Education, the 2016 Election, and the Future

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Posted in: Education

There is a deep connection between education and a successful, well-run representative democracy. Voters need significant education to be able to judge the people to whom they delegate the power to make governing decisions and to assess how their governing system is operating. Without adequate education generally and specifically about representative democracy, the system itself is at risk.

This is one reason that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, after she retired from the Supreme Court, dedicated time and resources to establish www.icivics.org, which is dedicated to providing engaging content about the federal government and especially the courts to junior high and high school students. It is also why attorneys have worked together to establish the James Otis Lecture Series, which brings leading scholars together to debate current issues before groups of high school students. And those are just two of the many offerings seeking to fill a perceived gap in civics and government education across the United States.

The Constitution’s Framers labored to construct a constitutional system that would deter abuses of power and keep elected representatives on the road to serving the public (rather than themselves). The Constitution is filled with checks and balances and limits on the exercise of power generally. The Framers were aware of their limitations, however, and knew full well that humans would try to drive the governing system off of its track in order to serve themselves. In that era, after a failed Articles of Confederation, the last thing they believed was that they could concoct a foolproof, perfect system that would inevitably serve the public good. Rather, this system would need careful attention to ensure that the public is being served. The task they left to later generations was to identify when the system goes off the rails. When that happens it is that generation’s obligation to bring the system back to accountability, or risk letting the system devolve into one that is both unaccountable and unworkable. While there are constitutional amendments that could increase accountability and take out some of the chicanery that goes into lawmaking, as Professor David Schoenbrod has pointed out repeatedly in his visionary work, the people have been the primary means by which the United States has righted itself.

The most potent weapon the people have is the ballot box. One of the more interesting developments in the 2016 election cycle is that there is an educational divide among voters. Hillary Clinton is significantly ahead of Donald Trump among college-educated voters, while Trump is more appealing to white, less educated voters.

She is also significantly ahead generally, and with millennials.

Trump, apparently tailoring his message to his less educated base, has made statements that indicate he need not respect the Framers’ governing system, e.g., saying he would not concede if he lost the election. But if he won the election, he would happily accept the result of the system. His apparent inclination to respect the system according to the result is precisely the type of power grab the Framers rightly feared and sought to deter. He also has implied that his supporters could or should use guns against Hillary Clinton, his rival. Again, he is advocating dealings with the government that go beyond the constitutional system into the fields of anarchy and ipse dixit power. His statements would have been the stuff of the Framers’ nightmares.

Why are white, uneducated voters willing to vote for Trump? Job unhappiness to be sure, but I would posit that it is also because they have not been adequately educated to understand just how dangerous a President Trump would be to the Constitution. I would further posit that the failure of their education is attributable to the country as a whole for failing to ensure that every student is adequately educated, in particular regarding the government.

If Trump has done anything for the United States in this election, he has brought to center stage the struggles and unhappiness of under-educated citizens. There should not be an educational divide in the United States. Every child deserves a full education through high school and then realistic opportunities by means of a technical education or a college education.

The focus on improving educational levels for all of our sakes applies to all students really, not just those at risk of being severely undereducated. In fact, there are strong arguments to augment the school day and/or school year because even our top students are not the best in the world. This election cycle makes clear that we no longer can afford to leave education off the table for millions of children.

The Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder blithely reasoned that letting the Amish take their children out of high school several years early posed no threat to the system of representative democracy. The Court was wrong then but even more wrong now when there is so much more to learn and master to be a fully functioning citizen in this complicated, tech and data-heavy era. The religious entities that embrace the reasoning of Yoder that religion should trump minimum education requirements are not just harming their own children, as I discuss here, but also the rest of us. The problem of educational neglect is not limited to religious entities, however. There are whole states that are simply not making quality education a high enough priority. Where Trump does lead, it is in states that occupy those lower rungs on the education ladder, like Alabama.

The time has come to be frank about the educational divide and to solve it. Not only does our economic future depend on it, but so does the future of our very democracy.

  • Karen Phinney Kirkpatrick

    Wise, sage advice. Without a strong foundation one can not expect much from the roof overhead. I was fortunate enough to receive a good civics education in elementary, high school and college. However, I have discovered when trying to engage my peers or others who do not possess same, I might as well be speaking gibberish. It has been frustrating and frightening. Here is to charting a more educated future in government and civics for our youth and all who are willing to learn as it is never too late to acquire knowledge.

  • Tony Dilemma

    Shame on you; and shame on “Verdict” for publishing your trash. Using a fallacy: “he would not concede if he lost the election” as the basis for an article published on a legal commentary forum is indicative of the Left’s willingness to ignore and distort any “inconvenient truth.” If articles like yours are what we should expect from an “educated” electorate, I choose to remain blissful and ignorant.

    Trump did not say that he would not accept the election result if he lost. He said, “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense.” That is the exact quote from the debate. You might have bothered to look it up.

    Reserving his right to question or dispute the election result is exactly the type of thing that the framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. They clearly distrusted governments and created checks and balances to prevent our government from abusing the people, not the other way around.

