“FLUNKING DEMOCRACY”

Who is to blame for the lack of civility and civics in America? We’ll have a discussion with Michael Rebell, author of “Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation.”

Aired on August 20, 2018.

 

TRANSCRIPT

> ALL NEW YORK STUDENTS ARE ENTITLED, UNDER THE STATE CONSTITUTION, TO A SOUND BASIC EDUCATION THAT PREPARES THEM, AMONG OTHER THINGS WITH CIVIC PARTICIPATION, IN ESSENCE, TO BE ACTIVE MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITY AND COUNTRY.

FOR GENERATIONS NOW, AMERICAN SCHOOLS HAVE SYSTEMICALLY FAILED TO PREPARE STUDENTS TO BE CAPABLE CITIZENS, THAT ACCORDING TO THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR EDUCATION EQUITY.

IN HIS NEW BOOK TITLED 'FLUNKING DEMOCRACIES' IN SCHOOLS, COURTS AND PARTICIPATION, HE ARGUES THIS IS A LEGAL FAILURE AND GROSS VIOLATION OF STATES AND FEDERAL INSTITUTIONS AND NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED BY THE COURTS.

WE'RE PRIVILEGED TO HAVE MICHAEL RUBELL AND EXPERIENCED LIT GATOR.

THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US.

WONDERFUL TO BE WITH YOU.

YOU START OFF WITH THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND YOU TALK ABOUT HOW OF THE MANY CONSEQUENCES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, ONE WAS THE NOTION AS A NATION WE NEEDED TO EMBRACE THE IDEA OF EDUCATION.

WHY WAS THAT SO IMPORTANT?

WHY DO YOU POINT TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS THE SPRINGBOARD, IF YOU WILL?

MANY OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS REALLY HAD THIS IN MIND.

BEN FRANKLIN HAD THE FAMOUS QUIP WHEN HE CAME OUTSIDE OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, SOMEBODY ASKED HIM, WHAT DID YOU ACCOMPLISH AT THIS CONVENTION?

HE ANSWERED, WE CREATED A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT.

FRANKLIN, JOHN ADAMS, THOMAS JEFFERSON, THEY WERE ALL CONVINCED THEY WERE EMBARKING ON A GREAT NEW EXPERIMENT IN MASS DEMOCRACY BUT IT COULD ONLY WORK IF THE CITIZENS WERE EDUCATED AND ABLE TO UNDERSTAND POLITICAL ISSUES, ABLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THEIR LEADERS WERE UP TO, WHEN THEY SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL ABOUT WHAT THEIR LEADERS WERE UP TO.

THEY WERE VERY BIG ON THIS.

DO YOU THINK AS A SOCIETY AS A CULTURE, DID WE LOSE TRACK SOMEWHERE OF THE NOTION OF BECOMING A CITIZEN OF THE PUBLIC PART OF THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS LEARNING HOW TO DO THAT?

WE VERY MUCH DID.

THROUGHOUT THE 18th AND 19th CENTURY YOU ASKED ANYBODY ON THE STREET, WHAT'S THE PURPOSE OF OUR PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM, THEY WOULD SAY TO CREATE CAPABLE CITIZENS.

AS A MATTER OF FACT, ALMOST EVERY STATE CONSTITUTION HAS A CLAUSE THAT GUARANTEES AN EDUCATION, AND MANY OF THEM BEGIN WITH LANGUAGE, LIKE IN MINNESOTA, IT SAYS, BECAUSE A REPUBLICAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT REQUIRES EDUCATED CITIZENS, WE'RE GUARANTEEING ALL CITIZENS THE RIGHT TO ATTEND SCHOOL.

SO MOST OF THESE WERE WRITTEN IN THE 18th CENTURY, 19th CENTURY.

THEY'RE STILL THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.

I WOULD SAY IN THE LAST 50 OR 60 YEARS, THERE'S BEEN A SERIOUS DECLINE IN THE SCHOOL'S WILLINGNESS AND ABILITY TO GET INTO THIS, PROBABLY STARTING AROUND THE VIETNAM ERA, WITH ALL THE DEMONSTRATIONS, THE SKEPTICISM ABOUT GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS.

