For our democracy to be healthy and effective a few things seem to be required. First and most important is that there is significant overlap across all citizenry of interests and values. This is to ensure a basis for conversation and debate among citizens – this is the essence of government of, by and for the people. This is not the case today. The citizenry is divided into segments, even classes, based on wealth disparity (the ‘1%’); religious differences (fundamentalism vs. moderation or even secularism); ethnic, racial or cultural differences. These differences create an environment of conflict, win at all costs, as opposed to discussion and compromise for the greater good of the Nation.
Second, there must be a basic understanding of government and the political process among citizens for those citizens to effectively participate in the democracy – of, for and by the people. This means education requirements – a civics class in high school. Education can be classroom studies or experiential or both. An example of experiential is mandatory public service post high school such as is practiced in the state of Israel. How better for one to acquire an appreciation of community and the basic needs of society, or the workings of government depending on the particular public service assignment.
Education is a life long process. This is particularly true today as technology is driving change at an ever increasing rate. Yesterdays jobs and associated skills are going away. Totally new jobs with new skill requirements are being created. Retraining and reeducation are essential and critical. So the challenge becomes defining an educational system where the delivery is available, convenient and affordable. Some of this will evolve but probably not at the pace required. There are experiments with things like distance learning, and charter schools. Technology will deliver AI learning systems. On the job skills training exists but it could be much more wide spread and robust. The major enabler of the required progress, however, is a priority and commitment with commensurate resources, at the national level. This does not exist. In fact US education levels as measured by standardized testing has been declining. Education at all levels must be affordable if not free when accompanied by measured successful progress.
A further obstacle that needs to be overcome, is a common view that intellectuals are ‘elite’. Intellectuals and intellectualism resides in an ivory tower, separate from the majority. There is a view held by many that education is not that important, that basic skills can be self-learned. That may have been the case in the distant past, but not in today’s global, tech driven environment. This challenge needs a lot of introspection and serious debate – a redefinition of what we call our educational system and associated strategy.
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