Educating for Democracy: Weighing the Balance

You are the mayor of a small town in upstate New York and find out that your water supply is being infested by a microbe that may prove harmful to children's learning abilities as they grow up. But at this point the scientific evidence is not conclusive and it may take months before the results can be definitive. However, you are also faced with a budget deficit that puts other public projects and services in jeopardy because of a decline in tax revenues and a cut back in federal funds

If the testing proves positive the cost of needed repairs to the water system would not only require additional state and federal aid but would bankrupt the town. If you raised taxes and the threat to the water supply was not proven, you would not get re-elected. But if you did nothing and the water was dangerous to drink, then you would not get re-elected either. The situation in Flint, Michigan is somewhat different. In that case there was no doubt about the dangers of drinking the water yet officials denied and then delayed any necessary actions because, among other considerations, increasing taxes would put them in jeopardy of alienating their core constituency which was not located in Flint.

It seems to me that it is vital to the future of this country that we become better educated not only for our own interests but, as the Founding Fathers said: The interest of the "common good." I wouldn't claim to know the solution to the mayor's dilemma but at least he needs to present the problem to the townspeople many of whom might be civic-minded to find a way to deal with this problem fairly.

The importance of a solid background in civic education in high school can't be more urgent in a society that is often unaware that being a citizen requires not only privileges but obligations to be informed of political and social issues. For instance, since a significant segment of the public takes Donald Trump seriously when he says he's going to "build a wall" to keep illegal immigrants out of the country instead of laughing at him every time he opens his mouth, I get very worried. If all the public wants of a president is someone who talks tough even if he talks dumb there are plenty of candidates to choose from.

The dilemma of the town mayor is not going to be solved by "talking tough." It's by finding as balanced a solution to the problem if at all possible. But such issues as repair of our decaying infrastructure, the rising costs of urban living, the looming crises of our aging population many of whom have no pensions, college student debt, public education, rising medical costs, poorly paid jobs and, of course, the key issue of deniability, climate change are not being dealt with in a way in which our citizenry can make a "balanced choice."

What we must face is the fact that the "American dream" is no longer a viable promise to our young people and that they, and the rest of us, must find a way to adjust to the new realities of a more frugal life for the overwhelming majority. But that doesn't mean we have to be miserable if we move toward a "global community" instead of a "gated community."

The mayor of the town was faced with hard choices but if he is a dedicated public servant instead of a political hack whose main business is not alienating his or her "base" but in legislating what needs to be done for the "common good," then when disasters arrive, they can be faced as a community of citizens, not survivalists.

As a "Sanders Socialist" I would like to believe that "taxing the rich" and "breaking up the banks" would solve the many problems that we face. But as it is highly unlikely that such proposals would ever take place when we are faced with "the best politicians that money can buy" I would like to endorse what Bernie also proposes: the rise of the people for their own interests, not the 1 percent, That means educating our selves to how government and communities really work and how they can work better. There are certainly a number of civic-minded billionaires such as Bill Gates and George Soros that can help with needed reforms, but the main task is for us to form what I would call the "Balanced Society."

For example: fossil fuel is going to be on the way out, that is if we hope the planet's environment will remain livable in the future. But the coal miners and other fossil fuel workers rightfully fear for their livelihoods if their jobs no longer exist. But if the best minds in the field of job creation could get together, they might come up with viable alternatives that would provide an environment-friendly livelihood. It would be difficult for people to adjust to new jobs, but in the world of cyber technology, it's often necessary.

Another example of balance would mean a "human friendly" environment in the cyber workplace. The human mind can only process so much in a limited amount of time and after it reaches a tipping point iit crashes. Evidence of the consequences can be measured in the national increase in stress, drug use, depression and suicide. Unless we want to accept the latest mantra: "Crazy is the new normal," we need to find some balance in which the "American Dream" is not as important as the "American Social Contract ," a place where difficult choices need to be made that have a chance of success for the benefit of all; not just the few.