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Repairing the breech

Harry C. Boyte


The main obstacle to genuine and productive partnerships between institutions of higher education and the professionals they prepare, on the one side, and communities, on the other, is a “knowledge war,” full of invisible hierarchies and exclusions, producing a hypercompetitive achievement culture. This knowledge war dramatically limits communities’ and citizens’ ability to act on the problems they face today. It also sharply erodes the power of higher education, professionals, and civic leaders to help shape the culture in democratic ways.

We have to get beyond arrogant experts and aggrieved communities if we want to develop communities’ capacities to solve problems and also to generate a larger vision of a good society. Community is the living context for evaluating expert knowledge. But without engagement with other ways of knowing appeal to community knowledge can easily produce a Know-Nothing reaction to the larger world.

If we are to build communities’ civic agency – capacities to work across differences to meet our common challenges – we need to democratize the politics of knowledge and end the knowledge war. This requires learning from effective community organizing the idea of “schools for public life,” where ordinary people develop skills, habits, and confidence of citizenship. It also means creating what might be called middle spaces, not owned by academics or professionals, but open to academic and scientific knowledge, where different ways of knowing and acting intermingle in creative ways. Middle spaces put science and academic knowledge in the mix, “on tap, not on top.” They also recognize the power and the limits of communal knowledge.


civic agency, cultural organizing, knowledge war

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Partnerships is sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact, and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ISSN: 1944-1061
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