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Manuals and Guides: Youth

Making the Rules
A Public Achievement Guidebook for Young People Who Intend to Make a Difference

by Melissa Bass, in collaboration with Harry Boyte, Tim Sheldon, Walter Enloe, Jamie Martinez, Ginger Mitchell, Rachel Boyte-Evans, Project Public Life, and The Center for Democracy and Citizenship.

Manual Index

Introduction: How To Use This Workbook
Chapter One: The Framework
Chapter Two: Discovering Your Self-Interest
Chapter Three: Stepping into Public Life
Chapter Four: Encountering Diversity
Chapter Five: Building Power
Chapter Six: Taking Action


Introduction: How To Use This Workbook
Chapter One: The Framework

About This Book

Making the Rules was written for teams of young people who want to make changes in their communities. It began as a document from the Twin Cities 1989 Youth and Democracy conference and has expanded to include the ideas and themes from discussions with over 1,000 young people from across the country. Making the Rules has since been used by youth teams as a starting place for their own community action. It has been reviewed by young people, and has grown as our work has grown.

As you use this guidebook, think about what you like about it, what you'd like more of, what's missing, and ways to make it more useful to young people. We'd like to hear from you.

Making the Rules, this third edition, has been written by Melissa Bass and reviewed and edited by Tim Sheldon, Walter Enloe, Jamie Martinez, Ginger Mitchell and Rachel Boyte-Evans.

It is based on the second edition, with writing by Harry Boyte, Suzanne Paul, and Peg Michels; editing by Rebecca Breuer; reviewing by Tasha Baizerman, Beth Emshoff, Tiana Hampton- Newbauer, Carol McGee Johnson, and Kate Stoff-Hogg; design by Suzanne Paul and Sau Chu; and layout by Sau Chu.

It incorporates text and ideas from Building Ownership: A Coach Guide for Teaching Politics, by Fraser Nelson and Rebecca Breuer, another Project Public Life publication.

© Copyright 1994, Project Public Life

About The Center For Democracy and Citizenship - Project Public Life

Making the Rules is a publication of The Center for Democracy and Citizenship's Project Public Life teaches a new kind of politics in which citizens are powerful actors in public problem-solving, called citizen politics.

  • Citizen politics has a big picture of politics, one that includes public life—an active, diverse, challenging arena in which we act on what matters to us;
  • Citizen politics teaches citizens how to build their power, by teaching them how to act effectively;
  • Citizen politics is collaborative. It needs diverse voices and cooperative experiences to work.

Based at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Project Public Life is the outreach arm of the University's Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Project Public Life is funded in part by the Lilly Endowment. For more information, contact:

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship—Project Public Life 130 Humphrey Center 301 19th Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55455 612-625-0142

About Public Achievement

Many of the concepts and exercises in this guidebook have been tested by young people on Public Achievement teams. Public Achievement is a hands-on program of Project Public Life that brings citizen politics to life through teams of kids and teenagers. Working with coaches from community organizations and local college campuses, young people define a public problem relevant to their school or community. They then design and implement strategies to address their issue, learning the skills and concepts of public life in the process.

A pilot project for a national initiative on citizenship and community service, Public Achievement began in 1989 as a partnership between Project Public Life, Mayor James Scheibel of St. Paul, and a variety of community organizations. This collaborative effort currently draws upon the energy, talent, and leadership found in:

Breck School; Creative Theatre Unlimited; Friend's School of Minnesota; Hennepin County Prevention Center; J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School; Minnesota Extension-4H; The Minnesota Minority Education Partnership; St. Bernard's School; St. Columba's School; St. Paul's District 14 Community Council; The St. Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Congregations; The University of Minnesota

To learn more about Public Achievement, see the Resource section of this book. If you would like information on starting Public Achievement in your school or community, contact Project Public Life.


Minnesota Extension-4H; Minneapolis Community Education; Minnesota Dep't of Education; University of Minnesota YMCA; Institute for the Arts of Democracy; Youth and Democracy Conference Sponsors; Project Public Life; Public Values Project; Minnesota Humanities Commission; Honeywell, Inc.; The Kettering Foundation; New World Foundation; Pillsbury Company

Special Thanks To:

  • Dennis Donovan, Jeff Mauer, and all of the teachers and students of St. Bernard's school for turning their school into a laboratory for citizenship;
  • James Farr, for pioneering college course development with a strong civic component;
  • Juan Jackson, for adding so much to the art of citizen politics training;
  • and for their work in enriching the idea and practice of youth service, Dorothy Cotton, Miaisha Mitchell, and Tony Massengale.

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Introduction: How To Use This Workbook

Young people are often touted as the leaders of tomorrow. We think you play an important role today. The goal of this book is to initiate you into a life-long involvement in public life by tying public concepts to your own interests.

