How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning? But before this question can be answered, we must first consider other questions:
1. Should schools play a role in having an informed citizenry that can apply reasoning to political issues?
Decades ago a consensus formed that schools do play this role in our society. This is reflected in part through the school curriculum, which includes courses on government and history. Character education programs also often include good citizenship as one of their important principles. In 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:
“. . . remember that on the public school largely depends the success or the failure of our great experiment in government “by the people, for the people.”
2. Do we know how to provide students with the reasoning skills needed to tackle complex political issues?
An abundance of teaching strategies are available for teachers to guide their students to reason about significant topics.
- Model our own reasoning
- Review and discuss case studies
- Require reasoned position papers
- Analyze statements by candidates and their surrogates
I wonder what percentage of teachers in schools employ these approaches as opposed to the all too familiar lecture method.
3. If we do provide students with these skills and attitudes, how can this be sustained into adulthood?
Maybe you have some ideas about this question. I would love to hear them. You can post them in the Comment section.
I believe that through more engaged types of learning, and encouraging students to follow what’s happening in the world, we can get them to ‘feel in their bones’, why our founding documents are so special. They need to understand that our constitution is not self-sustaining; that it lives through the lives of women and men who cherish it’s basic principles. And that emotion detached from reason will lead to chaos and the destruction of our institutions.
4. Should all emotions be taken out of political decisions?
Even if we thought it desirable, it would be impossible. We are human beings after all; with both rational and emotional sides. Intuition and feelings about candidates will always play, and should play a role in evaluating them. Students should know this and maybe even learn to further develop their intuitive skills.
But if we let our emotions rule, we become prisoners to them. They rule us, rather than the other way around. White hot emotion blinds us to what is right and can lead to mob rule (a persistent fear of the Founders), placing our democracy in danger. Just like our government has checks and balances, our emotions need to be checked by our rational side.
Now back to the original question: How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning?
I believe that educators are obligated to help sustain our nation’s values, principles and key institutions. If most of the electorate makes decisions based upon emotional responses, rather than primarily through rational thought, educators have a duty to assist in correcting this imbalance.
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