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Democracy thrives on education and independence born of critical thinking

By Richard Dubanoski

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Democracy is a complex work in progress, with education playing a significant role in preparing students to become full participants in the life of our democratic society.

Education prepares students by providing a broad knowledge base, honing intellectual and practical skills, teaching the importance of social and personal responsibility, and developing a love of lifelong learning.

To become responsible citizens, students must have command of a wide range of knowledge to understand the complexity of an ever-changing world. This background allows students to discover new perspectives on issues and remain open to new, strange ideas.

As the mind opens, students will also start to question their own beliefs, even long-held ones. With a firm base of knowledge and an open mind, students will become better informed citizens who will add valued insights on issues facing the community.

Equally important, if knowledge is power, then informed students will become empowered citizens, an important hallmark of a democratic society.

There are a number of skills that students need to become valued members of a democratic society. Critical thinking is one of these skills. It enables students to think for themselves rather than depending solely on authority figures.

Critical thinking is a way of analyzing an issue in a more logical and reasoned way. It is this skill that will assist citizens to make wise and humane decisions when faced with a host of competing solutions to a community problem. It is not uncommon in community discussions to have a mixture of fact and fiction, logic and illogic. Critical analysis helps to sort this mixture.

Another outcome of critical thinking is the realization that, at times, asking the insightful question is more important than offering the correct answer. This is important in community debates when citizens should question and challenge authority.

Students also must stretch their minds, be creative. One way is to offer students opportunities to experiment and integrate old ideas with new ones. This is an approach that can be used to find innovative solutions to contemporary problems.

Students need practical skills in their tool kit, too. Communication is one of these skills. It is the eloquent oral or written presentation, based on facts and common values, that often serves as a catalyst for positive change in a community.

Education in a democratic society should ensure that students develop a profound sense of social and personal responsibility. Through course material and hands-on experiences, students learn to appreciate the importance of working toward common goals and the value of caring for their community.

Students must be taught to see beyond their own self interest. The more important calling of a citizen in a democratic society is to work toward the common good, to work toward unity, while respecting different views and values.

As a nation, we are losing our sense of personal responsibility. We place blame on others as an answer for our own mistakes. Students must learn not only to take pride in their accomplishments but also to be accountable for their errors.

Finally, education must prepare students to become lifelong learners. It is an approach to life that embraces the joy of discovery, the love of creation and the synthesis of new information. It is the lifelong learner who is continually asking questions and seeking answers. They are curious, open to new ideas, able to think critically and examine values wisely.

Citizens who are lifelong learners will be leaders who will guide their community to meet the challenges of an ever-changing, complex world. They will also see the opportunities that exist for their community in these changes and complexities. These citizens will help to define the future of the community and, more importantly, keep our democracy strong and vital.

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