“If the United States is to be a democracy, its citizens must be free. If citizens are to be free, they must be their own judges. If they are to judge well, they must be wise. Citizens may be born free; they are not born wise.” These words were written by F. Champion Ward, Dean of the College at the University of Chicago, in 1949 as a preface to a collection of readings designed to help students better understand “American History and its great arguments”. The collection was titled “The People Shall Judge”, and like our guides, it was designed to help students engage in discussions — or dialogues — where historical facts and thought could be digested, questioned, and integrated with the experience and thinking of those in the group. It is through this kind of dialogue that we can develop the type of judgments that lead to wise decisions. Dean Ward wrote of the importance of “forming habits of open discussion and independent judgment which will lead to wise decisions and new achievements in the American future.” He concluded that “Surely, a democracy should invite its citizens to learn and think in this inquiring way. Surely, a democracy whose citizens do so learn and think will be well and freely served.” Where in our current political culture are the opportunities to practice and form these habits? What are the barriers? Where can we as citizens provide new opportunities to sift through, synthesize, and evaluate the often overwhelming amount of information that floods our daily lives, particularly in an election year? Let us know what you are doing, and what more might be done.
October 20, 2008 at 11:38 am
Neighborhood associations are an underutilized opportunity. I’m not think of the neighborhood association that just holds block parties and street fairs for fun, although that’s quite o.k. I’m thinking of an association that works for neighborhood improvement. The association for my neighborhood can be joined by any resident by paying a small amount of dues, and it works for neighborhood betterment in various ways (traffic, public safety, sanitation, maintenance of parks, public transportation, zoning changes, etc.). A member can serve on one or more of these committees, and members are invited to attend and speak at the monthly board meetings. There is an annual meeting at which our State Senator, our City Councilman and the community affairs officer from the local police precinct speak briefly and answer questions. Sometimes there is a special meeting to discuss and take a position on a major problem. A quarterly news bulletin goes to all members, and there is a website for access and comment. Our neighborhood association could do a much better job, but at least it does something, and it is a way in which people can learn to get informed, speak, listen, and feel they are participating. Maybe habits developed in the neighborhood can be used beyond it.