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Ciboski: The Study Of Democracy


Recent reports indicate some Kansas legislators are considering a measure that would require all high school students to pass a civics examination to graduate. This exam is said to be comparable to what is required of those who want to become naturalized United States citizens.

I believe such an examination would not be a sufficient condition for making a person a good citizen of our democracy.

Instead, I would propose an entire course on what democracy is all about, as well as thorough study of each of the Articles of the U.S. Constitution.

In the study of democracy, students would learn about where and how democracy developed, and what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for a large-scale democracy such as ours to be successful. The late, great political scientist Robert Dahl wrote an outstanding work for exactly this purpose, titled On Democracy. In it, Dahl discusses the underlying conditions for a democracy, and discusses the significance of each condition. Those conditions include free, fair, and frequent elections; freedom of expression; associational autonomy, which allows citizens to form independent organizations and political groups; inclusive citizenship; alternative information sources, although not the kind of so-called alternative facts promoted by the Trump administration; a modern market economy and society; control of the police and military by elected officials; and democratic beliefs and political culture.

While current civics and government classes are beneficial, a specific study of these and other conditions necessary for a healthy democracy would go much further toward producing responsible and informed citizens and voters than a required examination would do.

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.