Back in July of 2012 I wrote this post about the relationship between education and democracy, a relationship I, like many others, consider essential. A part of that discussion is about patriotism, and given today’s sudden interest in the notion, featuring many who have no idea whatever what the word means, I thought it timely to trot out the post and ask readers to consider it once again. I have modified the post a bit to bring it up to date.
Years ago John Dewey wrote a book titled Democracy and Education in which he argued convincingly that a democratic system required an educated citizenry. In fact, Dewey went so far as to insist that the purpose of education is to turn out citizens who are enlightened enough to select their leaders and understand what they are up to. It’s not about jobs or self-esteem; it’s about gaining control of one’s own mind so we can make informed choices in a system that requires enlightened citizens.
Our system, of course, is not a democracy, strictly speaking. It is a Republic in which citizens elect representatives who do the actual governing, thereby leaving the citizens who elect them time to do the important tasks of making a living and watching television. But at its founding, the framers of our Constitution didn’t really trust the citizens to elect their governors: they insisted on an electoral system whereby (even in the House of Representatives) the citizens (white males only) chose “Electors [who] shall have the qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous branch of the State Legislature.” And the Senate was to be elected “by the Legislature” in each state. The President was to be elected by an electoral college, which is to say a number of men [sic] “equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives” appointed (not elected) “in such Manner as the Legislature [within each state] may direct.” In fact, the “people” were to have no direct say in choosing those who made the laws and executed them.
But even with this restricted role in the election of those that govern, Thomas Jefferson, who famously said a nation cannot be both “ignorant and free,” insisted that a minimum of three years of “free instruction” should be required of all boys, with allowance for another ten years for those who wish it, including four years at a University (which he personally established in Virginia). Girls were to receive a three years of free instruction as well (!) These ideas were taken from Plato’s Republic where Plato insisted that education is the key to governance and that all children, male and female, should receive an education — though he hated the idea of a democracy where the “demoi” [the people] who had no idea whatever what they were doing were supposed to run the show. The “demoi” of course, were the ones who sentenced Plato’s mentor, Socrates, to death in democratic Athens. So we can understand why Plato wouldn’t trust them. But neither did Jefferson and his friends. Not entirely. And certainly not without a sound education.
Eventually, of course, our educational system was expanded to include all girls and boys and required ten years instead of only three. Participation in electing those who govern expanded hand in glove with education. The two have traditionally been regarded as necessary to one another. All of which brings me to my main point.
Consider those today who regard themselves as the most patriotic, most in love with their country — those who wave their flags the most vigorously and talk the loudest about “freedom” and their “rights” — the so-called “conservatives” in this country, led by a president who has no idea what he is talking about much of the time. Consider, further, the irony that these people are seemingly committed to the dissolution of the public school system. These are the people, by and large, who vote to cut teacher’s salaries and argue that large classes are better than small ones, and seek to dictate what sorts of mind-numbing curriculum should be taught. In a word, they do what they can to reduce the educational system to a nullity — all in the name of love of country.
As a friend and fellow blogger, Keith, reminds us, patriotism is not about waving the flag or standing during the opening moments of a sporting event with hand on heart, or about pasting a flag on the window of our car. It’s about the love of our country that survives despite the knowledge that the country is making mistakes and is flawed like any other human institution. And that love would also involves an earnest attempt to right those wrongs and work for a “better” America — not “great again,” but simply better than it is at present. This, in turn requires an educated citizenry — at least intelligent and well-informed enough to detect a charlatan when they see one.
If people truly loved their country as they say they do, if they were truly patriotic, they would insist that their country have the best education system possible and would willingly pay taxes to support salaries attractive enough to bring the best and brightest minds to the classrooms to teach their children — and keep them there. But we know this is not the case. Our educational system struggles from flawed strategies and a confusion of purpose. Further, it is in constant danger of imploding as a result of constant carping and a reluctance to pay the piper led by those who profess to care the most about their country. But given the inviolable relationship between education and democracy as noted above, when the educational system finally collapses it will be the end of the democratic experiment in this country and we will have moved on to something else — a “corporatocracy,” perhaps?
