty, the federal government worrying about war, foreign affairs, interstate commerce, and domestic rebellions, states taking care of the rese; now we have shared or concurrent sovereignty, federal and state governments plowing the same fields together. The third is the degree to which our government operates through public/private partnerships. In the order of 75% of government revenues return to the private sector, through medical services, social security spending, infrastructure and housing contractors, military contractors, and interest on debt. These relationships are not constitutional.

Working Together

The picture heading the section on understanding shows two minds at work. There are some scientists of the mind who believe that the mind can only be understood in the plural, that minds are so dependent on things like language, other external stimulae, and the feedback mechanisms of responses to other minds affecting successive stimulae that successful investigations of minds must take into account the larger sphere. It happens that for some time the American educational system has committed itself to student collaboration, creativity, rapid information access made possible by ever-improving digital resources, inclusion, and diversity. This is a commitment to plural minds. We have seen, for example, that students learning how to write in collaborative settings discover that problems they can see in the writing of others they cannot see in their own. They grow from the experience in ways writing in solitude can never achieve. Indeed, it is generally understood that inventions are universally collaborative in some sense or other; it may be one brain that summons the idea, but it only materialized in the petri dish of conversation and learning and challenge through others.

We suspect, however, that most teachers by now have discovered that collaborative groups of students left on their own diverge from the assigned topic in relatively quick order. Effective group learning requires a curator, a leader, someone to keep the group focused without necessarily providing “instruction.” It is often enough just to ask the right questions. But this creates problems in the classroom, as the instructor can only be in one at a time. If you are a teacher, you have already encountered this problem and developed some strategies to make groups you are not at that moment leading still productive. Producing a common paper often works. In the brave new world of so-called Artificial Intelligence, it might be the number of different, contradictory answers one gets from the same question put to ChatGBT, with a requirement that the group reconcile them.

Into the Streets

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The National Education Association (NEA) has thoughts about civic training that parallel some of the ideas outlined above, but they suggest simulations of government practices. We have doubts about simulations leading to real civic engagement. We have doubts about general histories leading to real civic engagement. (We do not doubt the value of knowing history, more than we do now, but history isn’t going to solve our problems with health care, homelessness, or immigration.) We have doubts about this web site solving any particular problem. Solving problems requires immersion in the problem, and then reaching for the new. We are suggesting here that students should be encouraged, through proactive programs, to get immersed in one particular problem—elections—not through simulations, but through direct engagement.

Elections suffer two problems today. One is voting itself. We have some thoughts below. The other is our desperate need for election reform. Money plays far too great a role in elections today. Issue ignorance has followed, in part because state and federal elections for the most part come at us in 15-second sound bites that, given their short duration, lend themselves to vilifying the opponents rather than proposing something that looks like an idea about a problem. The long-term answer to this second problem is moving all electioneering and voting to the Internet, no money required. We have a separate section on this end of things. (Read More)

Registration and Voting.

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Americans cannot vote until they are 18 years old. But that does not prevent those who are younger from participating. More people should be registered to vote, and more people should vote. Students throughout the land should be moved to registration drives and getting out the vote, regardless of party. The second of these demands should address local elections in particular. Local elections are often in odd years, off years for state and national elections. It is not uncommon that local elections only attract 15% of registered voters. Yet local laws and local officials account for at least 75% of those government actions that affect our common lives. Federal and state governments have little say in public education (often the largest single local public expense), building codes, traffic laws, homelessness, parks, zoning ordinances and their effect on affordable housing, local arts organizations, neighborhood associations, road conditions, water management, rental ordinances, waste management, police and fire protection, ambulance services, and public recreation facilities among others. Within “police and fire protection” are the problems with racial profiling and unnecessary police violence, the most public of our ongoing problems with racism.

We strongly recommend using voter registration and getting out the vote as corporate elements of civic education. We also strongly recommend that such work be party neutral. The processes themselves should be created by students with some guidance. The guidance begins with where to find voter rolls and where to find names of people living in a given area. Students will create spread sheets from habit. Some voter rolls will show actual voting patterns. Students then should divide up the town or region of interest into small sections, build a map of each section relative to who is not registered, and then, in small groups, start making visits equipped with registration forms.

Getting out the vote will usually conflict with student demands in classrooms. It would be good and valuable, for schools to give any student willing to work on election day to get out the vote the time to do so. (On a larger scale, cities and states should declare election days as school holidays for high schools and colleges.) Getting out the vote begins with encouraging mail-in ballots and help in preparing them, connecting people to polling places for early voting, and then phone calls on election day with promises for transport help if needed.

