Civic starvation

Over several decades, Americans' public life has been showing signs of chronic neglect -- and some Americans are trying to reverse the process

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You’ve been leading a double life, whether you realize it or not.

You have your private life – or what’s left of it. And then you have your public life.

Therein lies one of the fundamental problems in modern-day America: Our lives are seriously out of whack.

Our private lives are our families, our work or school, our hobbies and passions – anything we do for ourselves or with those we love. And we have done a great job indulging our private lives and, in many cases, overindulging them.

Our public life, on the other hand, is what we do for strangers – and for the community or country as a whole. It includes volunteerism, participation in altruistic clubs and organizations, and more.

A vital and neglected subset of our public life is our civic life. Voting. Understanding our governmental system. Appreciating its value. Having a working knowledge of current events and the people who shape them. And applying that knowledge in the community and country – such as working for candidates and causes you believe in, or just being knowledgeable enough about them to speak on their behalf intelligently.

The thing is, even as we have fed, indeed overfed, our private lives, we’ve too often neglected our public lives. Our civic life – what we do to contribute to our system of self-governance – has been particularly starved in recent decades.

The signs started showing up in the 1960s, if not before. Whereas the World War II generation joined civic groups and veterans’ groups en masse – most of them with charitable or humanitarian bents – succeeding generations have migrated more toward special-interest organizations that lobby for their own interests and even provide members with retail discounts.

The chronic neglect of our civic life shows in voting patterns, of course, which are abysmal, but also in our Civic I.Q. Have you seen the Internet videos in which ordinary Americans are asked basic questions of civics or current events – and seen how abjectly ignorant many folks are of American history and what’s going on now? Comedians such as Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel have had great fun
exposing that ignorance. But if you worry about the future of this country, it’s not very funny at
all.

In one recent video, groups of college-aged Americans are asked at Fourth-of-July celebrations about the genesis of the holiday. Many are hard-pressed to even cite a reason for the revelry, or the most basic of facts giving rise to it (when we declared independence, who from, etc.).

In another video, people are easily persuaded to sign a petition to do away with the Bill of Rights. The petition was a put-on, just to see what they’d do. But their support for the petition appears quite genuine.

Concerned citizens around the country have begun forming associations to combat the nation’s civic neglect.

One is the Tennessee Center for Self-Governance, formed by a handful of citizens who taught themselves how to negotiate the legislative process at the state capitol and wanted to pass along their insights to others. Begun in 2012 with 71 “students,” the center has taught over 300 already this year. And word about the center has spread so much that it has taught its brand of applied civics in nine states. Soon, the center may drop “Tennessee” from the name and be the hub for a national network of such centers.

Founder Kurt Potter points to Thomas Jefferson’s observation that “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

Today, Potter says, “It’s not that people aren’t exercising their power with a wholesome discretion; it’s that they’re not exercising it period.”

Despite the civic atrophy all around us, Potter is optimistic – calling to mind Samuel Adams’ exhortation that “It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on
setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of
men.”

You’re starting to see small billows of smoke today.

But the stark truth is, there’s a reason this is called the “American Experiment”: Self-governance is a remarkably new phenomenon
in human history, and only a fraction of people
in history have been thus privileged to be so
free.

If anything fritters that station away, it will be complacency and ignorance.

And the starving of our civic selves.

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deestafford
26595
Points
deestafford 07/21/13 - 08:21 am
6
3
Excellent points all

I place a lot of the blame on the school system which has got away from teach American History and civics. As a matter of fact it is possible to graduate from many of the "elite" universities in the US and never take a course on American History.

Schools are teaching esoteric subjects and have got away from teaching what the Founding of America and what made it the greatest country in the world. One of the things that has caused this sad situation is the far left, 60s radicals assuming control of the education system. These are Hate-America, America-is-Racist, America-has-Caused-Much-of-the-World's-Problems, crowd and are passing those attitudes to the students as has been done for over 40 years.

If one wants to see a college curriculum that teaches the Founding of America to include mandatory courses on American History and mandatory courses on the Constitution of the United States check out Hillsdale College. As a matter of fact they offer free of charge on line courses on history and on the Constitution. Just go to www.hillisdale.edu to check them out. I've taken some and am taking one now and they are great.

I don't think the implementation of the Common Core in the states, which Georgia has signed on to, is going to help. If anything I think it will hurt. It would be good for the Augusta Chronicle to do critcal analysis of the Common Core and how it is infected with leftist leanings.

Michael Ryan
645
Points
Michael Ryan 07/21/13 - 08:45 am
8
1
Dee, great recommendation on

Dee, great recommendation on Hillsdale. And guess what we were researching Friday?
Yep. Common Core.
Coming soon to an editorial page near you...

grouse
1635
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grouse 07/21/13 - 10:40 am
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This editorial has five
Unpublished

This editorial has five sentences beginning with "and" and two beginning with "but," both conjunctions. This is terrible writing.

seenitB4
85748
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seenitB4 07/21/13 - 10:55 am
7
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Great Mr Ryan

Why not explore bankrupt cities & how that happens. How can we change the flow before we all go in the tank...
thanks.

deestafford
26595
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deestafford 07/21/13 - 11:16 am
6
1
SB4

We don't need to do any research on why cities have gone broke and into bankruptcy. It's call decades of democrat politicians giving into demands of their union buddies. These are examples of why public sector employees should not be able to collective bargain for wages and benefits. It only soaks the taxpayer because the only place the politicians and unions can get the money from is the taxpayer.

