Here in Gloucester, we are currently in the midst of local elections, which by all measures, appear to be running their natural, competitive course.
In contrast, this local election is set to the backdrop of a national scene where it seems, of late, that brinkmanship plays a more prominent role than compromise. With these two events in mind, it is appropriate that we consider what we should be teaching our children about civics, or more specifically, about civic mindedness.
The Partnership for 21st-Century Skills defines educating students in Civic Literacy three ways:
Participating effectively in civic life through knowing how to stay informed and understanding governmental processes;
Exercising the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national and global levels;
Understanding the local and global implications of civic decisions.
These are laudable goals. An understanding of the dynamics of our local elections certainly provides students with an illustration of the three goals above. By degree, recent actions on the national scene have greater implications for the third goal — the potential effects of a default on the world economy being one example. But beneath these goals lies a deeper level for education in civic mindedness, namely, students’ ability to reason and to provide reasons that can be recognized by standards other than their own, i.e., by those who would disagree. What matters is whether students learn to give reasons, reasons that are not only plausible to themselves, but to those who sees things differently.
To acquire civic mindedness, students must be able to demonstrate that they can justify their beliefs, and how they arrive at those beliefs. This is essential because in a democracy, we are governed by reason. And, in a democracy, disagreements between citizens are to be handled in the arena of reason alone.
Michael P. Lynch, in his book “In Praise of Reason,” refers to democracy as an association that proceeds through public argument and reasoning among equal citizens. He goes on to say that democracies are set up to allow for mutual deliberation involving the exchange of public reasons. Reasons, in this instance, provide explanations that allow us to choose what to believe.