Education, Democracy & the Public Square

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Yesterday, the State of Georgia performed an important symbolic and executive function inaugurating Mr. Brian Kemp, former Secretary of State, as the new Governor of the State.  Amidst this week’s inaugural fanfare and the beginning of the 155th Georgia General Assembly, Governor Kemp’s inauguration reminds us, and encapsulates, our democratic lifestyle in the state, the US and the Western World.  It is a great thing our leaders are chosen, in Lincoln’s eloquent words, by the people, of the people, for the people.

The political process throws up a lot of heat and emotion, some of which is valuable but much of which is simply noise.  Democracy also works imperfectly, with mistakes and omissions all too common, and it is our task as citizens and educators continually to work to improve the why and the how of democracy.  The alternative is unthinkable and, as Winston Churchill once quipped, “democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.  We can indeed be thankful we live in a democracy and to have the freedom to be participants in that process.  The public square is indeed a cherished and essential location for our shared humanity.

As a public institution of higher learning, Middle Georgia State University must fulfill its mission of educating students to gain qualifications and to participate in the improvement of democracy.  Citizenship and its responsibilities are priceless and we must ensure that we strengthen the Common Good but advancing our students’ engagement with democracy and the communities that democracy serves.  Our students must be confident and competent in the public square.  This link between education and democracy was wonderfully articulated by the great American philosopher John Dewey, who understood one hundred years ago that the young Republic must continue to “re-invent” itself and to cherish its core principles for each new generation, precisely through the work of public education.

In yesterday’s transition of Gubernatorial authority and the Deals’ leaving the Governor’s Mansion, we can be grateful to Governor and Mrs. Deal for their similar understanding and commitment to public education from the PreK-12 and Post-Secondary levels.  The Deal legacy surely has helped the people of Georgia appreciate not only the economic benefits of education, but its intrinsic fundamental role in sustaining the democratic public good in the State of Georgia.  They have indeed earned the appreciation of the educational community.

As our first full week of classes moves forward, many of our students would not be have likely paid much attention to the inauguration of Governor Kemp, focusing on starting their classes well.  But in that act of starting class and resuming their learning, our students are indeed building a brighter future for Georgia and ensuring that the beacon of democracy continues to shine through the sunny and stormy days that will surely face us and the people of Georgia.

Best wishes for this new semester with our students!