Challenges to Democracy (hint: it’s all about Education!)

I recently read a really interesting article from The Economist regarding education and threats to democracy.  Here are some highlights, and a link to learn more…

  • IN 2012 David Souter, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, argued that the greatest threat to American democracy was neither a foreign invasion nor a military coup, but ignorance about how government functions. “An ignorant people can never remain a free people,”
  • The World Values Survey, a global study by social scientists from over 100 countries, found that far fewer millennials object to autocracy than their elders. Only 19% of millennials in America and 36% in Europe say that if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, a military takeover would still not be legitimate.
  • Just a third see civil rights as “absolutely essential” to democracy.
  • In America, more than a quarter dismiss the importance of free elections.
  • In 1995 only 16% of American youngsters thought democracy was a “bad” system; by 2011, that number had risen to almost 25%.

This is a key paragraph, looking at the USA:

“In America civic-education classes no longer cover what life is like in non-democracies. Schools used to educate their charges about life in the Soviet Union, points out Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation, a think-tank, making the case for democracy by comparison. But when the cold war ended, that stopped. He thinks declining support for democratic values is a partial consequence. “It’s easy to be sceptical [about the value of democracy] when you don’t know anything different,” he says. Without context to help them appreciate the benefits and safeguards afforded by democracy, young people may be vulnerable to emotional appeals to nationalism and fiery rhetoric about seizing power from “elites”.

What should be done?

“The best civic-education classes do more than impart knowledge about how government works. They create environments in which pupils get used to the tools of democracy, such as debating controversial issues and disagreeing respectfully.

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