It is common today to hear educators and politicians decry how little the American people know about civics.  More people could name the judges on American Idol than could name the members of the U.S. Supreme Court, I have heard it said.  I myself cannot name a single Idol judge and have never seen the program.  I don’t even know if it still on.  Why?  Because I don’t care.  Likewise, people who do not know the nine Supreme Court Justices are not necessarily ill-educated.  They don’t care.

Humans do not learn things well if they don’t care about them.  Caring about something means that a person believes that that something will make a positive difference in how they think or feel or it will allow them to do something in the world that matters to them.  Believing that knowing the nine Supreme Court judges’ names may not matter much is not irrational.  With our current levels of inequality, evidence denial, corporate monopolies and control, gerrymandering of districts, media-circus-driven political campaigns, and toxic money in elections it is certainly plausible for “everyday” people to believe that the system has little to offer them other than misery.

Of course, if everyday people knew how much the current political system harmed them, the economy, their health, and our civic society, they might care more, but only if believed they could actually do anything about it.  And, of course, a great many people do not believe this.

Civics (like other areas in our schools) is often treated as just a body of facts, but it should be, in actuality, a body of facts, tools, and ways of participating in society and solving problems.  As such it should be a way to leverage power, participation, and change in civil society and the public sphere.

But we still come back to the core issue that even if we taught civics as participation and the co-construction of civil society by its citizens (and not just remembering facts about government) no one would care unless they felt that actions they could take would matter, would make a difference, would be meaningful.  And why should they, if the deck is stacked, the game is rigged, the system is corrupt?

There is a wider issue here—one not just about civics, but about school in general: Since no one learns well unless they care and they care only when what they are supposed to learn can make a positive difference in their lives, why should any student care about anything in school?  Answering that question for science, mathematics, and art is just as central for schooling as is answering it about civics, though answering it about civics is central to the very existence of a civil society, the foundation of any public-school system.

I do not myself have answer to these questions.  I am not sure anyone has answers, at least not ones that are widely shared and, thus, the basis for concerted action.  All the more reason then that these questions about caring and mattering need to be at the forefront of discussions of schools, school reform, teaching and learning, and genuine politics.



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March 29th, 2018

The Interpreter System (7)

Let’s return to our diagram of a human being (or, “an enviro-human system”).  I want now to look just at […]

March 27th, 2018

Joint Actor Systems (6)

The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded […]

March 26th, 2018

A Human Being (5)

Last time, we raised the question: “What is ‘Jim”?” (substitute your own name for “Jim” here).  We think of ourselves […]

March 25th, 2018

Jim and Identities/Discourses (4)

When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things […]

March 10th, 2018

Alternates (3)

When we make a choice about ourselves often that choice is vastly undetermined by the information we have available.  Say […]

March 7th, 2018

Flourishing (2)

It makes little sense to see a human being (or any other animal) as an individual making free choices.  In […]

February 25th, 2018

Free Will (1)

Note that the question of free will simply does not arise for animals.  We think that, even for intelligent species, […]

October 29th, 2017

The Principle of Charity

October 8th, 2017

Character Education

Recently, the College of Education at Arizona State University—where I work— received funding from the Kern Family Foundation to make […]

June 15th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 6 (The End)

What killed people’s sense of mattering was the growth of very high levels of inequality.  What caused such high levels […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 5

Many of us tend to think of history as a march forward and upward. So, we tend to interpret the […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 4

The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 […]

June 12th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 3

Today, we have among the highest levels of inequality we have ever had.  Drug addiction, environmental degradation, flows of climate […]

June 11th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 2

The British economist John Maynard Keynes and “Keynesian Economics” were foundational to the Bretton Woods Agreement and to the world […]

June 10th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 1

Though neo-liberalism is the “usual suspect” for the miseries of our institutions and society, it is not nearly as relevant […]

May 30th, 2017

Main Points from My New Book

Teaching, Learning, Literary in our High-Risk, High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human (Teachers College Press, 2017). Ignorance We humans […]

April 17th, 2017

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 10 The End

Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared […]

April 15th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 9 Interpretation

Goodwill.  What could possibly encourage people in a fractured and inequitable world to have goodwill?  I, for one, do not […]

April 14th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 8 An Example

I want now to give an example of two different frameworks that certainly appear incommensurable.  My purpose here is make […]

April 12th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 7 Discussion

We are at a critical juncture now in our attempt to understand why frameworks can cause us humans such grief.  […]