    The hypocrisy of the left never cease to amaze me. When they are the ones questioning election results, they justify it as their patriotic duty. Case in point –even today, many progressives remain insistent that the
    2000 presidential election wrongly declared George W. Bush President of the United States. See:
    salon.com/2015/12/19/george_w_bush_vs_al_gore_15_years_later_we_really_did_inaugurate_the_wrong_guy/

    Further, if you honestly fear for the Constitution, then you should vote for Trump — because if left to the Left, there will be little left of it. “As Rexford Tugwell, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trusters and an open admirer of Stalin’s Soviet system, groused, “The Constitution was a negative document, meant mostly to protect citizens from their government.”” (James Bovard, “The Folly of Blindly Trusting the Government,” March 1, 2010, FFF.org).

    • Rafael Ortiz Sanoguet

      Tony, you need to calm down and educate yourself.

  • Frank Willa

    Professor, thank you for your perception. The conservative domination of our politics relies on fear and ignorance. In my view Trump is the embodiment of the majority of republicans/conservatives. The propaganda and policies of the last 35 years have brought about a large number who think as he thinks. The dogma relies on stereotypes, cliches, and prejudice; all of which require ignorance. Please continue to speak out as you do.

  • Michael

    Simple question. Why are uneducated minorities voting for Clinton? Would you also consider this an educational issue?

  • SSE

    Get your heads out if your behinds! The debt is equal to the GDP. Do you understand the implications? White men with no college have no chance at a job with a future and it is becoming that way for everyone. How many servers have four year degrees? Lots. You claim that our democracy is threatened by Trump, but it is Clinton who has allowed access to all secrets she had on her devices as Secretary of State to any enemy. Further, she sells jobs to other countries and no one investigates or cares if there is such a story appearing. Our country will be broke and it will be from education-proud liberals who are too self assured to look at what is actually happening to the country. You don’t care that many in the country have no place in the economy, that many states are overwhelmed by immigrants. Once the entire economy starts teetering, you will go into denial. Trump is surely not my top ideal of a candidate, but he would make an actual leader for the country as opposed to Clinton who is a lying parasite. How did the Clintons make so much money since Bill left office? You just want to sit and feel smug assurance in your politics. You hide from the horrifying reality of the Clintons, who they actually are and what they do to our country and the way work governments here and abroad. Look up how many Haitians were still living under tarps since 2010 until the recent hurricane. The Clintons steal from the poorest to the richest.

  • njout

    I wonder if the elitist snob that wrote this drivel could look beyond her nose and realize that it is possible the well educated have not done such a great job at running things a maybe it is time for a change. The writer may also stop trying to degrade those of us that have not achieved this academic success and realize that the plumber, electrician, mechanic, material handler, or service person is what makes their world continue to run.

  • tofubob

    I think the author’s conclusion is wrong because she equates “educated” with well informed. Any survey of recent college graduates reveals an appalling lack of basic knowledge of history. See example from Yahoo article below.
    The take over of educational establishment by the hard left is almost complete. The news media is mostly converted as well, as illustrated by the out-right collusion between reporters and editors with the presidential campaigns of Barrack Obama and Hillary. This is not conservative raving, but has been openly discussed by the participants (as well as Wikileak revealed).
    The author is both a victim and a perpertrator of a propaganda campaign to make socialist ideals and progressive tenants the only allowable truth.

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/23106718-a6d4-3f18-b15b-a36751615c2e/most-college-students-believe.html

  • Brandi Gurdak

    This is one of the dumbest things I have read. First off, we dont live in a representative democracy, we live in a Constitutional Republic! If the DNC has their way, we will be a Globalist country, not an American one! Id like to see the actual facts showing me uneducated people are voting for Trump. Its known that the poverty stricken, uneducated, illegal and minorities vote DNC because they are promised more from them. Working class people are the majority votes for the RNC and Green parties. I do believe Oliver just did a piece on educational divide in this country and it wasnt the South he said lacked it. It was good Ol Liberal NY! If you want to talk about better education for all, why dont you start with whos in charge now and why funding is still being cut? Better yet, look into Common Core, which is ruining education. I know because I have talked to several teachers who are telling me its required but dont have either the training, supplies or understanding of it. These are the people teaching giving my children their education, tell me again how the DNC has helped my childs education in the last 8 years, besides reducing the quality of food being served to them!?

  • Mr. Poopy Butthole

    What a garbage article.
    Marci A. Hamilton, you are a pathetic hack of a writer.

  • Catherine Edwin

    Marci Hamilton, I have reached a higher level of formal education than you have and I’m annoyed by your uninformed claim that only uneducated people vote for Trump. I am an adult woman with a graduate degree, an English MA, who is also currently pursuing a PhD. My area of focus? African American literature by women. I am voting for Trump because I did my research. I don’t appreciate your petty journalism and grossly biased claims. Please do your job by doing your own research, instead of making wide, uneducated claims about Trump voters. I’m offended by this kind of idiocy.