This book is like a tool kit that can be used to build your public life. It is meant to be worked on by groups of young people with adults. There are exercises that may be completed independently by each person, and exercises that may be used by the entire group. This group can be made up of people who already know one another . . . or not. Maybe the group has already begun to enter public life through community service projects . . . maybe not.

This workbook can be used in a single weekend session as preparation for public life. Better yet, it can also be used over the course of many months as a guide and resource as you work to define and address problems that are important to you and your team.

The overarching theme of the book is citizen politics. The framework chapter talks about democracy and citizenship, and how politics—specifically citizen politics—brings these ideas to life. Each of the subsequent chapters is based on a key component of citizen politics: self-interest, public, diversity, power, and action. Each chapter is divided into stories, lessons, skills and exercises.

Making the Rules is not a step-by-step recipe for public life. We suggest you peruse the entire book before you start, but after that you can turn to the middle, skip around, or begin by taking action, then see how the concepts fit with your experience. Do whatever makes sense to you and our team. No matter how you start, as you work your way through you will learn to:

  • define a community problem and identify your stake in it;
  • work on your issue with a diverse group of people;
  • map your environment so you'll understand relationships important to addressing your problem;
  • develop problem-solving strategies and take action;
  • evaluate your work and roles to further develop your capacity for effective political action.

As you work on your issue, your understanding of the problem will change and you may change your goal. You may or may not solve the problem you define. What is important in citizen politics is what you learn along the way.

This workbook is meant to be used, changed, added to, and argued with. It is a guide for citizen action: you need to put its ideas into action, modify them, and make them your own for it to have meaning. Good luck!

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Chapter One: The Framework

The Lesson: Democracy, Citizenship, & Politics

Wrap Up: Looking Back at Your Work

The Lesson: Democracy, Citizenship, & Politics

Democracy is that form of government in which not only politicians and public employees but all citizens bring life to liberty. It is the practice of self-governance in which ordinary people develop the skills, powers, capacities and imagination for addressing our common problems. It is the system of decision making and action in which rights carry with them a larger sense of social responsibility and engagement. - The Civic Declaration, 1994

Problem solving is the vehicle for developing the power of the citizen to govern.

- Reinventing Citizenship, 1994

What is democracy?

Americans have long been proud of our history of democracy. We have fought for it, we believe in it, it is a part of who we are. Around the world, thousands of people have struggled and lost their lives to attain it, and millions more celebrate as it becomes a reality.

What exactly is a democracy? Lots of people believe democracy simply means having the right to vote. But elections happen only every few years, and then only about half of the people who can vote do. Young people aren't even allowed to vote. So it can't just be voting—or maybe it's not voting at all—that makes people proud of democracy.

What do you think? Why is democracy so important to us?

Democracy comes from the Greek words "demos," meaning people, and "kratein," meaning rule or power. Put it together and you have the people in power.

Democracy means that we all have a say about how we will govern and be governed, how we will solve our nation's problems, and how we will make our communities places where we want to live. In short, we, the people, get to make the rules.

What is a citizen?

How do we get to make these rules? By acting as citizens. What comes to mind when you hear the word "citizen"?

There are many ways to think about being a citizen. Often, people think of citizenship in narrow, legal terms: Citizens are people who were born or naturalized in the United States and who have certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution, like the right to free speech. These are important ideas, but there is more.

A broader way to understand citizenship is to see the citizen as a public actor. A public actor not only has rights, but responsibilities and opportunities to contribute to, and create, public life. Citizens are ordinary people who work together to define what they like and don't like in their country, their cities, their neighborhoods—even their schools, then work to build on what's positive and fix what's negative. Defined this way, anyone can be a citizen, but it doesn't just happen. It takes practice.

"What citizenship really means is that you have the right to contribute to creating the world and helping solve problems."

- Phala Hoeun, 6th grade Public Achievement team member
Washington Technology Magnet School

What is politics?

"Politics is a combination of discussing, arguing, disagreeing, understanding, and teamwork."

- Public Achievement team members
St. Bernard's Grade School
Unlike democracy, when people hear the word "politics" they sometimes feel angry, and almost never proud. Politics makes people think of corruption, backroom deals, or negative ads on T.V. Politics is something that other people—politicians, experts, lobbyists—do, or worse, do to us.

Thinking about politics like this can make us cynical. But people haven't always thought politics was so terrible. The word "polis" means activity "of the citizen"—that is, by ordinary people. Politics was the way that communities created their democracy and people became citizens. It meant having the chance to make a difference. People understood that it was something they needed to learn—like playing basketball or playing music in a band—people can do it well or not so well. Politics was how people made the rules.

Today, many young people and adults are doing something about important issues in their communities, like drugs, the need for places to have fun, improving schools, protecting the environment, and fighting poverty and homelessness.

