A Battle Cry for Freedom
By: Nancy Salvato
Among the most popular political parties is a public display of infighting. For example, the extreme left of the Democratic Party is unwilling to accommodate Joe Lieberman’s support of the current war effort. Within the Republican Party, a faction professes zero accommodations should be made toward anyone residing here through illegal immigration, while others believe in some kind of amnesty or guest worker status. Center left leaning Republicans; RINOs are contemptuously referred to, as such, because they have adopted more liberal leaning positions held by the Democrats.
Although understandable, that not every member of a political party is going to agree with all the points on an adopted political platform, the public discourse that revolves around dissenting opinions has become reprehensible. Certainly, for anyone not understanding the nuances at play, it is confusing at best and contributes to the public mistrust of the agenda promoted by anyone in government, further resulting in voter apathy. Political parties are supposed to provide forums for deliberation about public policies; exercising civil discourse, rather than hate mongering.
A dying breed, “participatory citizens” demonstrate working knowledge of how government functions and actively participate in their community; understanding which levels of governmental agencies are responsible for changing, enforcing, or developing a specific policy. A common misconception at the federal level of government is that the Executive Branch holds the purse strings. Although our president submits a budget proposal, it is the Legislative Branch of government that decides on what and how much money the government should spend. Even if the president exercises veto power, 2/3 of congress can overrule his authority. Ignorance of the division of roles and responsibilities between the three branches results in hyperbolic finger pointing, and the proper channels for change are ignored.
Citizens are entitled to speak out about what the government should do with regards to problems in their state, nation, or even around the world. It is their right to influence the decisions made by people holding positions of responsibility. However, they must first understand whether policy is made at the local state or national level. They should recognize who to address with a suggestion or grievance. Multitudes of government officials involved in public policy are elected, appointed and hired to make, apply or enforce laws. Unless “participatory citizens” can “see the forest for the trees”, those trying to perform their civic duty will be caught up in rhetoric designed to deflect from the real issues and cast doubt on the integrity of those who hold public office.
Superior civic education is designed with many objectives, including increased knowledge of law/legal concepts, greater understanding of the political process and government structures, increased understanding of rights, responsibilities, and the role of a citizen, increased understanding of how to influence government policy, and increased understanding of how to participate in civil society. Quality programs foster respect for rights and opinions of others by promoting civil discourse. Differentiating a first rate program from a mediocre attempt, is opportunity to actively participate in ways that influence decision making processes as opposed to just reading about them.
Toward this end, innovative school districts are implementing Service-learning opportunities into Social Studies curriculum. Service-learning enhances what is taught in the school by extending student learning beyond the classroom. Authentic as well as simulated experiences offer students opportunities to apply newly acquired academic skills and knowledge in real life situations. Although many people have opportunities to volunteer, Service-learning activities integrate service experiences into and enhance the academic curriculum. Service-learning focuses on community impact and student learning.
At the other end of the spectrum, school districts concerned only with elevating reading and math scores are missing a golden opportunity to integrate content learning in Social Studies, while meeting literacy objectives. This establishes a dangerous precedent because without an adequate understanding of U.S. History and our system of government, the populace will be unable to function effectively as citizens, knowledgeable voters, members of juries, and leaders in their communities.
We are at a crossroads. Schools must arm our students with the knowledge and experience necessary to ensure that this experiment in democracy is allowed to continue, or as Abraham Lincoln alluded to in his “Gettysburg Address” a government, “of the people, by the people, for the people,” shall perish from this earth.
Copyright Â© Nancy Salvato 2006
Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.