Friday, October 23, 2015

This day ... three years ago (1)

(Re-posting from 2012)
Jon Stewart had a funny comment a couple of days ago (I think it was in the segment immediately before this one) when he did a satirical "USA!, USA!" When the audience joined in the chant, Stewart laughingly noted that he had become like a Mussolini.

There is a lot more to that quip: democracy doesn't work well, perhaps doesn't work at all, if all we do is merely chant a few slogans, repeat what the great leaders tell us, and not think for ourselves.  Martha Nussbaum wrote about this in the context of higher education and citizenship:
The first is the capacity of Socratic self-criticism and critical thought about one's own traditions.  As Socrates argued, democracy needs citizens who can think for themselves rather than deferring to authority, and who can reason together about their choices rather than simply trading claims and counterclaims.
Nussbaum then adds:
We will have a chance at an adequate dialogue across political boundaries if young citizens know how to engage in dialogue and deliberation in the first place.
One can easily see then that societies that do not want democracy will perhaps even make sure that their approaches to education will not encourage students to think.  Aha, you say, as you think about the old Soviet Union or even contemporary China.  But, here in the US, commentators routinely cite the "success" of students in China or any number of other countries where education is for completely different goals. For goals that have very little to do with democracy and what Nussbaum writes as "human development" because:
The student's freedom of mind is dangerous, if what is wanted is a group of technically trained docile technicians to carry out the plans of elites who are aiming at foreign investment and technological development.
What a tragic irony then that we want to change our education systems in order to compete with the likes of China!  We want to institute national testing.  We want to focus on how education will immediately translate to jobs and economic growth. And, therefore, the "wasteful" expenditures on the arts, and the humanities, and the social sciences, ought to be diverted to more "useful" ones!

Doesn't work to improve and build on the dream of democracy, does it? 

Overlay this situation with slick marketing by politicians.  Well, I will leave it Calvin to remind us that ignorance is the ultimate expression of patriotism :)

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