Social studies, English and Math to combat inequality

Posted on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Group of Students walking

When young people see vast disparities separating individuals in society and the opportunities available to them, their frustration can pose a fundamental challenge to the institutions of democratic government.

If they do not know how to participate in these institutions in ways that solve these problems, they will simply invest their interest and energy elsewhere. That can also mean these governing structures begin to function with little public attention or oversight, leading them to evolve in unexpected and dangerous ways. This was how Germany democratically elected a Nazi government that turned into one of the most repressive and destructive regimes of all time.

That disaster may belong to a different century, but its implications remain very much with Joel Westheimer, a professor in the Faculty of Education. His 2015 book, What Kind of Citizen?, begins with an image of himself and his mother standing on the same Frankfurt station platform where in 1938 she had boarded a train to safety in Switzerland to become the only member of her family who would survive the ensuing war. As personal as this tragedy may be, he also regards it as an enduring failure of democracy and a pointed reminder of how perceptions of inequality can undermine a system that is supposed to offer people the same status in the eyes of law and government.

Westheimer has spent much of his academic career exploring the role that education plays in the success of democratic government. This concept was celebrated by the leaders of the American revolution, who saw its success as being dependent on citizens knowledgeable enough to manage their own affairs.

Read the Gazette article Social studies, English and Math to combat inequality to learn more.

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