Author’s note: For the indefinite future, most of my digital articles will be short and shorter – and they will certainly be few and fewer!
Why? Because I’m writing another book – one that will appear after the next one. My next book – to be published at the end of this month by Cambridge University Press – is co-authored with Todd Pittinsky. It is titled, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy.
The cracks have been evident for years. But they were not a menace. Now they are. Now after almost four years of Donald Trump in the White House those cracks in our civics are so wide, they threaten the edifice itself.
In recent decades, has been an almost perfect corollary: my own field, leadership education, has gone up, while civics education has gone down. This applies across the board, in high schools as well as colleges and universities.
Makes sense that the second has been sacrificed at the altar of the first, for leadership accentuates the importance of the individual, while civics accentuates the importance of the group. The community. The citizenry – followers not leaders.
No question that in recent decades courses in civics have declined precipitously. What used to be considered a requisite – a system of public education tasked with teaching, among other things, the virtues of democracy – has to a large degree gone by the board. Learning about civics has been marginalized by other kinds learnings, specifically those focused on preparing students for competition in the private sector rather than participation in the public one.
The cost of this neglect has been steep. First, is Americans’ abysmal lack of knowledge, of even a rudimentary understanding of American history. And of even the basics of our political system. Of the constitution, of the three branches of government, of the rights and responsibilities of the citizenry. Can it possibly be good that at best one third of the American people can name the three branches of government? Can it possibly be good that less than one quarter of eighth graders perform at or about the proficiency level on a nationwide exam in civics?
Even if we were adept at educating, training, and developing leaders – an assumption that regular readers know I question – how does it help if followers, ordinary Americans, are so underprepared to participate in political life? If American citizens have got to the point of electing to the White House a man as miserably ill-equipped and as woefully unsuited as Donald Trump? If Americans have got to the point where violence among them, between them, is a not wholly unanticipated outcome of this November’s presidential election?
High time, past time, to turn back the clock. To return to a time when civics education was rigorous – and required. When civics education was considered essential to preparing a responsible citizenry which, in turn, was considered essential to a functioning democracy.
Bottom line: educate not just leaders, but followers.