But if we’re interested in preparing kids to be active participants in a democracy, we must focus not only on what they know but on what they’re inclined to do. And the desire to participate depends on the opportunity afforded them while they’re young. In plain language, the way children learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions. And not by memorizing the names of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
It’s odd, therefore, as educator Shelley Berman once observed, that “we teach reading, writing, and math by having students do them, but we teach democracy by lecture.” In fact, it’s not only odd – it’s counterproductive. Factual knowledge may or may not be necessary for meaningful citizenship, but it surely isn’t sufficient.