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Jane Addams School a model for China?

January 4, 2010

Robert Woo, an international student at Macalester College and a participant at the Jane Addams School for Democracy, wrote a commentary on democracy published by the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Jan. 3. The full text is below.

Before I came to the U.S., I thought about this country in the same way most people of the world do: the most democratic country where everyone lives together wealthily and peacefully. Now, after one and half years going to school in college, I know I was just being stupid. This country is certainly a more wealthy and more peaceful than my home country, but it is not without its own troubles. In fact, problems abound: unsustainable consumerist culture, social alienation, ignorance of the rest of the world, ongoing racism, relentless crime rate, massive deficit, to name but a few.

Still, I have witnessed something truly remarkable about this country, and specifically about the state of Minnesota: a strong, spontaneous awareness to participate in public affairs through grassroots forces.

A good example is my school. At Macalester College, a large number of students and faculty members alike share one common belief, that there is something wrong about this world, and we all should do something about it. Here, students are encouraged to work on big or small projects that concern the greater good. I remember on the presidential election day last year, our professors got an email from the school administration, recommending them to leave ample time for students to vote. Every Wednesday night, I volunteer in West Side, St. Paul at an organization called Jane Adams School for Democracy. The basic idea of this “school” is that here everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, regardless of ethnic and national differences. By learning from each other, a vibrant community may be created; and by building numerous communities like this, a well-functioning, well-connected and truly democratic society will be realized.

All these may sound commonplace to you, but to me this is part of a greater spontaneity that is fresh and amazing. In China, as common citizens, we are rarely encouraged to do similar things. Sometimes we are even not supposed to do them. I genuinely believe a society with more engaged citizens tends to work better. I also believe that this should be the goal that China’s social reformers should work toward by initiating civic education and demanding greater civic participation on public affairs. I wish America, and specifically my fellow Minnesotans, will carry on this tradition indefinitely.

Editor’s note: Follow the latest news from the Jane Addams School for Democracy on Facebook.

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