Skip to content

The politics of public  education in U.S. politics


Practical Politics 

Through the 1970’s in the U.S., continuing a trend made popular during the years of WWII and the Cold War, American public education maintained a strong interest in educating youth on what American democracy meant and how to retain it. There was a strong U.S.A. Democracy against Communism thrust which maintained the idea that educated Americans needed to be well informed about their system of government and why it was the best of all the rest.

Though there are still a few state programs maintaining this thrust in the U.S., most Americans now get a much-watered down program of American politics—usually called civics—through public education. That lack of focus has contributed to an abysmal lack of knowledge by Americans of the political system they live with and its differences with other systems in the world.

Thus, currently there are many Americans who think the recent elections in Russia represent a democratic government in that country, and that American democracy is in no danger of evaporating during or immediately after the 2024 presidential election. Not being forewarned—because of the poverty of political studies in American public education—means the U.S. could lose its dependency on democracy almost overnight. 

A recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that barely 26% of Americans could even identify all three branches of the U.S. government correctly, and a recently elected U.S. Senator just demonstrated during his first week on the job that he couldn’t either. 

The  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam regularly given to high school seniors has consistently shown a 2.64 rating out of 6 among American high schoolers, which is essentially a failing grade.

To say that American democracy is in serious trouble currently is an understatement. When we do not publicly educate our youth to positively care about the forms of government and acceptable rules of engagement that have sustained us, we will surely lose our way.

Here are some basic political science briefs:

1.  Autocracy is the rulership of a society by a single individual who is either  elected, selected, or who seizes and maintains authority through strong-arm tactics. Dictatorship is a form of autocracy.

2.  Oligarchy is rulership by a small committee that was put in place in some earlier time and has been maintained. There have been councils of elders, secret societies, juntas, various elite associations, etc., who fit this definition.

3.  Monarchies are leaders of societies based on family inheritance of authority and the credibility to be in charge. Monarchies are normally known by kings, queens, princes, and other such names.

4.  Theocracies are the rulership by religious bodies over both spiritual and secular affairs. In other words, it is the rulership that occurs when the church and the state are the same.

5.  Democracies are rulership and authority chosen by those who are to be ruled—or stated another way, government chosen by those who are governed. There are at least five distinct forms of democracy—Parliamentary Democracy, which is maintained by a legislative body whose members have been elected to represent the interests of territorial constituents (2) Constitutional democracies, which are governments based on a written document that establishes the primary rules and regulations for a society, and that is continually reapproved by that society through voting. (3) Republican democracies, which are governments based on the regular election of representatives to handle the interests of the constituency that does the electing. (4) Indirect democracies, which are representations based on the elections of proxy constituents to handle the affairs of the electors. (5) Direct Democracy, which is based on constituents handling their own political interests rather than having those interests handled by others.

The U.S. is currently a combination of numbers three and four.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.