Motivational Monday: Non Partisan Basics of Democracy

Today for Motivational Monday, I want to share a video that I came across recently. I think that Richard Dreyfus‘ proposal on the non partisan basics of democracy are important to listen.

I am a Christian and yet, I promote and allow full debate on all subjects in my classroom. Free choice is a tenet of my faith. Everyone has a choice of what to believe. I can (and will) share my faith, but each person has a RIGHT to have their own faith. They have a right to choose. (Of course, truth is not determined by what we believe, I believe the truth is the truth, however, we do have a right to decide for ourselves.)

While, the discussion of the roots of democracy at the end could be debated, at the beginning he talks about how we must encourage civility, reason, logic, clarity, dissent, and debate. I couldn't agree more! (I'm sure if I think a bit longer, I could figure out something that he missed, however, the thoughts this provokes are so important and fit with the discussion we've had on digital citizenship.)

Also, if you missed Friday's post on Social Networking and what needs to happen to make it usable for education, please go read it. I spent a long time on it and feel strongly that it is something we need to communicate to facebook and other social networking sites to make it usable for us and education.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Ms. Mize December 11, 2007 - 2:11 am

Wow! Thank you for sharing. I agree! The ideas that were communicated are vital to our way of life. I think sometimes we easily forget how blessed we are to be free. And it is imperative that we teach our children about the privileges and responsibilities of our society. Or like he mentioned one day they may just say, “Tell us what do to do.”

Downes December 11, 2007 - 12:28 pm

I am in general agreement with the sentiments expressed in Friday’s post and in this post.

As noted before, I don’t equate these thoughts with ‘citizenship’ per se. We do not, for example, have ‘civics’ classes in Canada. These ideas are not bound by, or limited by, any idea of statehood or nation.

It is important to understand that the institutions we create – laws, governments, courts, borders – are structures intended to serve certain ends, and are not the ends in themselves.

The founders of the United States realized this, which is why their constitution and declaration of independence are prefaced with those objectives.

It was, among other things, the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that justified the structures they built. The structure served these values; there values were not merely ‘allowed’, but were foundational.

That said, I have written a great deal about this topic in the past, and have offered not only criticism but rather a wider discussion of life and society in general.

I have, if you will, in my previous work, defined a set of what might be called ‘social virtues’, as well as a set of what may be called ‘personal virtues’.

It is foundational to my thought that these ought to be, and must be, separate; that the values of the state (or society at large) are not, need not, and cannot be, the values of the individual.

An individual may have faith, for example, but the state can not. An individual may reason, but the state can not. A collection or group of people does not have the properties of an individual person, and the presumption that the one is like the other is based on a fallacy.

I have described the social virtues in my work on groups and networks. These are the values a society needs to embody in order to function (as the U.S. founders said) as a ‘more perfect union’:

Autonomy – each person must be free to pursue his or her own good in his or her own way.

Diversity – the widest possible range of beliefs and opinions ought to be sought and encouraged.

Openness – each person ought to have the ability to contribute in his or her own way, and to be able to receive the contributions of the others.

Interactivity – ideas and expressions are communicated from one to the next, originating from many different sources, rather than from one to all, diffusing from a single source.


I have also described at length the personal virtues. It is these I think that Richard Dreyfus was discussing: “civility, reason, logic, clarity, dissent, and debate.” See my paper, ‘Things You Really Need to learn’:

1. You will find in this elements of reason – how to predict consequences, for example, or how to distinguish truth from fiction.

2. You will also see elements of civility and communication – how to read, how to empathize, and how to communicate clearly.

3. And you will see elements of what may be called personal faith or personal autonomy, the things that give one self-value and meaning: how to be creative, how to stay healthy, how to value yourself, how to live meaningfully.

Now let me address the other aspect of Dreyfus’s comments, specifically, that these values must be taught, or they will be lost.

I certainly agree with this, but I want to be most careful about what we mean when we say, they must be taught.

Merely standing in front of a class and uttering the words does not constitute ‘teaching’.

I have argued in many places that ‘to teach’ is ‘to model and to demonstrate’. We cannot merely mouth the values we wish to pass on. We must live them – that is, we must demonstrate in our personal conduct the virtues of reason, communication, and self-worthy; and we must align ourselves socially with the virtues of autonomy, diversity, openness, and interactivity.

To the extent that we fail to model and demonstrate these virtues in ourselves is the extent that we fail as teachers. And, so we should make no mistake, we are all teachers, not just those of us who stand in the classroom.

And as teachers, we must model and demonstrate the principle attributes of learning, so that our students can best see how to emulate and follow our example. To ‘learn’ is to ‘practice and reflect’, and we should, therefore, make a sincere effort to practice what we have been shown, and to reflect openly on that practice.

I do not embody this entire statement in everything I write, because although brief, a constant repetition of these basic principles would become tiresome.

But these principles, it should be understood, underlie everything I say, everything I do.

Abby December 12, 2007 - 7:45 pm

As a Christian, I would agree that real Christianity is not produced by ignorance, but instead by knowledge of the character of God. There is also the aspect of faith, which means believing when you don’t have direct proof. But that is far different from ignorance or stupidity.

People have faith in many things without direct proof or knowledge. Every time we sit down we have faith that the chair will not break—so much so that we don’t even think about it.

I agree with you that people must decide for themselves. If they want to have a relationship with Jesus it is a decision and not something that just happens because one goes to church.

A similar truth is evident when speaking of democracy. Just as a relationship with Jesus is a conscious commitment and decision, so being an active citizen of a democracy should be a commitment and decision.

We, as educators (I am a college student and future educator), should put time and effort into preserving our democracy—the framework that upholds the values and freedoms we cherish—because what democracy protects will perish unless we model for our students how to reason, dissent, debate, etc. to fight for and safeguard our freedoms.

We need to model to our students how to grapple with ideas. Rote memorization is not enough. I am a recent witness to some of the blindness and ignorance in our high school youth who are now of voting age.

Questioning, being informed dissenters, reason, logic, clarity, civility, debate.

When I see these words, I see a struggle for truth. And truth is not simply thrown into our laps; it is often a struggle. My generation (as well as many others in America) has become a complacent, post-modernistic, you-believe-your-thing & I-believe-mine generation.

This attitude is the opposite of real Christianity (which I embrace), democracy, and, ultimately, the search for truth that gives life meaning.

Lee December 12, 2007 - 9:27 pm

This is certainly an area which should be discussed at all levels of education. Thanks Vicki for posting .. and thanks Stephen for elaborating. One quality which also could be added to the list is “respect”. Whether Christian, Muslim or naught, whether IT geek, philosopher or mechanic, whether young, old or young-at-heart, whether rich, poor or Gen Y … and whether liberal or labor (Aust) or democrat or republican .. if there was more respect for people’s differences and for self, maybe Stephen’s values would be accepted, embodied and celebrated!!!

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