I usually don’t argue semantics, but in this case, it makes all the difference.
Alpine School District in Utah has recently witnessed a heated debate about a word in the district’s mission statement. The statement includes the phrase “Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy.”
Concerned parents worry about the use of the word “democracy” in the mission statement. These parents rightly argue that our nation is not a democracy, but, rather, a republic.
Parents allege this terminology is being used to pursue some sort of socialist agenda.
While it is admirable to want our students to receive the best and most accurate interpretation of our nation’s history, these conservative parents — some of whom are represented by Utah’s Republic, a group that believes in a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution — are mainly concerned with upholding its own anti-progressive agenda.
“The Constitution guarantees every state a ‘republican form of government.’ Karl Marx said, ‘Democracy is the road to socialism,’” Oak Norton, the founder of Utah’s Republic, said. “A true democracy relies solely on majority rule and inevitably devolves into anarchy, which then sprouts socialist dictators.”
These parents object to the use of the word “democracy” because they fear democracy will lead to socialism in America.
“There seems to be a segment of the population who is worried not just about being technically precise on these words … but somehow interprets a move to democracy as some type of a progressive movement that needs to be stopped,” Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said.
The issue here is one of petty political spin. However, we should look at these parents’ concerns and at the bigger picture. Our institutional history, as taught to us in public schools, teaches us to be complacent and paints a romantic view of the democracy and direct elections we enjoy in America. This education is inaccurate and I agree with changing the mission statement to reflect the fact that our nation is a republic, but for different reasons.
While a term in a mission statement itself will have little impact on the knowledge of the students, there is an issue with representing our nation as a democracy in schools. Falsely deeming our nation a democracy demonstrates the tendency of schools to project a false, glorified image of our nation’s governance.
Presenting our nation to impressionable youth as a democracy actually helps conservatives because it keeps further democratic aspirations at a minimum.
This inaccurate interpretation of our governmental structure is something conservatives should support because it makes people less critical of our current republic.
America is far more anti-democratic than people believe, both at the time of its founding and today.
While you cannot present a completely objective view of history, you can attempt to cover all the facts impartially. The reality is our founding fathers were not heroic champions who gave power to the people.
Since our founding, American citizens have frequently fought against the founders for more democratic policies, such as women’s suffrage and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This can be a troubling reality to confront because we like to think we are all in control of our own political course, at least by means of voting. However, our seemingly democratic system of voting is questionable.
There are people who acknowledge the less-than-democratic structure of our nation and want to keep it that way. They approve of the lack of direct democracy and the control of the government by the wealthy.
The false portrayal of our nation as a democracy hurts liberals and helps conservatives such as those in Utah because it makes the country appear to already be highly democratic when in fact, it is not.
We are taught that we already live in a democracy. Some people believe that we have the best model of government. We need to break down these false perceptions and teach the truth.
Knowledge itself is power, which is precisely what was meant by the mission statement in the first place. Educated citizens are important for a developed and advancing society, whether you deem it a democracy or a republic.
Norton is right about a true democracy giving political power to the people.
To those similar to Norton who fear a progressive or socialist uprising, I would say, there is nothing wrong with more direct democracy if it springs from a better educated citizenry. And the better we educate our citizens, the more informed we will be when given more power in our decision making process.
—Sally Schilling is a political science senior