Professing Education
A publication of the Society of Professors of Education
June, 2004. Vol.3 No.1

Editorial:Electoral Hopes

By way of welcoming you to our third volume of Professing Education, I would like to open with a question. Who among us, irrespective of political stripe, doubts the gravity of this year's election outcome? It will be an election of great historical consequence only because the lies that have dominated this President's term have been of great historical consequence. Of course, the most grievous consequence is the appalling loss of innocent human life on all sides. How can we even trust the numbers that come down the media pipe when the moguls running the machine by-and-large feel compelled to obfuscate the lies told it? If only George W. Bush had lied about his old drinking habits, if only he had committed some sexual infidelity and lied about that, only then could we expect (if Clinton has set an accurate historical precedent) the kind of moral condemnation that a false war overseas, it appears, fails to generate. The public (generally speaking) hates the lies of the private sphere, I suspect because they often resonate too close to home. Public figures who lead sordid private lives make good targets for guilty feelings in the public sphere. We desperately want (need?) them to be above our own sundry private vagaries. If the electorate cannot appease its native imperfections by turning to a purer leader, then it turns to reality TV for such transference. Yet, and to a disturbing degree, the public seems far less perturbed when it comes to lies about international policy _ lies about war and peace, life and death.

The word "lies," of course, is a notoriously strong word to use, especially in reference to an American President, but in the wake of the House Commission's findings that clearly there is no evidence supporting Saddam's complicity with Al Qaeda, what else in good conscience do we call it, especially when so many other lies are already a matter of public record? And so, what can professors of education say about electoral hopes as a way of making important but concealed truths resonate with the public? We are all aware that elections are integral to healthy democracy, but need we be reminded of what John Dewey told us early last century, that a thriving democracy extends well beyond the ballot box? It seems to me that Dewey (along with his poetic equals, Emerson and Whitman) taught us a great deal about the richness of democracy, and I am guessing that George W. Bush has not read a lick of it. I would be happy to stand corrected. Dewey taught us that in the absence of memory we impoverish our imaginations, and that this in turn arrests our ability to intelligently hope. We cannot afford to pass on to our students the Manichaean mind-set of this President _ we cannot afford to dream in black and white, good and evil. To project our hopes in such a manner is to devolve into a mass rather than a public _ pliable, manipulable, unthinking. Without diminishing the terror of 9/11, we must remain conscious of the rich integrity of memory, imagination, and intelligent hope. History can become the greatest weapon of terror when we falsely convince ourselves that it is preordained and mapped out for us and us only.

Professors of education stand to learn a great deal, and teach their students a great deal about the wonderful richness of their democratic tradition by turning exactly to those who thought about it most deeply and with most compassion. The classical American Pragmatists would be a good place to start for anyone unfamiliar with their works _ the works of C.S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and G.H. Mead representing the most salient examples. It seems the collective memory of the American public would stand to learn a great deal, not just about those discrete events in the past that need to be remembered, but also about the way that memory itself, as I have mentioned, fuels the imagination and staves off hopelessness. Manifest destiny or not, America's story, its grand democratic narrative, is a great one, but like all the greatest stories it must be disciplined by practices of truthfulness. And if one's truthfulness fails to wed to compassion and justice, then it becomes dangerous for lack of imagination. For, without the ability to intelligently and compassionately hope for better futures, without that ameliorative faith that professors of education can help to forge _ and yes, it involves public critique and protest when lied to about matters of grave significance, then the world will be divided, simply and efficiently, into light and dark _ tragic chiaroscuro.

On behalf of the entire editorial team, I hope that you enjoy this issue of Professing Education.