Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: What does America need from her citizens?

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What does America need from her citizens?

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

What does America need from her citizens?

I am struck by two dramatically different ideals of citizenship that are currently being promoted. These are fundamentally opposed cultural and political belief systems. I’ll compare these in the areas of human nature, education, work, and citizenship.

1] One idea is that we are fallen, weak, unable to manage ourselves, and in constant need of strong guidance, rules, and punishment. All children are born rebellious and need strict control so as to learn values, accept limits, and thereby lead a good life.

Children go to school to learn what experts have decided that they need to know. This includes how to obey authority, stay on task, and work together in groups.

This kind of education, common from the start of the industrial revolution, trains workers for manufacturing and service employment. These students are able to comply with supervision and management by their superiors — without exercising independent judgment or becoming a disruptive influence. This prepares them to be obedient followers and worker drones.

2] An alternate idea is that a Democracy requires participation by a widely-informed citizenry accustomed to reasoning on ideas, discussing alternatives, and making choices.

People are assumed to be fundamentally decent, inquisitive, and capable of learning how to make good choices. Children can and should be shown that they are worthy and able to
learn how to manage their lives. Their creativity and inventiveness should be encouraged and rewarded. Adults are assumed to be willing and able to accept the responsibilities, liberties, and freedoms that our constitution has conferred upon them.

The first philosophy usually breaks down the individual’s spirit of independence and cultivates reliance on external authority to know what is expected. Critical thinking is actually discouraged – favoring compliance to group authority over emotional, moral, and intellectual competence.

In a country that claims to value personal independence and individual freedoms, it is unfortunate that the kind of education that supplies critical thinking training is more and more often recommended, reserved, and affordable only to the children of the wealthy elite. These students are expected to be in charge and socially dominant – as religious, business, or governmental leaders.

However, I firmly believe that all citizens should be exposed to a variety of ideas and be prepared to participate knowledgeably and responsibly in their families, communities, governments, and societies. The more well-rounded and engaged we are, the more valuable our contributions become and the more satisfying our lives can be. We should all have access to the pursuit of happiness, including striving to achieve our highest potential.