As the political season ends (with its heated debates, sharp attack ads, and comic sound bites), people are left exhausted. A kind of energy spent similar to playing a game in overtime or rooting for a favorite losing team. In fact, many have suggested that the “arena of politics” have all of the same characteristics we see in professional competition: Teams, Rivalries, Fans, even Sportscasters, all with An Objective to Win.
What is it about politics and the voting season (present, past, or future) that is so obsessed with winning? Shouldn’t the focus be different, larger, and beyond any tussle between supposed opponents?
Political seasons should be a time where all people learn about how to improve their society through the educative practice of Democracy.
I am reminded of what I heard from a well-known politician. To paraphrase: “Politics is not about winning, but standing up for what you believe in, and thus, allowing that to win…” At first, I remember nodding my head in agreement, feeling that this captures the essence of democracy: A willingness to come out in front with your beliefs and argue for their importance. However, in large measure, recent politics already confront others’ beliefs and argue for winning positions. In fact, these kinds of arguments (and disagreements) have resulted in a continual competitive sports-cycle of politics.
What has been missing is achieving “end goals” without finding winners. It must remind us why anyone would want to run for politics, or any advocate willing to speak out against injustices, or any voter deciding on which candidate to choose from. In other words,the essence or end goal of Democracy is a mutual sharing of ideas for a common purpose that continually improves our society.
Perhaps the role of Educators and Learners is to facilitate such discussions, arguments, and debates for Democracy, where all participants can educate and learn from each another with respect and friendship. When these issues are left to only political opponents, the larger purpose is often overlooked, leaving us, as spectators, feeling bankrupt either in time, in dollars, or in-spiration unfortunately, which is another missed opportunity for compromise, agreement, and continued engagement.
As the smoke clears from current political battles, and the next political season arrives again, perhaps all of us in society might consider the areas that we must educate and learn from each other, and the arguments and ideas that can guide us—not for winning the election or crowning a winner, but for facilitating a Democracy.
Countless times adults reflect on their grade school years with many pleasant thoughts, but if seriously pressed and asked: “What class would have been really helpful in preparing for real life?” past fond memories can quickly turn into points of frustration, calculating time wasted on subjects that ultimately proved pointless with no practical connection.
In my own experience, I’ve found that there were at least seven subjects that should have been either taught, continually reinforced, or focused more than a single in-class discussion. Here are my 7 subjects; but I invite you to add to this list at the end of this posting:
Money, Banking, & Insurance
Employment & Entrepreneurship
Nutrition & Exercise
Sex, Marriage, & Relationships
Politics & Government
Strengths & Talents Discovery
Critical & Comparative Decision-Making
Money, Banking, & Insurance: This one would be my favorite class! Money would discuss currencies, debt, securities, primary and secondary stock and bond markets, portfolios and investments. Banking would address loans, contracts, financial products such as mortgages, certificate of deposits, savings, checking and market accounts. Insurance describes types such as life, health, disability, and annuities, also determining how much insurance is needed and scenarios to decide the best policies available. One would learn more about interest rates, the “Rule of 72”, yields and percentages.
Employment & Entrepreneurship. Working a full-time eight-hour job is only one form of employment. Other options and combinations of work would be described including part-time, seasonal, volunteer, internship, freelance, independent contract and consultancy. Also, learning how to create jobs, products, and services that others would appreciate.
Nutrition & Exercise. Learning about what are the right foods to eat, and in what proportions literally would be a “life saver.” Instead of counting calories, students would learn what’s in a Big Mac, a slice of pizza, or a scoop of ice cream, not to prevent consumption, but to learn about the nutritional tradeoffs and lifelong health effects. It also would invite opportunities to explore other types of fruits and vegetables by exploring farming and gardening. Students would be knowledgeable enough to avoid being coaxed into buying “ab crunchers,” work-out videos, or resistance cords with no clue of whether it really works—other than before-and-after-pictures from paid commercials. Students would learn about their muscles and how to use them for lean or bulk, and the kinds of free exercises that gets the same results in 90 days.
Sex, Marriage, & Relationships. This wouldn’t be your traditional “Mom and Pop” sex education class. This class would go into broader aspects that include issues of HIV/AIDS, contraception, and what happens when abstinence fails. But instead of treating sex as an isolated act, it would be discussed within the context of marriage and relationships. Within this class, there could be discussions about religion in order to raise the sensitivities of different religious values in the areas of sex, marriage, and relationships.
Politics & Government. This would be a mix of traditional lessons such as the constitution, branches of government, political parties and voting alongside advanced civic education that would identify local politicians, public discourse, active speaking, even heated debates about issues of public policy.
Strengths & Talents Discovery. Say what you will about talent assessments and career inventories, but this course would offer useful guides to open the minds of students about multiple vocations that best match their skills, talents, and abilities. This course would also highlight students’ “multiple intelligences” that would help validate and appreciate different capacities of learning. Discovering strengths and talents at this stage could challenge educators to find alternative ways to teach and reach their students that enhance natural abilities.
Critical & Comparative Decision-Making. Let’s face it: Life comes with problems. Problems that are not easy to solve, but not impossible to make informed decisions. This would be a “problem-solving class” that considers what reliable information must go into making these decisions with a willingness to compare other choices from diverse individuals, communities, countries, and cultures. A by-product of this course would allow students to challenge their own assumptions and explore thoughts that may have been traditionally taken-for-granted. Activities would include evaluating arguments, exposing fallacies, and learning other analytical skills.
Finally, these seven subjects would complement fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with music and art, and start a new curriculum of “real-world assignments” that would inspire students, at every level, to have conversations with friends and families about the things that adults worry and talk about. Having students engage in these kinds of subjects, at an earlier age, would spur words of wisdom and practice that would be priceless and lasting.
The advantage would be that communities would be teachers too, in educating their children to prepare for life ahead. Such that discussions involving wills, trusts, starting businesses, charities, or other social issues would be addressed with an abundance of prior knowledge.