Education — Defense from tyranny

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, moderate, or any other label to describe your general political thinking, it is clear that our country is currently divided along party lines.

While this is certainly not new, the divide is perhaps farther apart — and fought with more venom and vengeance — than it has been in quite some time.

Policy opinions are being determined based on headlines and hyperbole with few in our country taking time to research the issues, gather actual data, and explore potential solutions. Instead, the leadership on any issue fires up their base with brash statements, crude attacks, clever (and rude) name calling and — frankly — lies. 

If you look at history (and modern dictatorships), these same tactics were used to gain and remain in power.

Counting on the population’s disinterest in research, desire for quick solutions, and propensity to want to blame someone for the ills of the country (and their lives), such tactics have been successful time and time again in keeping the people ill-informed, fired-up, and irrational.

By discrediting anyone who speaks against proposed policies or ideas — rather than discussing the merits of one’s thinking, coupled with the constant proclamation that the leader has all of the answers and everyone else is lying to the people — a totalitarian form of governing emerges. 

Look at our country. What is happening? Where is the debate and discussion about issues that are very important for public policy? Where is the balance of ideas that lead to good, well thought out decisions? Where is the respect for those who have a difference of opinion? Where is the demand for leaders to use data to support their positions? Where is the outrage when leaders are caught making false statements to deceive their followers into reaching a conclusion that only serves to elevate the party? The United States was built on a foundation of facts, truths, and ideals to create a great society; we must honor that tradition. 

Can we return to those values?

I believe that we can.

At Fulton-Montgomery Community College, as in all higher education, we strive to teach students to think about what is being said by anyone. We don’t teach what to think, but rather how to think and encourage students to apply those skills. Does it make sense? Are there data to support statements? Does the conclusion being presented follow a logical path through facts? Are the solutions too simple for complex problems with little explanation? 

We must all dedicate ourselves to learning about issues important to us and to research the facts. We cannot “cherry pick” data or opinions that only support a single point of view. We must cast a broad net to gather information about issues and reach valid conclusions. We must hold elected officials accountable to use these skills when developing policy and presenting ideas that will address big issues. We must educate students and children that tyrants will try to deceive them with brash statements, lies, and tactics that undermine the foundation of our systems of government in order to gain power. We cannot allow that to happen. 

Higher education prepares people for work in a high-tech economy. Equally as important, it prepares citizens to respect and protect our society through critical thinking. Too often the population of any number of countries followed a leader who spoke to their fears and anger instead of to their minds. Education raises us above the effects of such deceitful and dangerous tactics. Whatever your political persuasion, these skills are needed to keep America great.

Dustin Swanger is president of FMCC.

By Kerry Minor

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