A particular program may also be of interest.  A non-profit agency in Washington, DC called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) collects data from member states to determine registered voters who have moved to another state, who have moved within the state, or who have died, but remain on an outdated voter registration record.  In 2022 some 31 states belonged.  Six have since left the organization, all red states, for reasons that vary with who is talking, but with suggestions of misinformation and innuendoes from the departing states complaining of political bias on the part of some non-election officials working within ERIC.  Two questions might stir a bone or two.  Why is ERIC run the way it is?  And why does not the federal government mandate such an effort, public or private, as a matter of law?  The second question will open up these words from the Constitution: “The time, place, and manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the place of choosing Senators.”  States deciding voter qualifications for federal office was one of the sad and bad compromises at the Convention.  Perhaps a wave of students could inspire the federal government to take advantage of this clause to nationalize the process of maintaining clean voter roles.

We will want to keep track of such programs. Over time keeping track will take some professional staff and a separate section of this web site. For now, if you either (1) already have a voting registration and get out the vote program or (2) you want to start one and are willing to share your experience, send us a note at FederalistPapersProject@gmail.

Study of Homelessness

Another opportunity for engagement by high school and college students involves homelessness. Homelessness has become a problem with such proportions and such resistance to remediation as to demand new ideas that may not eliminate homelessness but do enough to reduce the number to a level that other forms of intervention may be viable. Following a program applied (fruitlessly for want of follow-up) in San Francisco a decade ago, we suggest something along the following lines, to be executed by students in relatively small groups.

  1. Determine the region to study. Few communities in the United States are not afflicted with some homeless people or are adjacent to communities so afflicted.
  2. Go to City Hall and ascertain the number of agencies that have interests in the homeless question and population. In San Francisco, this number was 24. Characterize them from their formal statements, then interview members of each, finding out what they really do, what works, what does not, and any ideas they might have for changes. These interviews should be conducted with respect, for information only. The point is to capture the most nuanced and capacious picture of the prevailing municipal treatment of homelessness. However, this is not yet the point to make judgements or propose alternatives.
  3. With this on record, try to track down all the non-profit organizations also dealing with the homeless, starting with churches that offer shelter and private agencies offering food. Interview them as well, creating the same kind of picture. Excluding churches, the number of such organizations in San Francisco was also 24.
  4. Now interview the police. They have the most immediate grasp of homelessness in most communities. We have never found the police to be other than sympathetic to the problem even as they carry homeless people to the hospital and local prison at times.
  5. Take stock. Try to divide the causes of homelessness into discrete categories, at least to separate out those who are incapable of taking care of themselves, either because of substance abuse or mental illness, from those who could return to more-or-less ordinary living under a roof. A significant number of the homeless are transient, back in shelter in a few months. A significant number are almost incapable of staying in a shelter, indoors, even with food supplied.
  6. Now start to interview homeless people. We suggest doing this in pairs or threes, not one and not a mob. They are human beings. Many are very damaged human beings, but they are almost universally harmless. Get their stories. While not a sure bet, most homeless stories will tell you where to place them. Some, but not all, will be amenable to discussing a change, a place to dwell, and under what conditions. Some, but far from all, will be telling the truth, in the sesne that if given the opportunity they would take it. The tragic gap in the homeless is that many are trapped in a set of habits and dispositions that favor the community in which they presently live (and they are communities), all others alien in one way or another. Many hopes for relieving homelessness have been reduced to providing essentials of food, clothing, and shelter without recognizing the communal needs of all of us.
  7. Compile these various pieces into a composite picture, talk about it for a while, and then try to think of some new alternatives, if not for all, at least for enough to make a difference.
  8. Go back to City Hall and start again, this time with some suggestions for change.

Note that money should not be a deterrent to progress. Between public and private costs, we spend far more on the homeless now than we do on prisoners. It would be less expensive if we provided them with shelter and food. We already provide most of them with public health services when they are willing to accept them. In San Francisco one private agency deals exclusively with homeless maternity. What we are now barred from considering, for diverse reasons, is returning to the old practice of asylums, a form of incarceration.

Our Dialogue with You

We hope to stir some thoughts from you. This is an important topic. Send your comments to FederalistPapersProject@gmail. We will print all we think valuable, organizing them into topics as the number escape a single list. We ask that you supply your name, e-mail address, and institution. We will not print them on this website if you wish. We understand that some school administrations and certain governors have become censorious, even firing teachers for saying things that cut across a grain, from both sides of the political fence, which things often feel to us like points to take into consideration rather than merit abject repudiation. The Humanities is built in some ways on the fact that any argument to be made about literature, history, and how human beings behave and talk admits a counter argument, of varying value, but never self-repudiating or dead from self-contradiction. In the old days students would be asked to shape such arguments that were against their own value system. It had the happy outcome of making them think.