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  • Alan A. Lew
    ... From: Public Agenda Date: Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 8:06 PM Subject: Public Agenda Alert: The Importance Of Play [image: Public
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2010
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      From: Public Agenda <editorial@...>
      Date: Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 8:06 PM
      Subject: Public Agenda Alert: The Importance Of Play

      Public Agenda
      Public Agenda Alert -- February 11, 2010
      This Week's Headlines
      The Importance Of Play
      Shout-Out For College Stories
      Government Waste & What's Really Being Wasted
      Climate Change Advice: What We'll Get, What We Need
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      The Importance Of Play

      Turns out the old axiom about all work and no play may be right.  But being dull isn't the only risk of not spending enough time at play: a lack of time at play can also make you less flexible and less knowledgeable about the world, as well as less trustful and by extension, less able to cooperate with others in working towards solutions.  So for both children and adults, it has implications for society and civic life.

      Those are some of the theories explored by Alison Kadlec, director of Public Agenda's Center for Advances in Public Engagement, in "Play and Public Life," published in the current edition of the National Civic Review.  She interviews Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, and author of "Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul."  Brown argues that for both animals and humans "playful interaction allows a penalty-free rehearsal of the normal give and take necessary in social groups." Trust, he says, "is the core process that evokes and allows enough safety for play to take place."

      Trust is also a foundation of the public engagement process, in which groups with disparate interests agree to explore trade-offs and solutions.  Brown points to examples of benefits of play, such as George Mitchell's crediting the successes he had brokering peace in Northern Ireland to having spent time telling jokes at the dinner table.

      Click here for more about Alison's article on this principle in both child development and public life.

      Shout-Out For College Stories

      What's life really like for today's college students?  How can we help more of them succeed?  If we don't really know what it's like, the solutions are unlikely to be effective.  These questions, and that principle, are at the heart of a lot of what we do here at Public Agenda - in the With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them series of reports, and as a partner in the Achieving the Dream initiative to boost success for community college students.
      We'd like to lend our support to a project with a similar mission: Take America To College, which has set up a web site and YouTube channel to encourage non-traditional currently enrolled college students, age 20 to 30, to tell their stories - either in words, or in short video form.  By non-traditional, we mean students whose path through college hasn't been one of straight to college from high school, followed by four years and a diploma.  Many instead had their education interrupted to work full-time, serve in the military, or address family responsibilities.
      If that sounds like you, or someone you know, Take America To College would love to hear the story: the college experience, the challenges and triumphs of staying and trying to stay in school.  Students who participate in Take America To College will be considered to be one of five people who will be featured in a documentary video series that will air on a major news site.  Each of the five who are chosen will also be awarded $500 plus a video camera and a trip to Washington to meet with policymakers.
      The last day to submit entries is February 19.

      Government Waste & What's Really Being Wasted

      The American public says more than half of every federal tax dollar, 53 cents, is wasted, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey released today. But what that survey suggests to us is what's really being wasted isn't money; it's trust.
      Based on Public Agenda's research, when people say half of every tax dollar is wasted, they're not analyzing bloated defense purchasing or Medicare fraud (although those stories have an impact). They're expressing an overall frustration with government - and based on the same ABC/Post survey, frustrations are running high. Two-thirds of those surveyed say they're "dissatisfied" or "angry" with the government.
      These levels of distrust shape the debate over the federal deficit and the national debt. There are solutions to the government's grim long-term fiscal problems; the Choosing the Nation's Fiscal Future report is full of them. Public Agenda's research has shown, however, that one of the biggest barriers to solving the budget problem is the public's lack of trust in leaders. People simply aren't confident that the government will use their money wisely. They're worried that if they agree to spending cuts or tax increases, the government won't put that money to good use.
      More broadly, this shows the public's distaste for gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington. And it also shows the opportunity for a different approach: real public engagement that allows citizens' voice to be heard and their concerns to play a role in decision-making. Public engagement, properly executed, can break through gridlock and allow decisions to be firmly grounded in the public's values and priorities.
      Surveys like this send a clear message that politics as usual isn't working for the American public. If we're going to solve our budget problems - or any of our other problems, for that matter - we need to get that trust back, and that means getting the public back into the process.
      Climate Change Advice: What We'll Get, What We Need

      The federal government this week proposed creating a national climate service, similar to the National Weather Service, to provide better information to businesses, local governments and others worried about how to adapt to climate change. More information will certainly help communities as they wrestle with the challenges of energy and climate, but Public Agenda's work shows that information alone isn't enough on tough issues.
      Knowledge is a challenge for the public on this issue, but probably not the kinds of knowledge federal officials are expecting the new climate service will provide. Public Agenda's Energy Learning Curve survey found four in 10 Americans can't name a fossil fuel, and more than half can't name a renewable energy source. Even in areas where the public correctly names the facts, our survey found high numbers of "don't knows," always a sign of public uncertainty.
      The public doesn't need to become experts on an issue in order to fully participate in decision-making. That's not possible, and it's not necessary either. But people do need enough information so they can judge what's realistic and what's not; what's hard to accomplish and what's easy.
      The good news is that our research found a number of areas where there was substantial public support for change, such as alternative energy and conservation, and areas of consensus even between "greens" and "skeptics." But implementing any of these plans means helping the public wrestle with the options on the table, weighing the costs of each choice - as well as the cost of doing nothing. On that score, the public needs more help than it's getting.

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