from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #31


     Democracies can be direct—where a majority of citizens' votes directly make decisionsor representative—where voters elect individuals to politically lead and represent them in a legislature and vote on their behalf.  Modern democracies are typically of the latter type and tend to have three branches of government:  1) the legislative, consisting of elected representatives who make laws, 2) the executive, including the head of the government, responsible for enforcing laws and the daily functioning & administration of the state, and 3) the judicial, consisting of courts, judges, etc., which interprets the law and administers justice.  Separation of power gives each branch independence and provides checks and balances against abuse. 

     As Figures #31a, #31b suggest, democracy is built on a foundation that includes 1) rule of law, and 2) a feedback process in which citizen voters voice approval or disapproval—the effectiveness of which is aided by free inquiry (theme #30) and education.  Arguments that democracy won't work without well-educated citizens began most notably with Plato (see Discussion, theme #20).  Those who respect "Education for Democracy" support public education: basic, tuition-free education supported by government-levied taxes, structured to maintain high standards & public accountability, promising equal opportunities regardless of race, religion, or ability, and providing students with civics education relevant to their citizenship.

     As described in the 2005 U.S. Department of State booklet Principles of Democracy, such education should promote "knowledge of national and world history and of basic democratic principles" and "democratic norms and practices should be taught in order for people to understand and appreciate their opportunities and responsibilities as free citizens."  For this, the government booklet's authors offer the following rationale: "Every society transmits its habits of mind, social norms, culture, and ideals from one generation to the next.  There is a direct connection between education and democratic values: in democratic societies, educational content and practice support habits of democratic governance.  This educational transmission process is vital in a democracy because effective democracies are dynamic, evolving forms of government that demand independent thinking by the citizenry.  The opportunity for positive social and political change rests in citizens' hands. Governments should not view the education system as a means to control information and to indoctrinate students."

     This statement provides some idea as to where the balance has been struck in a long-time debate.  In his 1986 book The American School 1642—1985, Joel Spring depicted the battle as pitting those "who believed schooling should mold the virtuous citizen" against those "who believed schooling should provide the tools for the exercise of freedom."  In the first camp people advocate "a school system that imposes morality, emphasizes



patriotism, teaches respect for authority, and inculcates basic political values," and in the second "schooling in a democratic society should provide the intellectual tools to all people that will enable them to select their own moral and political values." Those on the extreme right flank of the first position would be comfortable with schools dispensing an idealized, cleaned up retelling of the American story.  This would glorify American military history, exceptionalism, inspire loyal devotion, and provide a heavy dose of God &Christian morality.  The second camp would view it as dishonest propaganda, violating constitutional guarantees regarding separation of church and state.     

     Both the "Education for Democracy" theme and—perhaps surprisingly—the government booklet's position tilt toward the second position.  The booklet's appreciation of the "dynamic, evolving" nature of democracy recalls the views of American educational philosopher John Dewey: "The keynote of democracy as a way of life...[is] the necessity for the participation of every mature human being in the formation of values that regulate the living of men together."  He argued that schools should serve communities as "social centers" and provide education "which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of the mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder."  

     Many are uncomfortable with public schools.  Some parents

fear for their kid's physical safety and opt for private schools.  Others fear religious values they have worked to inculcate will be corrupted at public schools and choose religious schools or home schooling.  Those comfortable with military values (theme #46B) may go with military schools.  Many laissez faire capitalists & libertarians (themes #19, 50A) believe governments should not be involved in education.  They call for free market competition among schools.  Some such calls advocate programs to provide vouchers to finance students attending private (including religious) schools. Many fear this will weaken public education—by siphoning off funding and bright students—and eventually end it.  Short of ending it altogether, some believe that public education, supported by modern free enterprise based democracies, ought to emphasize preparing students for roles as workers and consumers. They urge more business and vocational training, and less liberal education. 

    Finally, "decentralized society advocates" (theme #48) and others prefer local control of schools.  They believe the citizens of a community—including those whose taxes go to support the local school—should have the dominant say in what school policies are and what is taught.  Local citizens exercise this control by electing school board members.  Typically, to one extent or another, authorities at higher levels of government (county, state, or national) wrest at least some control away from the community where the school is located.    

Figure #31a: The Rule of Law

The rule of law is a fundamental component of democratic society and is defined broadly as the principle that all members of society are bound by a set of clearly defined, universally accepted laws

(from  http://


   The Scales of Justice         

They weigh the strength of arguments for or against some appeal to the rule of  law.  They are linked to the Roman goddess Justitia,  often depicted holding them in one hand, and a sword—representing the power of reason and justice—in the other

Figure #31b

Democracy: The Inherent Feedback Loop

Elections provide citizens with a mechanism to  change government policies or legislators.







policies or

legislator  ==>



do you like policies or







<==== feedback from citizen voters  <=====


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