Earlier today my American Government students watched the amazing film The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy. The documentary, which is framed around Frederick Douglass’ famous quote that “Power concedes nothing without demand,” is a powerful reminder that democracy is an ongoing process and continual struggle.
While watching the film I realized that its structure is a model for the type of inquiry that I try to implement within my classroom. Instead of blindly accepting a concept and a simplistic definition, the film problematizes, challenges, and examines democracy in ways that lead to more questions.
Civics education should not merely be students learning “how the system works.” Democratic education needs to teach citizens the knowledge and skills necessary to analyze, organize, mobilize, and have their voices heard. Teaching history and teaching about society as if they are static entities fails to acknowledge the world we live in. According to Saul Alinsky:
Change means movement. Movement means friction.
Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract
world can movement or change occur without that abrasive
friction of conflict.