THAT'S A POINT OF -- A MARKING POINT WHEN THIS DECLINE STARTED.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS, USING THAT AS YOUR --

WELL, THERE IS MORE SKEPTICISM OF GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS.

I THINK IT GOES BEYOND THAT.

THINGS LIKE THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT, WHICH PUT SUCH A PREMIUM ON TEACHING BASIC SKILLS AND READING AND MATH, THAT ACTUALLY THE NUMBER OF HOURS THAT ARE DEVOTED TO SOCIAL STUDIES AND THINGS LIKE CIVICS HAS GONE DOWN.

I'LL ALSO SAY IT'S MORE DIFFICULT TO TEACH CIVIC IN THE 20th CENTURY THAN 19th.

WE HAVE A MORE DIVERSE POPULATION AND ISSUES ON WHAT VALUES SHOULD BE, WHAT ARE CIVIC VALUES.

AND THINGS LIKE DEALING WITH THE MEDIA, INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA.

STUDENTS HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO COPE WITH THE MEDIA.

IT'S HARD FOR SCHOOLS TO TEACH THAT.

AMONG OTHER THINGS, YOU LOOK AT HOW WOEFULLY LOW THE VOTING PERCENTAGES OF YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY.

YES.

HOW FEW PEOPLE GO OUT AND VOTE.

WHAT THEN SHOULD WE BE DOING?

HOW SHOULD WE BE -- WHEN WE TALK ABOUT A SOUND EDUCATION.

I KNOW DIFFERENT STATES USE DIFFERENT TERMINOLOGY.

NEW JERSEY WHERE I LIVE TALKS ABOUT THOROUGH AND OFFICIATE EDUCATION.

WHAT THEN SHOULD WE BE DOING IN NEW YORK TO BUTTRESS THAT, ENHANCE THAT, REINTRODUCE, IF YOU WOULD, THE IDEA OF LEARNING TO BECOME A COMPETENT AND PRODUCTIVE CITIZEN OF THE REPUBLIC?

IN MY BOOK, I GET INTO FOUR AREAS I THINK ARE IMPORTANT.

CIVIC KNOWLEDGE, DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF HISTORY, FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS, ECONOMICS, ET CETERA, TO BE ABLE TO KEEP UP WITH CHANGING EVENTS.

CIVIC SKILLS.

THAT MEANS BASIC VERBAL ABILITY, BUT IT ALSO MEANS THINGS LIKE MEDIA L MEDIA LITERACY WITH THE INTERNET.

ESTABLISH ACCURATE FROM INACCURATE FACTS ACROSS THE INTERNET, HOW TO DECIDE WHETHER A WEBSITE IS BIASED.

THESE ARE SKILLS STUDENTS NEED AND MOST IMPORTANT, DEMOCRATIC LIBERATION SKILLS, WHICH MEANS THE IDEA OF PUTTING TOLERANCE OF OTHER VIEWPOINTS INTO EFFECT, TO BE ABLE TO ENTER INTO A DISCUSSION WITH PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT VIEWS, AND HAVE A CIVIC DISCUSSION ALONG THOSE LINES.

THIS IS WHY I THINK THIS WHOLE AREA IS SO IMPORTANT IN OUR TIME.

BECAUSE, QUITE FRANKLY, OUR POLITICS IS TOTALLY POLARIZED.

I DON'T THINK I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT TO YOU OR ANYONE ELSE.

OUR CURRENT GENERATION OF POLITICS IS NOT GOING TO GET OUT FROM UNDER THAT.

OUR ONLY HOPE IF THE YOUNG PEOPLE LEARN THESE KINDS OF SKILLS.

MICHAEL, ONCE AGAIN, IT'S CALLED 'FLUNKING DEMOCRACY, SCHOOLS, COURTS, CIVIC PARTICIPATION.

A VERY THOUGHTFUL LOOK AT A TROUBLING SCENARIO.

THEY FOR SPENDING TIME TALKING TO US.

THANK YOU FOR BEING INTERESTED.

IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT EVERYBODY THINKS ABOUT OUR FUTURE, INCLUDING OUR KIDS AND SCHOOLS.

IT'S ESSENTIAL.

THANK YOU, MICHAEL, YOU BE WELL.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019