Gregory Rodriguez recent op-ed in the LA Times is an interesting – and rather controversial – answer to the issue of civility. He raises some important questions about the meaning of civics – especially when it comes to education. Describing a recent meeting he participated in that sought to “revive and reinvent civics in the U.S.” He notes a problem of definition:
For some, it was simply about the teaching of how government works. For others, it was mainly about civility. And for a third group, into which I fell, it was about something more meaningful and demanding. Kristen Cambell of the National Council on Citizenship, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering civic engagement, was also in that last group. “Successful civic engagement,” she told me, “is all about capturing and harnessing empathy. Ultimately, we’re talking about wanting people to care for their neighbors, communities, their country.”
Rodruguez challenges the idea that increased civic engagement will itself counter the polarizing and uncivil political climate:
In order to change today’s gridlocked public dialogue, then, we need to find ways to encourage empathy — double-mindedness — on a broad scale. History has shown us that a democracy with sufficient moral engagement can thrive even when political engagement is low. (Think of Switzerland, which has lower voter turnout than its neighbors yet has enjoyed decade after decade of peaceful prosperity. But a democracy without sufficient moral engagement can easily dissolve even when political engagement is high. (Think of Venezuela, where high voter turnout — as much as 75% — has failed to halt a steady descent toward one-man rule.)
He raises the possibility that the question of a “better self” may be as important for us as it was for Matthew Arnold:
Today, the idea that the acquisition of culture builds moral character is viewed as quaint — even elitist. But as British philosopher John Armstrong writes in his new book “In Search of Civilization,” the real task of art is to “shape and direct our longings, to show us what is noble and important.”
You can read more and join the discussion here.
H/T to Sarah Mirembe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy MPP Candidate ’16 for bringing this article to our attention!