Altering the Experiment


John F. Phillips

If you have been following the events of the past few weeks, it is crystal clear that the inauguration of Joe Biden has done little to change the toxic political and cultural environment that exists in the United States.

In conversations that I have been having with people, the problem is deeply rooted and both sides of the political spectrum continue to be deeply entrenched in their own political and cultural universe. Just changing the occupant of the White House hasn’t changed what is going on.

If anything, recent events and actions have illustrated the old axiom that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We as a society and culture are still fighting the same cultural and political wars that we have been fighting during the past ten years or so.

It’s deja vu all over again. It has to stop.

Neither side has a monopoly on virtue. Instead of remembering that we as a nation find unity in our diversity (our national motto is E Pluribus Unum which means out of many, one), we have divided ourselves into our camps that act alike, think alike, and talk alike. Neither side seems to have any intention on listening to what the other side has to say, much less actually trying to understand a different way of looking at things or consider the possibility that they may be misguided about facts or how things actually work.

The new national motto seems to be “I read it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat on saw it on MSNBC or Fox News, so it must be true. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

The common thread that I see in this is lack of understanding about our constitution, our political institutions and how they were designed to function, our history, and really the values that the United States holds so dearly. Those who hold elective office, are part of the professional political class, or part of the infotainment political universe use this ignorance to manipulate information and public opinion in order to gain and keep personal political power.

There is a saying that knowledge is power. An educated citizenry creates the conditions for democracy to thrive. Right now, we have become passive bystanders while the professional political class takes over and destroys our democracy.

We as a society no longer place value in social studies education, particularly history, civics, and political science. Just look at the minimalism of social studies graduation requirements established by state departments of education. No, we as a society have put all of our eggs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) basket, raising a nation of underachieving test takers. We hire MAs and PhDs to teach high school science, but the football coach teaches social studies because they have a teaching certificate and the 15 hours of college level social science courses that lets them do so. Hands on teaching in STEM, PowerPoint slides and worksheets in social studies.

Most citizens only have a rudimentary eighth grade understanding of social studies. No wonder we are in the mess that we are in. If we are going to alter the course of the decline of our political and social culture, we have to make socials studies a priority again.

Again, knowledge is power, ignorance is bliss. That doesn’t mean that we reset and choose social studies over STEM. It means that we give the same priority to social studies that we do to STEM. We make learning social studies as interesting as learning STEM. We hire and support great social studies teachers and fund the programs dedicated to the goal of creating an informed citizenry.

If we as a society don’t dedicate ourselves to this goal, American democracy will continue to decline, the division will grow deeper and more filled with hatred, and out great experiment in democracy will fail. We have to make the creation of a politically and culturally educated citizenry a priority, or this country will fracture.

None of us want that to happen because we all, deep down, love the United States, warts and all. We have to come together and appreciate all points of view, even if we agree to still disagree. We need to bring back the civility into political discourse, listen to each other, and challenge to listen to and consider other points of view that take us out of our comfort zone and challenge us. Knowledge allows us to do that.

The United States is at a crossroads as a political system and society. If we don’t start learning and listening, we aren’t going to have a United States for our children and grandchildren. Yes folks, it’s to that point.

What are you going to do about it?

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