They have decided to make a difference and be heard. They have begun to understand what politics means: that ordinary people—not experts or political professionals by themselves—possess the wisdom and imagination that is necessary to solve major problems. They have decided to become active, engaged citizens who are not only a part of our democracy, but are creating and sustaining it. This is called citizen politics.

For the past five years, young people have been learning and practicing citizen politics through Public Achievement, 4H, and other youth programs and projects. Through conferences, they have gotten together to talk about what they've been doing and how these actions might help get us back to a better kind of politics. The song at the back of this book (see Resource A) describes some of their hopes and ideas.

Through their work, young people have learned important lessons and shared key insights. People across the country have found these ideas helpful as they work to understand the strengths and needs of their communities, and have come to see themselves as people who can act to change their communities. These are the ideas:

Self-interest: Everyone has their own stories, values, dreams, concerns, and interests. These are who you are—your self—and the things you care about. They're things that matter so much to you that they become the reason you take action and step into public life.

Public Life: As you enter the public life of your community, you see how it's different from private life. You realize—sometimes the hard way—that you can't expect the same things from acquaintances and strangers that you expect from friends and family. You might learn that you have different things to offer. You learn how to do politics in public life.

Diversity: Out in public, you find people who are not like you—people of different backgrounds, cultures, histories, religions, races, regions, skills and perspectives. You remain the same person, but as you encounter diversity, your understanding of how you "fit in" can also change and grow from meeting new people. Understanding diversity is a key to building the coalitions necessary to solve big problems.

Power: Learning to work with other people, even if they aren't like you, is essential to building and using power. Power is the ability to act and make a difference. And acting on what matters to you is what public life is all about.

Taking Action: Engaging in public life well is like learning to play volleyball or to dance. It takes practice to know who you are, to deal with diversity, and to act together with other people. Only by experimenting, by putting these ideas into action, can you really make a difference.

These are the key ideas of this workbook. We hope they will help you become involved and effective in making your communities your own.

Hang on!

What do you think about all of this?
Can you think of two new responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy?


The Forum
The Paper Chase

The Forum

This exercise asks you: To examine your understanding of politics, public, self-interest, and power. These ideas are a part of everyday life: you have intuitive definitions of them that influence your work, even if you don't realize it.

It relates to citizen politics because: Before you can start thinking about politics in a new way, you have to know what you think about the old way, and how it shapes your thinking and actions.

Instructions: Have your coach or facilitator read the questions below and write your teams' responses on a blackboard. Also have someone write the answers on paper. Look back on your answers as you work your way through this book.

Time limit:
Group discussion: 30 minutes


1. What comes to mind when you hear "politics"? Who does it? Where? Why do we have it? What does it accomplish?

2. What comes to mind when you hear "public"? What is it? Who is it? What happens in public? Why is it important?

3. What comes to mind when you hear "self-interest"? Is it a good thing, or is it bad? What would happen if it didn't exist?

4. What comes to mind when you hear "power"? What kinds of power are there? Is power a good thing, or a bad thing? What does power do? What can it accomplish?

The Paper Chase

This exercise asks you: To explore the print media to discover how they portray politics and find examples of citizen politics.

It relates to citizen politics because: The media is an important part of public life. It helps shape our understanding of politics and our role in it. Understanding how this works is the first step toward making the media work for us!


Individuals: First, go back and review the definition of citizen politics. Then go through the newspapers and magazines you have at home or at school. Find pictures and articles that they label "politics." Then find pictures and articles related to citizen politics and create a collage or a notebook . Be creative and think broadly! Time limit: As much time as you need.

As a group: Present what you've found to the rest of your team, and discuss the following questions. Time limit: 30 minutes.


1. How does the media portray politics? Did you have any problem finding examples of citizen politics? Were you surprised at what you found?

2. Where did you find your pictures and articles? In which papers and magazines? In which sections?

3. What did you find that will be useful to you and your team?

Possible extension: Follow a political issue through print and visual (television) media. Note the similarities and differences.

Wrap-Up: Looking Back On Your Work

Individually or as a group, answer these questions on Chapter One: "The Framework." Feel free to copy this sheet out and send it to us. We want to hear from you!

1. What did you learn?

2. What did you like about this section? What didn't you like?

3. What was useful about the section? What wasn't?

4. Were there other things about democracy, citizenship, and politics that you discovered that weren't covered in this book?

5. What did you learn that you could use in solving problems/tackling your team's project?

6. What recommendations or ideas do you have to improve this section?

Manual Index

Introduction: How To Use This Workbook
Chapter One: The Framework
Chapter Two: Discovering Your Self-Interest
Chapter Three: Stepping into Public Life
Chapter Four: Encountering Diversity
Chapter Five: Building Power
Chapter Six: Taking Action