The United States was founded on the premise that the people could rule themselves without theocracy or aristocracy. Government of, by, and for the masses – int the rich and powerful. It is called The Great Experiment, and its success depends on a well-educated electorate. Sufficiently educated to understand not only the system that we have, but why we have it and how it works. And how it doesn’t.
The preparation of the voter so that he might express his opinion by means of the ballot, thus insuring political liberty, was one of the main goals of Jefferson’s plan for education which asserted four basic principles:
- that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment.
- that it cannot function without wise and honest officials.
- that talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition.
- that the children of the poor must be thus educated at common expense.
Jefferson believed the elementary school was more important than the university in the plan because, as he said, it was “safer to have the whole people respectfully enlightened than a few in a high state of science and many in ignorance as in Europe” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 241). He had six objectives for primary education to bring about this enlightenment and which highlighted what he hoped would make every person into a productive and informed voter:
- To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
- To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing;
- To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
- To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
- To know his rights; to exercize with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
- And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.
The state of Jeffersonian enlightenment in the realm of civic responsibility and the promotion of a healthy democracy is deplorable. The country is full of jingoists and poser patriots, passionate to defend what they do not understand – and are therefore easily mislead.
We have been encouraged to value wealth over community, and the accumulation of wealth over patriotism. Citizenship has ceased to be a code of honor and is now reduced to simply a legal status.
The problem of civic illiteracy is not something new, but it is finally getting periodic bursts of recognition.
Asserting that democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned in school, O’Connor founded the educational nonprofit group iCivics in 2009 to secure America’s governance and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor seeks to reverse America’s decline in civics
Plans are being developed to “address the problem”. I say that with a hint of sarcasm because they are still treating it as a mere lesson to be learned. I think the solution will need to stress participation as much as scholarship.
- Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools
- A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future
- Hundreds Of Students, Officials To Celebrate Citywide Classroom Civics Program At May 29 Event
- Don’t Pick On Immigrants: Re-Americanize Everyone
- Good News About Civic Education in Tennessee (ncsl.typepad.com)
- Hundreds Of Students, Officials To Celebrate Citywide Classroom Civics Program At May 29 Event (sacbee.com)
- From Justice O’Connor: iCIVICS(tln.typepad.com)