It's a vicious circle in that the unions threaten the democratic politicians that they will not support them with campaign money and votes if they don't give in on pay raises, retirement benefits, and medical benefits. The politicians vote for the increases in benefits and they are reelected and the unions come back again with new demands and threats.

t3bledsoe
14250
Points
t3bledsoe 07/21/13 - 12:02 pm
3
2
Quote from editorial

"A vital and neglected subset of our public life is our civic life. Voting. Understanding our governmental system. Appreciating its value. Having a working knowledge of current events and the people who shape them. And applying that knowledge in the community and country – such as working for candidates and causes you believe in, or just being knowledgeable enough about them to speak on their behalf intelligently."

Perhaps people have gotten too, too apathitic towards politics ESPECIALLY in this country !!

t3bledsoe
14250
Points
t3bledsoe 07/21/13 - 12:06 pm
1
3
Quote from editorial

"The thing is, even as we have fed, indeed overfed, our private lives, we’ve too often neglected our public lives. Our civic life – what we do to contribute to our system of self-governance – has been particularly starved in recent decades."

The Augusta Chronicle and ALL of the rest of the newspapers in this area AND all civics teachers NEED to encourage students to write Letters to The Editor !!

t3bledsoe
14250
Points
t3bledsoe 07/21/13 - 12:08 pm
2
3
Quote from editorial

"The chronic neglect of our civic life shows in voting patterns, of course, which are abysmal, but also in our Civic I.Q."

Civics teachings NEED to be as important as teaching math and science !

t3bledsoe
14250
Points
t3bledsoe 07/21/13 - 12:10 pm
1
3
Quote from editorial

"In one recent video, groups of college-aged Americans are asked at Fourth-of-July celebrations about the genesis of the holiday."

High school civics IS NOT being tought CORRECTLY !

effete elitist liberal
3112
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effete elitist liberal 07/21/13 - 12:30 pm
3
8
"researching" Common Core, MR???

I'll just bet you were. Did you scour your usual right wing sites to "research" the Common Core standards? Are you you going to pontificate about how the Common Core is a conspiracy by liberal so-called educators, abetted by the big, bad Obama DOE, to impose a national set of requirements on the poor states, that Common Core is a "one-size-fits-all" non-solution, probably socialistic and just another budget busting mandate? You are so completely predictable, MR, that I could write your editorial for you right now! But no, I guess I'll just wait for your next venture into political fantasyland....

deestafford
26595
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deestafford 07/21/13 - 07:40 pm
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Hummmmmm

It looks as if EEL has already researched the Common Core and is enumerating its problems. Well done!

Lori Davis
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Lori Davis 07/21/13 - 03:16 pm
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Hey Mike, Would have been a

Hey Mike, Would have been a great time to mention that our very own Augusta Commissioners voted to limit our civic involvement by voting to return Commission meetings to two o'clock. I for one would have to take a half a day from work to participate. How did this happen? Why are we going backwards? This is an important question for Augusta. Commission meetings should really be After working hours to encourage citizen participation. It is quite apparent that the Mayor and Commission do not want citizen input. Sad, Sad, Sad.

Conservative Man
5448
Points
Conservative Man 07/21/13 - 04:09 pm
5
1
America is doomed...

...as long as we have more people who know who Honey Boo-Boo is than can name their U.S. Senators..or when more people care about knowing what the Kardashians are doing than know what decade the Civil War was fought in..
As far as "Common Core" goes..in the states in which is is currently used test scores and overall civic I.Q. has plummeted...this is not "right wing propaganda", it is fact....please do the research before "spewing"...
But I will concede it is not entirely the fault of left wing extremists who run academia and loathe the United States, we are all partly responsible...
When we see academic bias and sloth we should not be afraid to "call out" those who prefer the populace to be ignorant of their history....Knowledge is power and those in power (especially now!) LOVE for the people to be ignorant...
..If things continue as they have in the recent past the next generation will be even more ignorant than what we have now....If that happens America is indeed doomed...

corgimom
31466
Points
corgimom 07/21/13 - 05:20 pm
5
0
"Why not explore bankrupt

"Why not explore bankrupt cities & how that happens"

Riots

White flight

Spending on municipal projects that drain revenues, like TEE Centers

Workers flee to suburbs, leaving the poor

Bad schools

Incompetent city workers

Incompetent government leaders who don't know what they are doing

Seenit, see a pattern there?

dichotomy
32136
Points
dichotomy 07/21/13 - 08:36 pm
4
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corgimom.....ditto Lori......

corgimom.....ditto

Lori......commission meetings go a lot smoother if the people being governed and TAXED cannot observe and participate. When you are killing the taxpayers the fewer the witnesses the better. And it's probably more convenient for Paul.

Darby
25098
Points
Darby 07/22/13 - 11:18 am
2
1
"It's call decades of democrat politicians

giving into demands of their union buddies. "

.
Short version: Political indulgence in taxpayer funded greed.

dahreese
4703
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dahreese 07/24/13 - 09:24 am
0
0
@effete elitist liberal I'm
Unpublished

@effete elitist liberal

I'm surprised that a certain someone who enjoys "Flag for review" hasn't already reported you for your 12:31 post .

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