So what’s this democracy thing anyway?

As Rupert Murdoch and his news empire prompt further analysis of the power of the media in a modern society, we learn that in his home country, Australia, over half of secondary school students do not know that they live in a democracy or what that means. Occasionally we also hear that young people from other countries regard democracy (and even liberty) as western cultural baggage that may have become outdated.

Democracy does not survive and prosper because it is inherently more desirable; it needs to be explained and nurtured in every new generation. It certainly cannot be taken for granted. At least events surrounding News International over the past week or two have still made for a compelling news story. We must ensure that we never reach a state where people wonder what all the fuss is about. We must ensure that democracy is understood and valued. We must see that it is part of the mission of the education system to sustain it.

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6 Comments on “So what’s this democracy thing anyway?”

  1. I remember about twenty years ago reading that 45% of American high school students couldn’t find the USA on a map. I think perhaps the issue is that if a particular circumstance is your broad operating context, then you don’t need to know much about it in order to go on operating.

    So Australian students may not have a particular need to name what they live in as a democracy, but they are also the subject of extraordinarily strong schooling by the political culture in one basic lesson: voting is compulsory here. They don’t get to miss out.

    Perhaps a bigger problem is when (young) people become fatalistic about the market-orientation of both politicians and journalists, and accept this as part of how democracy plays itself out, in a series of lowest common denominator calculations. For the educational mission to address this, educational institutions would have to be operating according to demonstrably different motivations. Are we?

  2. Eddie Says:

    I am reminded about what Sir Winston Churchill said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

    Not clear what the purpose of this blog article is, and how News International is linked to it. Before we go into ventricular fibrillation about NOTW and NI, let us remind ourselves that no one is charged yet, and the police enquiry is taking place. There is judicial enquiry pending. There could be other newspapers involved in hacking too, but they seem to be less successful in their investigative journalism.

    I have a lot of respect for Australia in its operation of democracy, and particularly as the poster above says, its example of compulsory voting. Ignorance about things are not specific to Australia. When I worked in Scotland, I came across many Scottish students who knew very little about British democracy (those were the days of pre- devolution) which was understandable, but then the result of devolution and the narrow nationalism, and the ignorance emanating from it when one reads blog postings for example in Scotsman is more serious than some one not knowing about British democracy. When watergate was played out, Nixon’s part was questioned,, and many Americans feared about democracy in their country. It was the talk in our university cafeteria there then, and I guess across all universities in the country.

    Reading the problems in many universities , a few scandals here and there arising from bad administration, and VCs acting like Murdochs( not my word, but of a friend who is not given to hyperbole), we could do with more democracy in managerial aspects of universities. In my friend’s opon and in mine too, in universities,the students and staff should elect those who manage the institution, the faculty,, the department and the rest. I

    • Fred Says:

      Eddie a comment for your last sentence about the students who should select who manages the university:
      As a principle it is correct and surely a form of democracy inside the hear of universities. However, I have some good links with the education system in Greece. There the students’ representatives participate in the election of the equivallent to VC and they have significant voting rights. The result: unfortunately dark negotiations between the voters and the VC candidates where the latter promice entrance to postgraduate degrees PhDs and of course good grades. All these in a corrupted and politician-led free education system.
      So the implementation of everything matters probably more than the original idea…

  3. Paul Says:

    The demise of this rag leaves me wondering. Is this evidence of a system in decline? Or is it evidence that it works?

  4. anna notaro Says:

    The media scholar Natalie Fenton’s makes a very relevant point when she observes that:

    The news is no ordinary product. It is indelibly linked to the practice of democracy. When the product of news is broken the practice of democracy suffers. The relationship between news and democracy works best when journalists are given the freedom (and resources) to do the job most journalists want to do – to scrutinize, to monitor, hold to account, interrogate power, to facilitate and maintain deliberation (

    What recent events have exposed is that our democratic system depends upon a very delicate equilibrium of different powers and, as argued in the post, cannot be taken for granted, complacency is the worst enemy of democracy, pity that it is in our human nature to do exactly that: to take for granted what we have only to realize its significance once we have lost it.

  5. varsitydigest Says:

    Democracy and sovereignty are interesting issue, especially in Third world countries. Being democratic and sovereign is one thing, Realities of Power is another different thing. As much as the people want their say to count, other forces, like from donors, may dictate otherwise.

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