Evergreen: Way Ahead
How do we get to a sustainable republic that preserves the message and values in the Declaration of Independence and ensures the Constitution is viewed in its light?
The Republic and Civics
American history is not discussed much, either in the press or in schools. There seems to be a curious trend in many districts to start American history with the post-World War II era and pay limited attention to the founding of the Republic and other key parts of American history. While there may be some study of the pre-WWII period, it is not enough to ensure students understand how and why the Republic was founded and to understand its foundational principles.
As noted elsewhere, the conditions surrounding the founding of the Republic and inclusion of the Declaration of Independence as a foundation of law are important to both understand the structure of the Republic and to keep it consistent with core values that are in the Declaration. Citizens of the Republic must understand how our government was formed, why it was formed in the way it was and how it has changed since the founding. This includes the key debates over state representation and slavery. The Federalist Papers are also important to understand as they shed light on the intent of the Constitution and the key debates over its ratification.
However, if groups want to grow and modify the government, it far easier to do so when citizens do not understand the founding principles and core values. Shrouding the past and its republican heritage is a key way to shape the future in directions that may not be conducive to core values. If citizens do not understand how and why the government was founded they will be far more compliant with movements to change it.
This is not to say the original government was perfect and should never be changed. However, if people want to change it, then they need to understand what they are changing and its impact.
Likewise, citizens need to understand how the government operates in order to make informed decisions at the poll. This should include local, state, and federal government and ensure the citizen has a solid understanding of what their elected representatives and leaders do and so they can hold representatives, leaders, and government employees accountable for their policies and actions.
Math, Science and Reading
These are the foundational skills upon which all else rests. Without a strong foundation in these skills, citizens will not be able to compete in the economy and the Republic will not be able to compete internationally.
The modern economy is based less on physical labor and more on educated, informed labor.
It is not enough to just educate a select few that can generate new technologies and lead efforts. We need to educate all citizens to ensure they are intelligent voters and can pursue productive lives and help maintain the "general Welfare". Uneducated people that cannot find and maintain jobs that allow them to lead happy and prosperous lives will become a growing source of instability.
The Republic's education system should ensure that citizens are globally competitive and not only score the highest in the world in math, science, and reading, but can apply these skills in life.
Without critical thinking--that is being able to look at facts and make informed, effective decisions and understand root causes and effects--education is nearly useless and almost surely sterile. Our educational systems need to teach citizens not what to think, but how to think. History comes alive when students do not simply memorize people's names and dates, but gather facts and work to understand why critical events happened and their impact today. Likewise, math, science, and reading come alive when they are used together to solve problems and to understand underlying causes to key issues. Simply teaching math and science is sterile and may soon be forgotten. But incorporating them into challenging puzzles and problem solving shows how relevant they are and helps to more effectively imprint them on student's minds.
During the Industrial Era, simple rote teaching that mass produced a capable workforce was enough. It is no longer enough. We must help citizens become critical thinkers that can apply skills to problems and isses and compete in an increasingly complex and global environment.
Teaching critical thinking requires highly qualified teachers that leave their own agendas at the classroom door and focus on helping students confirm facts, build assumptions, analyze them and then draw conclusions. Therefore, the Republic's approach to finding and training teachers must fundamentally change. Teaching must be a highly valued and compensated profession and the teaching system must produce teachers that can teach core skills and then develop situations and problems in which students must apply these skills. If teaching is a profession, it also needs a code of conduct and standards. Objectivity and the desire to help grow informed and productive citizens should be the foundation of this code.
Our education system must also help to develop a sense of imagination and wonder in our citizens. The new developments that contribute to prosperity often come from novel ideas or different perspectives. They come from a willingness to question and to explore. Curiosity and imaginative solution building should be included in the critical thinking exercises.
The Republic, if it is to survive as a republic, needs thinking, innovative and well informed citizens that can make effective decisions and hold their elected and non-elected representatives and officials accountable.
Critical thinking requires objective facts and a clear understanding of assumptions that must be made when facts are not available. This requires a free flow of information. This is more than simple "freedom of the press". Arguably, the Republic's media are generally free from government control. However, they are extremely partisan and therefore bring clear bias to the news and events they report. This is true on both sides of the political spectrum. There is almost no major media that presents balanced coverage with unbiased factual reporting. Even National Public Radio, which should provide this type of balanced and unbiased reporting does not.
