We Americans seem conflicted as to how we should go about our public lives: what our community and our national goals and procedures should be and become. I determined to try to devise a way to encourage young people to think on their own—and then with their peers and their parents—about what is involved in being a person in a community in a nation in the world. My hope is that an early understanding of the importance of civic engagement will lead to improved participatory democracy.

I have structured a sequence of questions that one might ask, followed by suggested possible answers, so as to conduct a young reader through an important thread of ideas related to citizenship. I see all of the "answers to ponder" as provisional and as simply-stated versions of my own views—starting points for discussion (even arguments) among readers. To facilitate further discussion, I have appended some additional questions that readers might want to ask themselves and others about the suggested answers.

I am sure there are important questions that are missing and that some of the questions included here will be considered peripheral or irrelevant by some readers. That's fine, of course. What is important is that young people begin to engage the kinds of questions raised here earlier rather than later. I am not well-informed as to how these matters are currently being treated in the schools, but the drift of the world and the nation suggest that something is needed that is currently missing.

Contemporary problems seem to have a noticeable "If only . . . " aspect: if only we had done this differently twenty (or two hundred) years ago, we wouldn't have the mess we have today. This could be any of very many things: exploitation of resources, continuation of racially based discrimination, failure to adopt consistent immigration enforcement policies, supporting foreign dictatorships in order to protect commercial markets and sources of oil, and many, many others. Perhaps the cultivation of thoughtful, participating citizens in our young people will reduce the future incidence of these hindsight realizations and enhance the quality of our community life.


I am pleased to thank the following persons for having commented on the contents and for having made useful suggestions for revision:

Ellen Reynolds, Alison Reynolds, Patrick Snook, Daniel Reynolds, Amanda Evans, and Celia Reynolds (initial commentary; familial support);

Erik Thompson, Kevin Covey, Jim Curtis, Marsha Curtis, and Linda Pall (extensive commentary);

Dan Stein, Steve Finck, Jordan Simmons, and Ben Cannon (additional commentary).

I expect to modify this book from time to time in such particulars as seem to me advisable on the basis of reflection, inspiration, or useful recommendation, but I am and shall remain solely responsible for the content.

Use of the server upon which the book appears does not imply endorsement of the content by the server's host.

Portland, Oregon
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© 2007 Robert E. Reynolds