In an op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe, Lou Ureneck takes to task the sorry state of modern-day civic affairs. He begins by describing Jefferson, in France in 1787, writing to fellow Virginian Edward Carrington while pondering "the problems of government that guaranteed freedom and ensured the people’s well-being" in the aftermath of Shays' Rebellion.
“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people [wrote Jefferson to Carrington] is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.’’
The letter is remarkable for the faith it expresses in national literacy, the press and public opinion. From today’s vantage, we can only wonder what has gone wrong. For those of us who have lived our lives in either journalism or education, there needs to be serious self-examination of our methods and results.
What accounts for the sorry state of the nation’s civic health and to what extent do the better-or-worse evolution of the media and education share in the problem? I tilt the blame in that direction because our entire system of government rests on the presumption that people with good information make good choices about their governance. To assert otherwise undermines the argument for democratic government.