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Opinion | Education resentment thrives, let’s raise Michigan’s civics IQ

Some people resent educated people and Michiganders are no exception. Education isn’t something that only comes from going to college, but is a lifelong obligation of everyone. In many cases it’s the result of people reading, studying, having intellectual curiosity and putting two and two together to add up to four.

Phillip Robinson headshot
Phillip Robinson is a retired veterinarian in northern Michigan, a graduate of Michigan State University and the author of three books. (Courtesy photo)

My late father never went to college and neither did my mother. Growing up in Michigan, I knew him as an avid reader of history, current events and inquisitive about leaders who made a difference in the world.

As a Michigan UAW union leader and through his civil rights activism I could see that he put that information together to help understand the world around him and the people who were disadvantaged, economically and politically.

Because he had an ability to integrate his self-education and experience, he managed to gain the respect of many leaders in government, business and in social justice movements. Because of his good judgment and effectiveness, he was a delegate to several Democratic Party national conventions, was appointed by Gov. George Romney to Michigan’s first Civil Rights Commission and was a founding trustee of Grand Valley State University. He was the only founding trustee at GVSU without a college degree.

The bottom line is that shortcomings in a person’s formal education don’t have to limit all possibilities for positively contributing to society. One fundamental ingredient is the ability to look beyond self-interest and understand how things are affecting your fellow citizens. How about giving up a little time from nonstop sports, hobbies and entertainment to ask yourself where you fit into the big picture, and whether you are here to maximize your affluency or to actually justify your existence? If nothing else, put in enough effort to become an informed voter instead of settling for being a sheep in the herd.

If you bring nothing to the table, what’s the purpose of being here, except to seek your own pleasure? There are several words for that behavior. Look for a niche somewhere between Gandhi and Donald Trump. You don’t have to save the world — just contribute to making it a better place.

Among the current wave of hard-core politicians are those who seek to diminish the contributions of scientists, medical researchers, teachers and other experts and leaders who they have political differences with. This anti-intellectual, anti-education trend is dragging heavily on the resolution of important problems involving climate change, gun violence, pollution and pandemics. The very people who we most need to rely upon are being put down as sinister people. They are vilified and investigated. They are depicted as nasty people who should be scorned and even jailed – people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Those who fear credible, competent people often push back with intimidation, bullying and violence in attempts to set public examples of what can come to those who speak out and demand the truth. Michigan is no stranger to threats to democratically elected officials. For some people the truth is an obstacle to their objectives, which involve undemocratic control of power and resources.

We need to find ways to prevent bad actors from using social media resources and the tools of government itself to sabotage democracy. We need educated people, informed people and people with social consciences. 

Many of these characteristics don’t naturally inhabit our DNA, but require community efforts that convincingly demonstrate the value of respect and cooperation. This takes ethical thinking to make them part of our character and actions. Our media and press need to reinforce and provide the public with clear discussions about how this country was designed to foster an educated public. Our civics IQ as a population is perilously low.

We aren’t there yet as a successful democracy and we need to stop electing people for single issue causes who don’t possess the desire to promote constructive democratic values. The future of liberal democracy is literally at stake.

Wikipedia provides the following definition: Liberal democracy emphasizes the separation of powers, an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. Multi-party systems with at least two persistent, viable political parties are characteristic of liberal democracies.

Michigan and our federal government’s success depend on revering those essential characteristics. It’s more important than ever to elect responsible, responsive adults to public office in order to course-correct our democracy through the dangerous waters that we are now navigating.

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