Spot on, Hugh! I often wonder if we haven’t already moved on to something else … a plutocracy. Far too many voters believe what they are told without taking the time or effort to delve a bit, to find out if what they were told is fact or fantasy. They follow blindly, for as you said, they are busy doing the important tasks of earning a living and watching television. It’s interesting that this age of technology has made it so much easier than before to learn, to research, to find out the facts of the matter, and yet at the same time, it has distracted people to the point that they would rather play games and ‘interact’ on social media than actually use the technology as a tool to become informed and enlightened.
“Liberty without Learning is always in peril and Learning without Liberty is always in vain.” – President John F. Kennedy
Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
The survival of our freedoms in this nation relies on good governance. Good governance relies on informed voters. We can only have informed voters if we have educated voters. Friend and fellow-blogger Hugh Curtler has summed it all up nicely for us and I urge you to read this most thought-provoking post. Our current system is in peril from those who believe there is little value in educating all people to think for themselves rather than blindly follow, as lemmings off a cliff. Thank you, Hugh, for this post and for allowing me to share your thoughts.
An intelligent and reasoned case for education Hugh. There has long been this underlying antagonism to education (think of the old insult ‘Longhair stuff’ ).
Intolerance relies on ignorance and its attendant failure to study and learn from the lessons of history.
We have suffered from this in Europe for many centuries.
And yet those of you in Europe and England have such a deep respect for history! Americans are known for their ignorance of world history and even their own. And we have become convinced that education is all about job training which has made us as a whole much more malleable and susceptible to dogmatism. We all need to learn from history. And we all need to know how to assimilate the wealth of information we are fed every day to enable us to know what is important and what is not. Thank you for the visit and the comment!
I enjoy being in contact with folk from the USA because I witness much intelligence, enthusiasm and urge for independence. It seems these good traits are being misdirected on a vocal minority, which is experienced by every nation in every age.
From the patterns of history it would seem as the USA is still a young nation she is learning the hard lessons we have all undergone and still need reminding of.
I wish the USA well, she has much to offer and hope this ‘episode’ will pass in due course.
And don’t forget the old “ivory tower” description of education and the assigned descriptor “the real world” outside the walls of schools. My students would spout that garbage in my Canadian classroom and I’d challenge them to explain how life inside a school isn’t “real”. They looked at me like I had 3 heads. I wasn’t surprised.
I know that look!!!
You must own the same T-shirt, Hugh!
It’s one of my pet peeves (and I have many). As though the schools and universities were not the real world. They are at times more “real” than the world “out there.”
Hugh, good piece and thanks for the inclusion. Having seen the President dismiss Senators Flake and Corker as losers who can and should be ignored, along with others who focus on this politically, they are missing the point. These two men, along with Senator McCain, US Rep Charlie Dent, and the two last two Presidents are saying this President is debasing democracy and dividing our country. What they are satin is far more than political – they are patriots. They join countless Conservative pundits (Erickson, Gerson, Brooks, Douthat, Will, Krauthamner, etc. who question the veracity of this President.
Thomas Friedman said this is a man with “no second paragraph.” His plans and ideas are not well thought and sometime are the opposite of what we should do.
The true patriots are the ones standing up to the Man in the White House. Keith
“No second paragraph.” I like that! He has a few ideas but lacks ideation, the ability to think through the idea to see the ramifications. It’s a true intellectual disability.
Hugh, true. There are many things I find sad, but his lying to say what he is doing will not cause the effect it will as noted by experts, is harmful. Expert advisers have told him not to pull out of Paris, Clean Power Plan, NAFTA, Iran deal, ACA etc. and poll say Americans want these agreements maintained, but he does the opposite.
His saying the Senate bill just passed to restrict the rights for people to sue banks that screw them over will help consumers is simply untrue. It is a move to prop up Wall Street. Keith
I’m silent but am reading offline, and then online briefly – like now….. great post hugh…will be online this weekend..
Good. We miss your posts!
Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
What has happened to our Country?
This is such an excellent article, Hugh! Thank you!
And thank you!
Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
What does “Patriotism” have to do with “Education”? Hugh Curtler explains quite eloquently within the American context something that I think applies to democratic countries everywhere. Please, read on…
Great post – uneducated people cannot make good choices can they? You have to understand the system to be able to choose.
Given our present situation, it does seem to be the case! Jefferson knew a thing or two!
Reblogged this on Opher's World and commented:
This makes sense to me!!