American University

Professor Katharine Kravetz

Office Phone: (202) 895-4931

Home Phone: (202) 686-0247

E-mail: kkravet@american.edu



GOVT-417-001T and 418-001T or JLS-464-001T and 465-001T


All human existence throughout history, from ancient Eastern and Western societies up through the present day, has strived toward community, toward coming together.  That movement is as inexorable, as irresistible, as the flow of a river toward the sea.

-John Lewis, Walking with the Wind



The Transforming Communities Seminar is a survey of community problems, and of policies and programs, particularly at the national level, designed to solve them.  The purpose of the Seminar is threefold: (1) to understand and evaluate policies and programs dealing with community issues; (2) to provide a theoretical, historical, and real context for understanding community issues; (3) to provide insight into the work of people, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, of different ethnic groups, who are changing and strengthening our communities.   The Seminar will provide opportunities to meet with policy makers, administrators, grassroots leaders, and members of the research and evaluation communities examining the effectiveness of the system and new policies and strategies designed to build and strengthen our communities.


            The Seminar will cover several topics related to communities and community building.  As each topic is raised, the course will analyze past and recent federal policy, innovative local (both public and private) initiatives, and the relative success or failure of both federal and local policies and initiatives.  An introductory lecture will begin the discussion of each seminar topic.  Guest speakers, site visits, and discussions will elaborate on the topic.  Speakers will include those who are active at the community level and those who are involved in public policy.  Small discussion groups will complete each topic.


            You will be an active participant in the Seminar.  You will be expected to prepare for each topic and have questions ready for the speakers on that topic.  You will be an equal member of our discussion groups as we attempt to clarify the issues and analyze policies and solutions.  Finally, you will be evaluating community issues through working with a grassroots organization on a project or as a regular volunteer.




            The Seminar will meet Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout the semester, with occasional pre-announced exceptions, including American University holidays.  I set the schedule, which is largely determined by the availability of speakers.  We have approximately six seminars weekly, each of approximately 90 minutes, but be prepared for variation.  The seminars will include introductory lectures, discussions, guest speakers, and site visits.  No required class ends later than 4:30 in the afternoon.  However, you may have evening or weekend commitments for activities related to the grassroots project you choose.


Your weekly Schedule of Classes will provide times, dates, locations and, when necessary, directions to off-campus seminar locations.  I will e-mail and hand out copies the week before.  I will also post a copy of each week’s schedule on my door and on the bulletin board outside the Dunblane classrooms.  Whenever possible, I will post schedule changes electronically or on the bulletin board.  Please be prepared for the unavoidable changes and disruptions that can occur as we accommodate speaker’ needs and sudden schedule changes.  Many of the speakers carry heavy work schedules and encounter unexpected meetings and deadlines, which requires us to be flexible at times.


            Punctual attendance is required at all classes with guest speakers.  This is simply a matter of courtesy.  See the academic requirements below.


Office Hours


Each week I will set aside some office hour time. I will also be available to meet with you by appointment.  I encourage you to call or come by with any questions or comments and to discuss your work and your experiences in Washington.  You can leave messages for me by phone, e-mail, or on the board on my office door.

Topics and Reading


            Following is an outline of the topics this semester and the reading to go with it.  These are the usual topics and readings, although each semester we vary them somewhat.  In addition to the readings mentioned here, you will receive additional handouts.  I will also provide a recommended reading list, which allows you to expand beyond the admittedly selective area covered by the required reading.  There is so much excellent reading in this area! 


I.                    What is a community?

A.                 Definitions of “community” from the following perspectives:  social, economic, cultural, political, legal and planning

B.                 Historical perspectives on community and community change efforts

1.                  Social capital: declining or changing form?

2.                  Economic disparities: capitalism and community

3.                  Multiculturalism: the impact of slavery and immigration

4.                  Civic participation

C.                 A discussion of the Washington, DC community, its history, its present and planning efforts for the future.  Visits to neighborhoods in metropolitan Washington and an in-depth look at a particular neighborhood.

Reading:           Michael Shuman, Going Local, Introduction, Chapter 1

Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone” Journal of Democracy 6:1

                        Gary Wills, “Putnam’s America” in American Prospect VII:17

Jedediah Purdy, “Suspicious Minds” and Michael Lind, “The New Continental Divide” in The Atlantic Monthly, January/February, 2003.

Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood, Dream City, Introduction


II.                 Major issues in communities


A.           Poverty and Community Development

1.         Businesses and the inner city

2.         The role of lending institutions

                  3.         Multi-faceted approaches to poverty

                  a.         Enterprise and empowerment zones

b.            Community Development Corporations

Reading:           Michael Shuman, Going Local, Chapter 2

John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, excerpts from Building Communities from the Inside Out      

James H. Carr, “Community, Capital and Markets: A New Paradigm for Community Reinvestment” in Neighbor Works 17:3


B.           Housing

1.                  Affordable housing and economic policy: quantity vs. quality

a.       Public housing

b.      Rental housing

c.       Home ownership

2.         Fair housing

Reading:     Excerpts from Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid

                  Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here                     

2.                  Homelessness

a.    Substance abuse and community responses

d.      Mental Illness


C.        Community health and safety

                  1.         Overview of the causes of crime

            2.         Law enforcement and the community

            3.         Corrections and the community

            4.         Community health

            5.         Environmental justice

Reading:           Wendy Kaminer, “Crime and Community” in The Atlantic Monthly, May 1994

                        James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, “Fixing Broken Windows” in The Atlantic Monthly, March 1982

            At least one of the following:

            Leon Dash, Rosa Lee

            David Simon and Ed Burns, The Corner


D.                 Work

1.            From welfare to work: The impact of welfare reform

2.            Job opportunities

3.            Supports: health insurance, child care and transportation

Reading:           William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged

Gayle Hamilton, MDRC, “Moving People from Welfare to Work”

Katherine Boo, “After Welfare” in The New Yorker, April 9, 2001


E.                  Families

1.                  Family structure and changes

2.                  Child welfare

Reading:           Ron Suskind: A Hope in the Unseen

Richard Wexler, “Take the Child and Run” in New England Law Review 36:1

3.                  Education

a.                   Schools: From physical plant to class size

b.                  Standards and testing

c.                   Leadership

d.                  Integration: race and class

Reading:           Jonathan Kozol, Excerpts from Amazing Grace and Savage Inequalities

                        Excerpts from Diane Ravitch, Left Back

                        Richard D. Kahlenberg, “Mixing Classes: Why Economic Desegregation Holds the Key to School Reform” in Washington Monthly, December, 2000

                        Samuel Casey Carter, No Excuses

James Traub, “What No School Can Do” in Washington City Paper


F.         Multiple cultures

1.         The impact of and responses to immigration

                  2.         Conflicts among ethnic groups in low-income communities

            Reading:           Excerpts from Ellis Cose, Color Blind


III.               Transforming Communities: Means and Institutions

A.                 The means of community change

1.            Community organizing

2.         Community development

3.         Advocacy and litigation

4.            Elective office

5.            Service

Reading:           Readings from Jane Addams

            Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

            Linda Stout, Bridging the Class Divide


B.                 The institutions of community change

1.         The role of non-profits

2.            The role of faith based institutions

3.            The role of government

4.            The importance of leadership

Reading:           Bill Shore, The Cathedral Within

            John Gardner, On Leadership

            Excerpts from Jim Wallis, Faith Works


Academic Requirements of the Seminars


            The Seminar, while integrated on a daily basis, is divided into two courses for grading purposes.  The following paragraphs explain the requirements to be met in each of the Seminars and the allocation of the grades.  Your guide to due dates is the weekly Schedule of Classes.


Seminar 1


1.         Attendance                                                     25% of final grade

Your punctual attendance at required seminars (guest speakers, site visits) and involvement in all the seminars are the basis for this grade.  Two late arrivals is the equivalent of one absence.  The only excused absence is one received in advance for illness.  The number of unexcused absences at the seminars affects your grade as follows:

                    # of unexcused absences                          Grade

                                    0                                              100                 

1-2                                                                                         95

3-4                                             90

                                                                        5-6                                             85

7-8                                                                                         80

9-10                                                                                     75

11-12                                                                                 70

13-14                                                                                 65


2.         Community project                                         25% of final grade

Part 1:   Students will participate in a community project and will be graded by the supervisor of that project on the quality of reliability of their performance.

Part 2Each community project group will give an oral presentation that discusses which overall approach or combination of approaches your organization uses to effect community change, and (understanding that you have limited knowledge) evaluate the effectiveness of the organization in using its approach(es) to effect its mission.


                        3.         Perspective on Community Assignments:    50% of final grade

                                    You will get to know a small community in Washington, DC and complete a project related to that community.


                        Seminar 2



Our speakers are the backbone of the semester.  To accompany and supplement their presentations, you will have assigned readings and student-led discussion groups.  You will also be expected to have question for the speakers and to participate fully in the discussions groups.  You will keep a journal – in the form of a series of papers -- of the speakers and readings for each section of the course.  Each journal entry will be in response to an assignment.  You will hand in the journal at the discussion for each segment, and will be graded on each submission.  Your final journal grade will be the average of each of these grades.