THERE are many lessons that must be learnt from the recent events that unfolded in the US capital’s seat of governance. While the United States and the rest of the world looked on in shock, the country which projected itself as the beacon of democracy saw its democratic principles and institutions put to one of its sternest tests.
Indeed, the past four years have certainly revealed how fragile the concept of democracy really is, with a president who took pleasure in putting democratic institutions to the test. His very ascension to power is a lesson in itself, for he and other populist leaders have cleverly shown how they can manipulate democratic systems to attain power and once achieved, will turn around and exploit weaknesses of the system to morph into maximum leaders
As a young nation founded on the fundamental principles of democracy, we must not just look on but we must learn. Back in July 1990, our democracy was probably given its sternest test to date, but fortunately we have emerged; somewhat bruised but we have hopefully learnt some telling lessons going forward.
The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. It must be jealously guarded. While democracy is beautiful in that it expresses itself in the principles of fairness, equality, equity and social justice, it is only able to do so via strong institutions which must be continuously nurtured and strengthened.
From a free and independent media to an independent and robust judicial system, a democratic way of life is essentially guarded by the people. As such the people must be prepared and educated to actively participate in and exercise that sacred vigilance.
In any democracy personal freedoms such as speech are cherished, but such freedoms are never absolute. The advent of an unregulated social media has cleverly served to remove the responsibility that accompanies free speech. This technological development has once again exposed the vulnerability of democracy, empowering many leaders to exploit ignorance, fears and insecurities in populations to attain power.
The insurrection on Capitol Hill should come as no surprise. It was in the making for the past five years. Social media was used as the main platform to connect people who harboured racial hatred, xenophobia, and bigotry, amplifying ignorance into personal insecurities and fears while others were in democratic slumber, confident that their freedoms were guaranteed forever.
What does all of this mean for our schools and education system? It reminds us that we all have a sacred duty to do our part to promote and defend democracy in all its incarnations as part of our civic duty.
As teachers we must practice democracy in our classrooms and schools, always modelling democratic behaviours so that children would not take their rights and freedoms for granted but be prepared to defend and protect it. No child is too young to be educated about democracy.
No opportunity must be lost to engage students in lessons on democracy from its history to the ease with which it can be lost. Children must be taught the skill and importance of being circumspect in choosing leaders and not being allowed to be manipulated by messages based on hate, disrespect, and contempt.
Such approaches to teaching assume one is free of biases, believes in the fundamental principles of democracy and is passionate enough to lead by example. In this way, we ensure that the next generation of adults can not only maintain democracy but strengthen it.
Current leaders must also understand that they must always uphold the highest principles of democracy and never express words that undermine democratic institutions or subvert democratic processes. While democracy maybe be imperfect, most will agree that it is the best arrangement to empower everyone to achieve their maximum human potential.