Philosophical Thoughts on the State of Our Democracy

By Jimmy Preston
KTSW Web Content Contributor

*KTSW consists of and respects varying opinions within its staff. Opinion articles do not reflect the opinion of KTSW as a whole.

Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot for 2015
Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot for 2015

The upcoming election, with seven proposed constitutional amendments, has me worrying about the state of our Democracy. With a little more than six percent showing up for the 2013 election, and less than 4 for the 2011 election, constitutional amendment elections do not draw the interest of voters.  I believe that education can strengthen our democracy, much like John Dewey. Dewey, an American philosopher, having a profound belief in democracy would be ashamed of what we have allowed ourselves to make of our society.

Dewey would have cried the day I stood before a class of US Government students, at the community college I taught at, and asked them for the names of the gubernatorial candidates in the 2014 Texas election. He would have cried at the , “ums,” and the “uhs.” Finally an answer squeaked out  from the back of the room, “the wheelchair guy and the pink-shoe lady?” Dewey would have cried, I got to work on strengthening the democracy.

One of the principles we would cover in this government class was the concept of freedom. Freedom is an important concept to understand as you learn about the reasons behind the revolution from the British, and the writing of our divorce decree from the King. John Locke would pave the way with with his social contract theory, people’s moral and political obligations depend on a mutual contract to form a just society, saying, “where there is no law, there is no freedom.” Students learn that freedom is not absolute, and a free society must still have rules. A world without rules would make, “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” according to Thomas Hobbes.

I tried to instill the rule that paying attention was important. Knowing what is out there to form an opinion on or about is imperative for building on the social life that is Democracy, according to Dewey. I agree with his view that democracy is more than a form of government, and that education is a necessary function or component of a democracy in order for it to remain vital and adaptable.

An educated citizen makes for an educated voter, which can more properly work in the cooperation model the Dewey talks about. In order to set up a system of education that we would agree with I worked hard to show all sides of the issues, so that the student could better understand the whole picture and not just the part of the landscape that I wanted them to see. This is key to the distinction between education and indoctrination. It’s not the content of the curriculum that is important, rather how it is presented. Instead of showing a painting of the landscape I took the students to the hill to see the landscape for themselves. Hopefully I also lead them to the hot-air balloon so they could navigate to a better view outside of the perspective I presented, or offered to them.

I tried to offer an “authentic” education to the willing participants by setting up a structure of knowledge for the student. Together we would build around the structure to construct a tower of knowledge. I would not build the tower. I supplied the plans, and through structured inquiry the students would build from the blocks of knowledge that they sought out. Once the tower is build, the students were encouraged to continue building structures or re-configuring them. This is a necessary part of being a good teacher. I tried to instill in the students that this is a journey of a lifetime of learning, and they had a duty to build a city full of knowledge towers.

With all of the stimuli that is thrown at us from the media outlets, and the social media we subject ourselves to, we must be careful about whether we are truly building the building-blocks of knowledge. Careful inquiry is necessary to avoid constructing false-premise blocks, or shaky conceptual frameworks that won’t withstand an earthquake. Dewey would be quick to caution us that a society like our could lead to more factions, and work against our common interests and hinder social interaction, which is an important component for Democracy.
Even though I was just a supplemental instructor for a required government class, I feel that I was a full participant in our democracy. I help my fellow citizens identify the concepts of democracy, and how they could participate, and why they were degrading the democracy if they didn’t. If only I had started this quest long ago, maybe more than 30% of the electorate would have shown up at the polls.

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