The New York Times has a story suggesting that, since civics no longer is being taught in many schools, this may be a time for companies to fill the void and teach their employees about the workings of democracy.
An example comes from outside the US - Hays, a multinational recruitment firm with 3,500 employees in Germany, offered an eight-week program to workers that dovetailed with "its own aim of strengthening democratic values and making their employees more resilient.
"Across Germany, several hundred companies have taken part in such workshops, and similar classes are being held in other Western countries, including the United States. Businesses are finding they need to bolster their employees in the face of increasingly vitriolic political debate. Seminars on civics and democratic principles - such as the importance of voting or recognizing the dangers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech - have become a way to ensure healthier relationships at the workplace, and in society at large. In addition, reports show that economic growth is higher in stable democracies, and liberal border policies allow companies to attract skilled immigrants."
According to the story, "Groups like the Business Council for Democracy and Weltoffenes Sachsen in Germany and Civic Alliance or the Leadership Now Project in the United States organize workshops … provide research and webinars, and support civic education and get-out-the-vote efforts — all of it nonpartisan. Most are nonprofit organizations, backed by independent foundations or a group of businesses that rely on their political independence as a selling point."
The civics workshops all are voluntary, the Times points out.
The story notes that "according to the Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans trust officials in power in Washington to do the right thing. But business is viewed as the one institution that is both ethical and competent, according the Edelman Trust Barometer.
"Many younger people now expect their employers to champion civic causes, said Steven Levine, director of the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition in the United States of over 1,300 businesses including Microsoft, McDonald’s, Target and Ecolab."
You can read the entire story here.
- KC's View:
I hate to say it, because I'd like to think that any education in civics would be positive, but it is hard for me to see how this could work in the US, considering the climate of polarization, suspicion, grievance, recriminations and hostility that now pervades the culture.
This is conceptually noble, but I fear it would be unworkable in practice, because there always will be someone - likely a person running for election or re-election - who will seek an electoral advantage in stoking grievance.
I put it this way because I was skimming a recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that made the following observation that I found largely credible:
"American voters are less ideologically polarized than they think they are, and that misperception is greatest for the most politically engaged people.
"Americans across parties share many policy preferences. There is some overlap even on hot-button issues, such as abortion and guns, and more overlap on how to teach American history.
"It is important not to make too much of this overlap, however. For instance, a majority of Democrats as well as four in ten Republicans support banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and creating a federal database to track gun sales; nearly as many Republicans support banning assault-style weapons. But only 18 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners feel gun violence is a major problem (versus 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners). So despite the significant policy overlap, only one side is motivated to put the issue on the agenda.
"Democrats have moved to the left on racial issues and some social issues over the last decade, and Republicans have moved to the right on immigration under Joe Biden’s administration, though there remains overlap on these issues as well.
"In some cases, Republicans appear to be slowly adopting more progressive views on some social issues, resulting in what looks like polarization but is perhaps better characterized as faster moves by the left.
"However, most partisans hold major misbeliefs about the other party’s preferences that lead them to think there is far less shared policy belief. This perception gap is highest among progressive activists, followed closely by extreme conservatives: in other words, the people who are most involved in civic and political life hold the least accurate views of the other side’s beliefs."
Which leads me to what I think the problem is for business - seven words from the Times story:
"Economic growth is higher in stable democracies."
Clearly we have to find ways to re-stabilize our culture in a way that stabilizes our democracy. Teaching civics in school would be a good start - but at the moment, I'm not sure that teaching civics in the workplace is a viable solution.
If civics is a tough sell, maybe, though, we could start by insisting on civility.