The Public Voice in a Democracy at Risk

The Public Voice in a Democracy at Risk

The Public Voice in a Democracy at Risk

The Public Voice in a Democracy at Risk


This collection assesses the condition of civic dialogue in our avowedly participatory democracy and suggests specific educational, institutional, and individual actions to enhance the contemporary public debate of social and political issues. An interdisciplinary group of distinguished scholars examines current problems and potential improvements in areas such as citizenship education, media literacy, critical viewing skills, civic journalism, the Internet and democratic dialogue, media coverage of political campaigns, the recovery of excluded cultural voices, and citizen engagement in media and electoral processes.


Michael Salvador

In March 1996, the Eisenhower Leadership Group (ELG), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education's Leadership Development Program, presented its findings on the status of citizenship and leadership in the United States at a national press conference in Washington, D.C. After interviewing authorities from across the nation--from professors at Harvard University to the Mayor of Missoula, Montana-- the study group declared that ours is a democracy at risk:

American democracy is at risk. Too many of us--either from complacency or despair, inertia or ignorance--are leaving the work of civic engagement to others. Too many of us are expecting someone else to carry all the water. the upshot? a democracy in which too few people do the public business, leaving many disengaged and disenchanted. (ELG, 1996, p. 1)

The report echoes complaints voiced in numerous recent books. Some note the increasing discontent and cynicism of Americans, as in The System (Johnson and Broder, 1996), Democracy's Discontent (Sandel, 1996), or Demanding Democracy (Schmuhl, 1994). Others decry the mediated dramaturgy that passes for democratic discussion, as in Dirty Politics (Jameson, 1992), The Electronic Republic (Grossman, 1995), or The Power of the Press (Schudson, 1995). Still others call for a more informed and critically prepared citizenry, as in Coming to Public Judgment (Yankelovich, 1991), Politics for the People (Mathews, 1994), or Breaking the News (Fallows, 1996).

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