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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg

Jan 16, 2020

As of production time, the 2020 Presidential Race has only contenders. We could debate why endlessly, but perhaps something deeper is at play?

Claudia Cragg (@ClaudiaCragg) speaks here with Max Klau, (@maxklau) who as a Harvard doctoral student was researching the topic of 'youth leadership'. Klau stumbled upon a provocative educational exercise, he says, that changed the course of his life.

Klau is an author, leadership scholar, educated and Chief Program Officer @NewPoliticsAcad. To inquire about joining the New Politics Leadership Academy team, email apply@newpoliticsacademy.org. This is a a non-profit, Klau says, is dedicated to recruiting and developing military veterans and alumni of national service programs to seek political office. The education-focused AmeriCorps program that engages more than 3,000 young adults across 27 U.S. cities in a year of demanding, full-time citizen service.

But, back to Klau's epiphany, on the last morning of a week-long residential youth leadership program focused on teaching about social justice, high-school aged participants gather before breakfast for what they think will be normal day. Instead, something unusual happens: They are told by the Program Directors to separate into groups: Whites, Asians, Jews, Latinos, LGBTG, Latinx, Black. They are instructed not to make eye contact with other groups or talk with other groups, and then they are told to go to breakfast: The White group goes in first, sits at a big table and gets double servings, and every group lower in the hierarchy gets less food and a smaller table. The Black group ends up sitting on the floor with almost nothing to eat.

It’s called the Separation Exercise, and it’s an attempt to simulate a hierarchical, segregated, Jim Crow-style social system. Over the course of the morning, the participants begin to challenge these unjust norms, and events unfold that mirror events of the real-life civil rights movement in surprising ways.

The Separation Exercise, it turns out, provides a remarkable opportunity to observe the unfolding of social change using the tools of empiricism and social science. Arguably, it also inhibits, nay interferes with, candidates who rise to the top of US Politics?

Klau spent the next four years of his life engaged in rigorous research of three more of these Separation Exercises in a quest to discover what might be learned from observing the unfolding of multiple simulated civil rights movements.

This book describes the personal journey that led to this effort, the ethical considerations surrounding this kind of study, the surprising findings that emerged from this inquiry, and the implications that all this has for matters of race and social change in the real world today. Klau's 'quest' is one best adopted sooner rather than later if true democracy is ever to be realized.