The beauty of democracy?

Power resides in the governed rather than the governors.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the people.

We pick the leaders. We vote on issues. We select Boards of Education and Attorneys General, higher or lower property taxes and whether or not to fix the roads. That’s the cool part of democracy.

The scary piece of democracy?

We’re too stupid to do it very well.

Several days ago, I talked about “productive stupidity,” the idea that we as teachers need to intentionally explore things that we don’t understand – that it’s okay to be “stupid” when actively looking for answers.

I’m not talking about that kind of stupid. I’m talking about stupid stupid. As in . . . too stupid to actively participate in democracy because complex issues and differences in leadership skills are so confusing that a reasoned decision is impossible.

Research seems to support the scary piece. David Dunning, from Cornell University, says:

Very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognise how good an idea is.

Dunning suggests that we often have gaps in our knowledge, making it very difficult for us to see the gaps in the knowledge of others.The problem is that we don’t see our own knowledge gaps. We don’t know what we don’t know. This then makes it very difficult to be reflective citizens. When Dunning’s theories are simulated in mathematical election models, the really good leaders never win. And while average leaders usually won, really bad leaders also were elected.I’m not one to judge but I only have to look as far today’s Super Tuesday primary to see plenty of anecdotal evidence to support Dunning’s research.

Here’s the cool thing. There’s a fix.

I’ll let my good friend Thomas Jefferson say a few words here:

. . . wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.

No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.

I know no safer depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.

The answer is simple. You.

I will argue that history and government teachers are perhaps the most important people in the country. Without appropriate and quality instruction, the citizens of these United States will be, to put it bluntly, too stupid to vote.

We need to spend time on sharing democratic philosophy, ideas, and practices. We need to train our kids to analyze primary sources, to view information with a critical eye, to ask good questions, to look for facts rather than rely on “truthiness.” Kids need to walk out of our classrooms with the ability to think critically and make reasoned decisions.

Some resources to help?

I like democracy. Churchill once said that it’s the worst form of government except for all the others. I’d kinda like it to hang around for a while.

You need to realize that what you’re doing right now in your classroom makes a difference. What you’re doing right now is important.