A Thanksgiving Reflection on Democracy and Those Who Empower Us to Participate

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays. I always enjoy having my two sons and their families at home with me and my wife as we share the traditional Thanksgiving meal. But that is not the only reason I appreciate Thanksgiving. While the food is always fantastic, the real reason Thanksgiving is special is that it allows me time to reflect and give thanks.

This year, fresh on the heels of the presidential election, I am finding myself reflecting quite a bit on the democratic process. I, for one, am very thankful that I live in a country that believes in the democratic process, which is designed to prohibit the government from excluding the people. Each citizen in a democratic society has a voice in the decisions that affect them and their loved ones.

Watching democracy in action on November 6th was inspiring and it reminded me exactly how important our work in education is. In order for each voter to make an informed decision and to speak up about decisions that affect them, they must be educated in both basic and complex ways. Rudimentary skills that we were taught in elementary school, such as reading comprehension, comparison skills, and decision-making, come into play. Beyond the basics, voters must use complex skills and ideas, such as one’s respect for rights and freedoms of the individual or the ability to consider ideas without holding them as a belief. Democracy is really education in action.

In addition to producing an informed voter population, education promotes a sense of responsibility. It helps to provide our citizens with the upward mobility necessary to solve critical problems in our society like poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse. An informed voter public is crucial to the success of our country and sustaining our democratic process.

I am always inspired at the polls when I look around and see all kinds of people exercising their education to participate in the democratic process. Last Tuesday, I stood in line to vote alongside bus drivers, lawyers, nurses, graphic designers, and waitresses; each of them was compelled by a sense of responsibility to one another and the democratic process.

Our education system is not perfect and much must be done to right some of the inequalities inherent in our system. But hard working administrators and teachers are the underpinnings of a society that upholds the virtues of the democratic process. I am so thankful for them, and I am thankful for the teachers and education leaders that work tirelessly every day to teach our society skills they need to participate in the democratic process.

Dr. Gene R. Carter is a veteran educator with experience as a private and public school teacher, public school administrator, superintendent of schools, and university professor. Before joining ASCD in 1992, Dr. Carter served for nine years as the superintendent of schools in Norfolk, Va., where he succeeded in reducing the dropout rate, built partnership programs with the private sector, implemented a districtwide school improvement program, established an early education center for 3-year-olds and their parents, and implemented a regional scholarship foundation for public school students. He has written numerous articles and book chapters concentrating on educational issues and topics and is the coauthor of "The American School Superintendent: Leading in an Age of Pressure" (Jossey-Bass Inc., 1997).