A kind of collective madness rules in our public dialogue, which, ultimately, is inhibiting constructive legislative problem-solving. In recent decades, the quality of news has degenerated—more shallow, more sensational, theatrical. Social media spreads fake news, and feeds outrage, demonization, and tribalism. The electorate is polarized to an unprecedented degree.
The vast majority of US citizens are not highly engaged with national politics and do not take the time to understand national issues. The main reason is that it is too much trouble. Given the irreversible trends in the news business, that does not seem likely to change. And even if improvements in journalism were somehow implemented, research shows that people will not learn much from news stories unless they already have some knowledge about the topic at hand.
It is not that citizens don't want to understand the issues. They want their government to take care of business, and many are turned off by the bullshit. Not understanding the underlying problems produces anxiety in them. But it is very difficult to find pertinent information and assess its objectivity. And information that is accessible is unsuitable for helping them learn, because it is too advanced, too dull, or lacks context.
At this point in the 21st century, though, we do have the means within our grasp to change all that.
Making a Direct Impact: Call for Academic Participation
Know The System is developing a powerful new citizen education resource. We are looking for patriots in Political Science, Public Policy, Journalism, Economics, and Sociology to step forward and use their knowledge to make a large, direct impact on our struggling democracy.
What we are doing is not easy: teaching busy, ordinary citizens—of all backgrounds—about national issues and political realities. But it is the unavoidable first step on the road to stopping political polarization and its crippling effects on governance.
Know The System is seeking Academic Advisors who will help shape the educational content. Interested professors and political experts are invited to think about the following question: “Given my expertise, my policy concerns, and my observations of today’s public dialogue... what is the one thing that I would like all voters to understand, that most currently do not?”
Contact Us. Let us tell you about our plan and show you a demonstration of our approach.
Big Picture: The World Today is Changing
Navigating these challenges has been difficult because of increasing political polarization. Each side publicly vilifies the other and makes reasonable discussion impossible.
Poisonous discourse prevails in the public sphere because ordinary citizens have difficulty evaluating it. They lack basic concepts about their government, economics, and the tricks of political rhetoric. Aside from some basic terminology and slogans, the Civics classes from their school days are forgotten, and anyway were never much help with the tough issues.
Meanwhile in our society, though, other changes and innovations have occurred, bringing fundamentally new possibilities. In particular, innovations in:
If these innovations are fully harnessed, it can transform the mentality of ordinary voters. When we give them "meat," and rapidly increase their understanding and discernment, the character of public dialogue will change. Many voters, certainly, will be skeptical or reluctant to participate, but their inertia will be overcome by making the experience fun, no-effort, and so personally satisfying that they'll want to show their friends.
Contact Us. Know The System is developing a new citizen education site that will launch in time for the 2020 national election season. We are searching for partners in this endeavor who are educators and scholars in fields such as Political Science, Public Policy, Journalism, Economics, and Sociology. People who are interested in making a tangible difference, who feel it should be possible to explain deep issues to any voter, and who share our vision of a democracy that works the way it is supposed to.
David Foster is the Executive Director of Know The System, Inc. Prior to Know The System, David was Chief Academic Officer at ExecOnline, a New York based provider of online education. He earned an MBA from U.C. Berkeley in 1986, and a Ph.D. in learning technology and cognitive science from Northwestern University in 1996. He subsequently led e-learning development at companies including Accenture, UNext, DeVry Online, and 2U.