One age-long task of the schools has been to impart to the student the concepts of democracy as a vital reality and the opportunities of all in our political, economic, and social life. Yet the schools have shared with other institutions the blame for apathetic citizenship, inefficient and sometimes corrupt government, and other political shortcomings. Public education, through the schools for youth and civic organizations for adults, should command our greatest interest in relating the understanding of democracy to the community.
We are engaged in a struggle with competing ideologies, systems of government, and economic organizations. The inculcation of American democratic ideals begins in our youth with a knowledge of our historical past and a relating of this knowledge to the investigation, observance, and understanding of contemporary social problems of the environment. Most of these problems are solved by governments. A new orientation is necessary--not as a defensive approach against external ideologies, nor as a defensire attitude regarding our possible weaknesses--but as a positive understanding of, and an effort to improve, our system of democracy in action.
Students, and adults as well, sometimes dislike the study of government. Perhaps too much theory has been taught. When the subject is approached from the federal or international level it may seem too remote and general to appear as a realm of concern to the learner. Government is most readily understood when it is dealing with the individual, the home, the neighborhood facing its housekeeping problems, and the public officials at the city hall or county buildings. There is a tendency to think of government in terms of political jurisdictions instead of in terms of administrative functions. This leads one to place emphasis on area and political boundary lines rather than on services rendered. All functions are similar in technical operation wherever found in local government. Applied problems in everyday life seem more important, more significant, and are understood more easily than the generalizations of distant relationships of federal or foreign agencies, no matter how important those relationships may be. The keystone of democracy is still in the town meeting, the crackerbarrel discussion groups, and the precinct voting booth.
The teacher dealing with government in the classroom must ever be watchful of the emphasis he gives to objectives and principles of "political groups" and "pressure groups." Nothing in this book emphasizes a political party principle or a particular agreement with any theoretical ideology. Personalities are carefully avoided. The role of the teacher in any community is to exemplify intelligent community leadership and to impel others to gain a similar understanding of local problems. To this end . . .