Who can and should provide this source of reporting? One may be tempted to say "the government". However, entrenched civil servants have their own agendas and biases. That is also true of virtually every news source, no matter how noble their original intent. The truth is, citizens cannot rely upon any news source to remain objective unless they require it to be so. Virtually every news source is a "for profit" endeavor. As such, it must make money or it fails. Citizens have a choice. They can turn news media into entertain sources or biased reporting that simply conforms to their ideas or they can require objective reporting and analysis. Citizens who are trained in critical thinking can more readily spot and critique biased reporting and flawed analysis than those who are taught to simply accept what they hear. They can demand changes and support only those news sources that provide balanced and objective reporting and analysis.
Easier said than done. And it will not happen overnight. Almost a new generation of informed citizens needs to stand up for effective reporting. Until then, information clearing houses and fact checking are critical. And the sooner we start doing this in our education systems the better. Students that are required to critically vet major news reporting as part of classroom projects and discussions will learn to both apply critical thinking skills and start to demand more balanced and objective reporting.
Culture is the matrix that shapes, stores, and transmits a group's values. We often think of culture in terms of traditions, stories and specific forms of art and expression, but these are the tools used to manifest the culture, not the culture itself.
Imparting culture starts at home and then extends into the education system and entertainment venues and, practically speaking all areas of life. However, home, school, and entertainment are perhaps the most distinctive parts of the cultural matrix.
If the Republic's values are truly Liberty, Justice, Harmony, Individual Responsibility, based on Truth to procure Prosperity, we need to ensure the cultural matrix transmits them rather than something else. Granted, entertainment is for entertainment, but if it is espouses themes that are at odds with core values, what happens? What happens when a generation is raised on violence and themes that may not include core values and at worst propagate themes that are at odds with core values? Does it learn the core values and adopt them or does it "learn" other values that could wind up shifting the Republics core values over time?
The answer almost certainly does not lie with government censorship. The answer must lie with parents and consumers that boycott movies, games, songs, etc that are antithetical to core values and support those venues with themes that support core values. In other words, citizens are responsible for the cultural matrix. If citizens do not support certain themes, overtime entertainment companies will not make them. Likewise, companies need to step forward and provide alternative entertainment that is supportive of core values.
"If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Abraham Maslow
Effective governance is as much about what not as it is governing well. There are some situations that government handles well, some that government handles well, but then cannot get out of and thus creates a quagmire, and some situations for which government is not all suited. The key to effective governance is doing the first things well, finding ways to accomplish the second such that government exits when the issue is solved and avoiding the third. Unfortunately many see government as a very effective hammer. And over time, the concept of "hammer" has become increasingly apt as government acts to compel behavior and reallocate resources.
If a person walks into your home uninvited, walks to the kitchen and prepares a meal and then sits down and watches television, changing the channel from what you were watching, we might call that home invasion and theft. The home owner would be justified in removing the person from the home. That is fairly straightforward.
However, when a government program forcibly takes money from one group and gives it to another, we call it taxation or "wealth transference". When a government program forces a person to sell property for another use, we call it eminent domain. When a government program prevents a qualified person from attending college or getting a job to give the position to another, we call it "equal opportunity" or now "diversity". There may be reasons for all of these actions, but they have one thing in common: they restrict one group's liberty to give something to another group. That is at once a potentially corrosive government power and one that is not really found in the Constitution and seems to fly in the face of the Declaration of Independence.
The government has tremendous power to compel behavior and re-allocate wealth and resources. This power is was perhaps the founders' greatest concern. As colonists, they felt they were victims of capricious use of government power and were careful to check government's power in their new government. Overtime, however, the federal government has assumed more power and more responsibility in the name of solving problems.
Let us take Civil Rights for an example. There was a clear social problem that needed to be addressed. Non-governmental social institutions such as the churches and other groups that de Tocqueville noted as a unique American strength, were not addressing it and perhaps making the problem worse. Therefore government stepped in to solve a terrible problem. As a consequence, government ballooned in size and power and restricted the liberty of certain groups to enable the progress of other groups. In addition, it sanctioned the lowering of standards to enable more people to achieve the standard. Therefore, rather than investing to enable a specific group, it invested to disable a group.
If government is going to tackle a problem it must answer several questions:
If each of these criteria is satisfactorily answered, then government may be the solution or at least part of the solution. If they are not, then perhaps government may help set the conditions for success by creating effective schools, infrastructure, a safe environment, and maintaining the rule of law to ensure justice. In short, setting the conditions described in the preamble to the Constitution.
The Quest for ExcellenceThe way ahead must be a quest for excellence. The key is to set the conditions that allow the Republic's citizens to rise to their potential and to create effective institutions and prosperity. These conditions include
Government's task is to create and to maintain these conditions.
The citizen's job is to use these conditions to rise to their potential and build a prosperous, free, and safe society based on the founding values.