The Patriot Ledger Invites Commentary by Professor White

The OpEd editor of the Patriot Ledger newspaper invited a commentary from Professor Charles White on the state of civil discourse and the newly-released report of the Massachusetts Special Commission on Civic Engagement and Learning. An excerpt is below. For the complete commentary, see the Patriot Ledger.

There seems to be a silent but palpable fear arising that Americans are losing the ability to solve our problems without descending further and further into an abyss of frustration and rage. But this needn’t continue, if we are willing to take an honest look at the problem and seek ways to restore our social compact.

Democratic citizenship does not come naturally to people. It must be taught. Unfortunately, not all of its “teachers” are helpful. Members of Congress lock horns, demonize foes, and dig in their heels. Today’s media cover elections like wrestling matches. Cable television and the Internet have allowed us to create isolated ideological fiefdoms – informed only by the news we like and inflamed by opinions only tenuously attached to facts. Our high-speed technology has created expectations for high-speed solutions and impatience for complexity.

What lessons do we take away from all of this? That government is irretrievably evil and incompetent. Government is the enemy. But consider this. A growing number of citizens will only vote for candidates who promise to take absolute stands on issues and will throw out legislators who compromise. Why then should we be surprised by gridlock?

If Theodore Roosevelt was correct, that “The government is us; we are the government, you and I,” then perhaps (as Pogo declared), “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It was against this backdrop that the Massachusetts legislature established a Special Commission for Civic Engagement and Learning in 2011. The final report, titled “Renewing the Social Compact,” was released on January 28 .

Put succinctly, the commission focused on engagement in both the civil life and the political life of our communities — local, state, national and global. And how do we promote democratic civic engagement? Only through deliberate and sustained learning and experience in the domains of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

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Read Professor White’s full article here.

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