Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: A liberal education is needed to participate in democracy

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A liberal education is needed to participate in democracy

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

A liberal education is needed to participate in democracy

Our Democracy requires the participation of informed citizens. How do citizens become competent to become active in government, working to create a better country for their neighbors? Education at home and at school is a key factor.

A successful democracy assumes that people are basically good and decent and that they should make responsible choices for themselves. Without the general moral and intellectual capacity of its citizens, it would be impossible for a constitution to grant universal citizenship and self-governance.

Parents and schools are expected to bring out the best in our children. The best involves more than prescribed knowledge and obedience to authority; it includes self-knowledge, self-discipline, and the enduring desire to keep on learning. We hope to maximize every child’s potential. We want every person to have the liberty and ability to pursue the adventure of a productive and satisfying life. Further, we expect that the success of every person contributes to the collective success of our communities and our nation.

As children develop into mature adults, they should be able to understand their
beliefs, form personal opinions, explain themselves, consider the needs of others, and make decisions that produce good results. Especially today, when few find secure employment for life, we need to be able to think critically about new situations, solve new problems, and work successfully with previously-unknown people.

It is not enough for a student to simply acquire the skills of a trade. Graduates need to be equipped with an expanded perspective and the mental flexibility to make their way on the unfamiliar landscape of our rapidly-changing world. This kind of preparation allows them to recognize and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Even better, this kind of preparation allows them to network socially, work well in a group, maintain supportive relationships, and actually create opportunities.

Critical thinking should not be the private tool of the privately-educated elite. Critical thinking should be one of our most cherished values. Critical thinking should be an expected product of a rich family life. Critical thinking should be the core competency delivered by our public schools.

Some may recoil from all this be-the-best-you-can-be and prepare-for-your-future effort. Some may be content to do what they’re told, do only what is needed to get by, and blame others for their misfortunes. Some may realize that I have been describing a “liberal education,” and correctly conclude that the more of it you have, the more liberal you will likely become. Maybe that’s a good thing.

How can our individual, community, and national well-being be bad? I am convinced that we must prepare our children to successfully resist those who would take away our government of, by, and for the people. If we do not, we will see the completion of the efforts of a powerful few to seize our government and use it to enrich themselves.