1619, Roadmap to Democracy, teaching history

No doubt this is well-trod ground, going by the name no doubt of the inquiry method or some such. It is frequently used by teachers of all subjects, most famously by the man I love to hate, Ben Stein, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Used unimaginatively, it is a boring as Stein. Used in a probing way, it reveals much, both of history and of students’ thinking.

And that is just the problem with it: it probes. Imagine a stout figure with close-set eyes, all frowned up, the scowl of paranoia most evident, and you see the face of the opposition. Opposition to any questioning of doctrinal views, to wondering what could be, to wandering off the beaten path of doctrinal conformity, to stepping on the niceties of social hierarchies. These figures show up at school board meetings and in principals’ offices (with a good principal and well-run school, never in a teacher’s room without permission). They are motivated by religion, first and foremost, and by elementary school understanding of history, economics, patriotism and human motivation. Punishment is the great motivator, hate the normal response to incomprehension. As an evangelical pastor in Kentucky said recently, folks around here do not like anything strange or new and go with the first thing they hear about it and never deviate.

Never deviate. That is the watermark of the opposition to inquiry. Inquiry invites thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness invites questioning, doubt, wavering from the One True Way.

However, if we start with the basics, we can see how well basic questions work. For instance, the Constitution starts with We the People. Who is We? Who constitutes the people? Does everyone living on the same land constitute the people or are there distinctions? How might we sort these people out? In a democracy, the people vote, so who votes, i.e. what qualifies a person to vote? Is it height? Age? Sex aka gender? Political persuasion? National origin? Which of these do not apply to voting? Which ones used to apply? Why?

And that ‘why?’ is the match to the fuse.

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