from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What kind of country do we want? 

My normal focus is education. And on more than one occasion I have written that we cannot decide how to address problems in our schools until we can decide on the purpose those schools are supposed to serve. But I have come to realize that there is a question of greater precedence, and that is reflected in the title of the piece.

One purpose our schools serve is to help us fulfill our hopes and aspirations for the future of our society. While I am not myself a parent, as a teacher I see how much parents want schools to empower their children for the future. They may disagree as to how they should be empowered, just as we may disagree whether the purpose of schools is to train people for the economy or to be citizens or some other goal. But rare are the parents who do not want the best for their children in the future.

So what are our hopes and aspirations for our society? What kind of nation do we want? And do not the answers to these questions shape the kind of politics we do as well as the kinds of schools we desire?

I cannot myself formulate a clear and concise answer to these questions. I know I am not alone in struggling. I note things like Gov. Vilsack's’ challenge at HeartlandPac to define what the Democratic Party stands for in ten words or less. While I have a personal antipathy towards such a reductionism to soundbites, I nevertheless applaud the striving towards a clear statement of that in which we believe.

I am afraid I am too verbose for such an exercise. I justify that prolixity by arguing that the ideas are too subtle for such a limited number of words. And then I realize that I have to start somewhere. So I will offer a few as of yet preliminary and tentative thoughts. The order doe not represent any kind of priority or structure. Nor do I pretend that the list below is even in the same galaxy as an overall philosophy. It is merely a compilation of some thoughts that are constant issues, at least for me.

I want a society and a nation that wants good for all. That is, I do not want to be part of a society that defines success for ourselves - as a nation or as individuals - only in the structure of a zero sum game where the advances of one can only occur because of the diminution of others.

I want a society and a nation which dos not define success merely in economic terms. Increasing levels of consumption and expenditure are not necessarily a sign of health, not even economically. They may instead indicate a spreading cancer of amorality.

I want a society and a nation which truly values diversity, within our boundaries and in the world writ large. Our form of government and economy are not perfect: if they were, we would not have the high levels of infant mortality, of financial inequity, of functional illiteracy, and yes, of crime and incarceration, that we do. We should value our differences, and use them to find a commonality that celebrates those differences rather than suppresses them. We should be able to honor those - nations and persons - whose values and ways of life may be very different than our own, so long as they are not hostile to us. Therefore we cannot, if we wish to be moral, be hostile towards those not hostile towards us.

I want a society and a nation that sees each individual as unique and irreplaceable. That does not mean that I do not value community. But the richness of our community as a society comes from our willingness to embrace the different gifts each can bring rather than insisting upon a common mold to be imposed upon all of us.

I could go on, and at some point I may try to form this into a more coherent statement. But as I start another school week, I thought I would offer this in the hope that others will share their ideas.

We should not expect to find agreement on many things, at least not easily. That is not the purpose of this posting. We must offer our ideas in a spirit of openness, to attempt to learn from one another. In a sense that which I ask is not dissimilar from what many of us now believe about the political process. We have, those of us who in the various grassroots movements of the Dean campaign, come to believe that reform can best be done from the ground up. Similarly, I believe that a national discussion on what kind of nation we can and perhaps should be, while it can be provoked by leaders willing to encourage it, as I believe a few have demonstrated, is best done by starting at the roots. And for this kind of approach the blogosphere is an ideal medium. We can offer our ideas, listen to those of others, discuss, and try to find elements of commonality even as we recognize those areas in which our visions do not overlap completely.

What say you? What will you offer to this discussion? We cannot afford NOT to have your vision. It could be the most important thing we hear. It is a task for all of us. Please speak.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
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