The Citizens Law Degree
Educating the civic society and government of New York's future // I'm creating a one-year-or-less program
The short version: I’m creating a new kind of government degree for adults in NYC, and if you want to help, have experience teaching or researching, or know someone who might be interested, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM me on Twitter)!
I’m currently developing a complete educational program that I currently call the “citizens law degree.” It takes less than a year to fully complete, teaches students about the city/state government foremost (although they’ll learn about the federal level too), and gives them a comprehensive model of how their government and law work. This will also be mixed with practical doing and interacting with the political system; it’s not just a classroom and theory, although those both have their place.
It will be offered as affordably as possible, and through a non-profit structure.1
The goals of this new program:
Bring more minds online to think and act productively about our government, and keep them networked together. Far fewer people than you expect have a working model of “the government” or “the law” in their heads. This state of things has the same consequence as an advanced industrial society running out of people who can do math.
Create a course of study and practice that allows students to acquire political capital, and act productively for the public good.
Teach 1,000 New Yorkers in about the next year and half, and 10,000 in the next few years.2 Radically alter New York’s political ecology and state capacity as a result, with powerful norm shifts in favor of concreteness and understanding how things actually work.
Achieve Abundance: abundant housing, abundant clean energy, abundant education, abundant work, abundant transport, and so much more. NYC’s annual expense budget tops $100 billion these days,3 and we should be getting far more for our money than what our current system can deliver. The answer is not to rage or despair: but to create a new political culture capable of getting our money’s worth and more.
Four primary pedagogical considerations:
I believe there is a proper order in which to teach “government,” and that most college undergraduate degrees (and even law school in a different way) do the opposite of this, instead preferring an à la carte approach with mostly unhelpful prerequisites. We would never do this for math, but we do for the subject that studies the fundamental machine of our civilization. It stops here!
The citizens law degree needs to be efficiently taught, because its audience is primarily adults in New York City. There’s a lot to learn, but undue burden from either quantity or quality of material must be eliminated. People will continue to learn after this program—not everything needs to be within it, nor could it be.
Publishing will be baked into each class, and every student will be required to write throughout the program (with supplemental instruction in writing given as needed). The program as a whole must serve to educate a wider swath of the public in a productive way, even if they aren’t in the program. I plan to require every student to set up a Substack and publish their homework there; they will have the option of making it a private Substack that only accepted individuals can view (instructors, at least), but I will encourage people to post publicly, and set them up to do so successfully.
It is possible to teach civics in a way that outcompetes Netflix for people’s attention, and rewards them far more. That idea, which Maximum New York has achieved so far, must remain at the heart of this enterprise as it grows. Students must feel that their investment of time and effort is well-rewarded, both during and after the formal program. They must grow into builders of good political culture, and builders of law.
The basic, very-much-a-draft, content of the citizens law degree
The citizens law degree is a mixture of classes I’ve already taught, along with brand new ones yet to be rolled out. If you’re interested in working with me on any of these classes due to your own interest and expertise, please reach out (email@example.com). I want people who can help me craft a good syllabus, who treat teaching more like performing a set than reciting a lecture, and who genuinely believe in a grand future for New York City.
The curriculum is divided into roughly three parts:
The basic context: these classes, to be taken in the order presented below, provide a basic (but comprehensive) overview of the city, state, and federal system, with special emphasis on New York City and State. They introduce relevant actors, organs of government, types of law, history, and how everything fits together.
The Foundations of New York: City (here is a previous iteration of the class, which I’ve been teaching since March 2022). By taking this class, individuals should have previewed almost everything they’d need to know about in government, regardless of whether they proceed with further study. They should be minimum viable civic actors. This is the class I want 10,000 New Yorkers to take.
The Foundations of New York: State
Political History: Introduction to New York
Capstone project to complete the “basic training.”
Electives: all of the subjects in the elective category will have been introduced in the basic context group of classes. The electives just go much deeper. They will likely be grouped together. For example: one class will cover both budgets and agencies. Another will cover both the City Council and parliamentary procedure (among other things).
Mastermind seminar group: meet with members of the government, professors, and industry experts to discuss how they apply ideas to practice.
The City Council and Deliberative Assemblies
Practical parliamentary procedure (here is a previous iteration of the class).
Book groups (each focused on a canonical NYC/S reading, like The Power Broker, although many will be far shorter).
Elections: how do they work, when do they happen, what is running like.
How to build a skyscraper: a practical survey of land use law, construction, land use politics, and real estate finance through the lens of building a skyscraper.
Executive budget system: how are our budgets created, how can we read them, how can we productively engage with the budgetary process, what should budgets look like?
Corporations: non-profit, for-profits, municipal, public benefit, public authorities, and more.
Agency deep dive: what is an administrative agency? How do they work, what is their basis in law, what is their history, how can we approach them?
Witnessing Government. Students must attend government meetings and hearings, and must record and interact with them in a variety of ways. They will have to observe the city, state, and federal government throughout the entire citizens law degree. “Witnessing Government” will not be structured as an independent class—at least I haven’t done that yet—but will be baked into every other class as a module. Students who complete the whole program will have witnessed every level of government, and every type of law being made.
But not in a bad “non-profit industrial complex” way. Classes must actually be good, and must actually achieve results.
At minimum, this means having them complete “The Foundations of New York: City.” See the draft course list below for more information there.
The City of New York Adopted Budget Fiscal Year 2024, see page 4 of the PDF.