Educating for Democracy: The Informed Citizen

In view of the bizarre exhibition of presidential candidates in the 2016 primaries I believe it's vital to the citizenry to be well-informed in order to be able to assess beyond the statements of the candidates and the analyses of political pundits. The voting public needs to inform themselves about the real issues facing this country, not be misled by the simplistic turmoil being created by the candidates and their bumper sticker solutions. Some of the talking points of Donald Trump are so juvenile that it is hard for me to believe that they are taken seriously, especially since they often address a problem that is no longer a major issue or marginal compared to the truly daunting dilemmas confronting us.

Trump promises to stop the threat of terrorism by closing the border from Mexico into the U.S. and preventing Muslims from entering the country. The threat of illegal immigrants bringing with them drugs and other criminal activities into the US is not as vital a problem as it has been in the past given the current decline in illegal immigration from Mexico. From 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including U.S.-born children) LEFT the U.S. for Mexico, according to data from the 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (ENADID). U.S. census data for the same period show an estimated 870,000 Mexican nationals left Mexico to come to the U.S., a smaller number than the flow of families from the U.S. to Mexico. Certainly there are problems concerning the monitoring of illegal immigrants but it doesn't warrant building a wall between the two countries.

The sad fact is that American citizens, born and raised in this country, such as the teen involved in the Sandy Hook massacres have been the most notable terrorists since 9/11. It is also important to remember that it was Timothy McVey, a "true American," who murdered more people in one terrorist attack than in any other domestic incident in our history prior to 9/11. Trump is proposing an extreme solution to a problem that is resolving itself by making it worse than it is. The issue of illegal immigration is a complex one that deserves thought, not slogans. Since it's likely that the building of a wall, given Trump's propensity to hire undocumented workers, will give them an inducement to return to the US, Trump's solution could cause far more problems than it supposedly solves.

On the issue of Free Trade, Trump promises to bring back to the US jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, which most economists agree are not returning. Moreover, the establishment of tariffs suggested by Trump can get the EU and China into a trade war with the United States where there will be no winners. Further examination on the real trade picture would reveal how complex it is beyond Trump's slogans. We are in debt to China! ". . . China's foreign-exchange reserves plunged by a record $94 billion in August, according to the country's central bank, leaving it with a war chest of $3.6 trillion. Analysts say it's very safe to believe a big chunk of that decline occurred due to a reduction in U.S. Treasury holdings." "The selling and the potential that China will not be buying U.S. debt in the near future raises questions on its potential to increase America's borrowing costs." In other words, as a debtor nation to China, we are not in the position of calling the shots. For Trump to be unaware of the sensitive situation the global economy is in right now indicates his unfitness to be President.

Although I find Bernie Sanders' proposals more promising, as an educator I would question his judgment in the establishment of tuition free college education for all Americans as a road to economic fairness. My reservations are due not necessarily based on the expense involved but because of the sad fact that a majority of college-age students today are not suited to do conventional college-level work . According to a recent Hart survey conducted at over 1300 American schools over the last year:

"Neither university faculty nor employers believe that American public high schools are preparing students for the expectations they'll face in college and career. In fact, compared to 2004, the assessment is even more dismal. More than a decade ago, for example, only 28 percent of college instructors stated that schools were doing an adequate job of readying students for what came next after high school. That count is down to 14 percent in 2015. Among employers, 49 percent in 2004 said that schools were adequately preparing students for what they would need for work; in 2015, the count was 29 percent. Part of the challenge, say students themselves, is that their high schools don't set academic expectations high enough. Fifty-four percent said that they were only "somewhat challenged"; 20 percent said it was "easy to slide by."

With that in mind, Sanders' emphasis should be on developing the kind of pre-college education that enables motivated students to get a decent job wherever they might be, .and be well-educated so that they cannot be so easily manipulated by political promises that have little chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, most schools still use the conventional methods of instruction for educating young learners- which is fifty years out of date. But this is the subject for another blog.

What I find troubling about Sanders' solutions as well as Hillary Clinton's is the mantra-like phrase "income inequality" as if by naming the problem one will be able to solve it. Presently the economic nature of our system increasingly is dependent on lowering costs of labor in order to increase profits. This is even evident in corporations that arbitrarily fire their younger employees for no other reason than to improve their bottom line. Unless there is a true political revolution, it is not likely that our system of government, dependent on wealthy lobbyists to fund their re-election campaigns, will pass legislation that would significantly redistribute income in the interest of economic justice.

For me to take these candidates seriously, they would have to address the following issues, not with slogans but thoughtful suggestions.

1. Pensions for the elderly need to be secured or the near future might find them indigent.
2. Reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated youth need to be initiated by largely decriminalizing most drugs and treating addiction as an illness, not a felony.
3. Recognizing and accepting the responsibility of adjusting the lifestyle of the planet to a level of sustainability is vital. To me, the two most deadly words for the future of the human race are "consumption" and "growth." We must learn the concept of balance and sustainability if we wish to leave a positive heritage to our descendants.
4. A health care system for all residents of the US, not the entrepreneurial chaos that presently exists.
5. Challenging the resurgence of racism not by making an issue over the use of words but through solid and thoughtful educational programs not only for youth but adults.
6. And what must be faced as well is a fundamental change in wealth distribution by giving a "living stipend" to those who cannot earn a "living wage."

I would hope that some of these issues will be discussed and examined, not just during political campaigns, but in the classroom so that young learners become informed citizens.