The Edmond Sun

November 16, 2012

Democracy’s future: In the hands of our educators

Lonnie Johnson Jr.
Special to The Sun

LANGSTON — Whether we are pleased with the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, it is critical to understand that the true winner is America. Although imperfect, history has proven democracy to be a strong, vital and effective form of government. And the credit for this success belongs primarily to our educators.

As early as the 25th century BC, the ancient Egyptians recognized the importance of an informed citizenry in effective governance. As a leader, Ptah Hotep wrote the “Maxims for Good Discourse” which is arguably the first book in recorded human history, and is sometimes considered a precursor to the Bible’s Ten Commandments. However, his intentions were very pragmatic; it was a means of instilling the value of sound wisdom in the daily affairs of his citizens.

More than 2,000 years later, nearby ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 BC) began his massive campaign to educate the citizenry of Greece. He undoubtedly left his mark via the works of his students, Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC), two of the most influential thinkers in Western civilization. And, to date, the Socratic method is used in classrooms throughout the country and is noted as one of the most effective ways to teach law and medical students.

Socrates’ primary motivation for educating was to provide a place where youth could gather and be free from mundane worries to focus on higher-order thought processes. His purpose was to create a well-educated citizenry who knew enough about a variety of things to be able to make good decisions concerning the governance of their society. It was amid this educational process that the idea of shared governance and democracy was formalized.

So the wisdom of our ancestors has given us insight about the value of an informed citizenry. Thus, it should be of no surprise to find that contemporary research places our society’s educational system at the forefront of political engagement and civil development.

Research suggests that among all of the socioeconomic factors, education is the single most dominant predictor of political involvement. Before attending college, those with high verbal acuity had a tendency to be more politically active. Being comfortable with oral and written language skills and reading comprehension appears to be a large part of politics.  

According to the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, college graduates are more likely to be active in community service and politically engaged, especially those who have a strong background in social sciences and humanities. Evidently, understanding our society, our history and our own human behavior in a more in-depth way helps us feel better equipped to be a part of our society's decision-making process. In the words of Ocean Jackson, senior English major at Langston University, “Coming to college has made me more aware of everything, including politics.”

Although social science and humanities majors tend to be among the lowest-paid college graduates in comparison to science, technology and engineering majors, they are apparently the ones who are active in helping our country make the vital decisions that are crucial to our future.

Every individual has the inalienable human right to participate in the shaping of their own destiny. As Americans, we have this privilege and the consequent responsibility of creating the best possible future for generations to come. So thanks to all of our educators who are an essential part of preparing our citizens for this tremendous task. You are the reason democracy works. Both ancient and modern civilizations applaud you.

LONNIE JOHNSON JR. is a faculty member in the Department of Communication at Langston University.