Brexit. Trump. Recent events remind us that our communities sometimes need to cope, as a matter of urgency, with important threats that require an immediate response.
In the case of Brexit, the world woke up with a hangover. Too late.
Time will tell what will happen at the American elections. Trump? It’s the stroke of midnight. Speeches, columns, ads, demonstrations. Votes, we hope. Every effort has been made, and rightly so, by many Americans to avoid the billionaire’s election.
However, this is an inadequate way of dealing with our society’s issues. Right now, the U.S. is the college student finishing a semester’s worth of work in one all-nighter.
Author Stephen R. Covey shows us that personal well-being relies on the orderly management of our activities according to two variables: their urgency and their importance. Urgent situations are generally visible and require immediate attention. We thus take urgent action when responding to an urgent situation. Important activities contribute to our personal mission, our values and priorities.
Urgent and important: Fix water damage in your home. Not urgent and important: Maintain a healthy diet. Urgent and not important: Answer some of your text messages. Especially when the little red light is blinking. Not urgent and not important: Watch Netflix.
Demagogy Isn’t Inevitable
The principles Covey teaches in the context of one’s personal life are totally applicable to a society. The U.S. is now grappling with the effects of having neglected an important and not urgent activity, which definitely would have kept any clowns out of power: Invest wholly in a quality education for all.
Some will attribute Trump’s popularity to the perverse effects of neoliberalism. Such an analysis certainly has its merits but leaves something to be desired since it suggests that the emergence of demagogy is inevitable. In a healthy society, Donald Trump would not have been the alternative solution to the rejection of the collective plan proposed by elites and our institutions. No.
A quality education for all promotes the development of critical thinking necessary to judge the quality of a social proposal and to question how well informed our leaders’ proposed ideas are. This is the kind of education that develops noncognitive capacities in the individual, including empathy, which prevents us from giving into the temptation to hate and fear what is other. It’s this kind of education that incites people to participate in public life. In short, it allows for true democracy. Power to the people. Dictators hate thinkers, right?
Lack of education leaves room for rabble-rousing. This failing allows a handful of individuals to influence the masses, sometimes by using false truths, sometimes by relying on a rhetoric that stirs up fear and frustrations.
A Quality Education for All
According to the CNN/ORC survey released Monday evening, 60 percent of Americans with a college degree would vote for Hillary Clinton and 36 percent for Donald Trump. For voters without a college degree, the ratio is 49 to 46 percent. For white voters without a college degree, intent to vote for Trump rises to 60 percent and falls to 34 percent for Clinton!
Quebec isn’t immune to risk either. Need we be reminded that in the not-so-distant past, our Belle Province toyed with the idea of a charter of values inspired by a false notion of state secularism? In a different vein, without attributing Donald Trump’s Machiavellianism to Mike Ward, it must be noted that the same mechanism was at work in his case: It’s in the name of a freedom of expression without consequences that the humorist raked in $25,000 in 24 hours though a crowdfunding campaign.
Our collective choices would be a lot more thought out if everyone had access to quality education. From citizen participation to the elimination of prejudice, everything is dependent on a quality education for all. An education with a capital “E,” I should say. This requires difficult and complicated choices that notably involve educational institutions, of course, but that also call on the contribution of society as a whole. Yet, an Education for all not being urgent, society procrastinates, and we risk suffering the consequences.