Participating in our Democracy

A Perceptual Problem

As The Center for American Progress (CAP) points out, the most recent election has highlighted a perceptual problem in America that only the republicans have so far identified and benefitted from: the diversity of America threatens a shrinking white population’s economic progress. But the election results somewhat mask a real problem underlying the election’s story: the real dissatisfaction experienced by families in America who are not experiencing economic growth.


CAP’s analysis of the last election identifies voter dissatisfaction has increased in white noncollege-educated citizens. The role of education in a democracy is not to prevent dissatisfaction, but to increase the chances for every educated citizen to participate in the democracy to their satisfaction. This includes voicing dissatisfaction especially about jobs. But most importantly it should include solving the lack of access to a sustainable set of economic growth opportunities such as going to college and preparing all workers regardless of education to better participate in our economy. This is why the election’s outcome did not solve the underlying problem that drove the election results: economic growth as experienced by noncollege-educated families in republican-won counties has stalled.

Economic Growth

The increase in voter dissatisfaction is linked to and driven by the loss of jobs, job options, and wage growth. The mis-perception that white family economic growth is threatened by diversity encroachment can be addressed by promoting all racial groups as needing and deserving the protection of their civil rights to participate in the American economy, says CAP. And the way to do that says the Center for American Progress is to build a Marshall Plan for jobs and community investment.

Domestic Marshall Plan

The Center for American Progress quotes economists as saying that “the large fall in the absolute number of manufacturing jobs is due to a sharp increase in trade competition.” This would explain why the solution to this issue is not based in racially divides so much as they are based in structural issues like reduced bargaining power, technical change, globalization and the Great Recession. The CAP proposes a Marshall Plan that would include a broadened class of infrastructure—not just public employment, roads and bridges—but also human capital projects like improved schools, a complete set of pre-schools, child-care centers and after-school options.

Invest in K-12 Schools

The Center for American Progress estimates that investing 50 billion each year for 10 years would bring the entire system Pre-K through 12th grade up to 21st century standards. But I would add one more investment—Teachers. Teachers need the professional training we already have in place for some teachers—the investment in their ability to teach every child well. The reduction in outside tests and the increase in diagnostic testing would re-direct teacher instruction from curriculum coverage to cognitive support for integrating new forms of learning, analogous thinking and expanding student capacity to learn how to learn. This is the new brain we want to educate so that when it joins the economic growth economy it can fully participate in our democracy.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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