Most of us Comp II grads will not become lawmakers, but we do become citizens, and as such, are responsible for understanding the fabric of living in a democracy.

I am a firm believer that a college education is fundamental to a living, thriving democracy. The classes we take, the majors we dedicate ourselves to, and the skills of reason and civility we hopefully learn in are precious 6 hours of Humanities classes add to our lives but also to the life of our democracy.  Integral to our learning is the responsibility it carries to be a good citizen. To stand up to injustice, to help layer stability in our chosen field of influence, and to treat all other citizens in fairness and respect. Courage, labor, and empathy. Isn’t that the America we say we are? 

On top of this, I also am a firm believer that we need to do our own inner work to sort out what is sunlight, what is shadow, and what light or what shadow each of us brings to the world. “Know Thyself” is the admitted source of all higher education throughout the millennia.  Without doing that reflective inner work, we all leave college with an overall D.

A D is a serious grade when it comes to a citizenry of a democracy! Had we tipped the scale any more from the rule of law on the January 6th  insurrection, we would be an F country right now. Let’s start there with the idea of law. Law in a democracy is a rational, logical, debated set of social application of rules, regulations, and ordinances that are meant to serve the common good, the commonwealth. Lots there for any Comp II student to gain mastery in. To understand and apply the basic nature of logical expression, to avoid its opposite, fallacies of illogic, and to analyze and understand our complex connections to a social norm.  Perhaps most importantly, living by a rule of law demands a continuous evaluation and conversation of its effectiveness and fairness. That should imbue all the skills mastered in Comp II. I for one hope the law to stop at a red light is never overturned, but there are laws of commerce and social well-being that need to evolve with social progress and historical change. But always under the rubric of reason and fairness.

Most of us Comp II grads will not become lawmakers, but we do become citizens, and as such, are responsible for understanding the fabric of living in a democracy. Law is one of those fundamental fabrics for sure. Can we pass Comp II without the bedrocks of using reason and analysis? Sure. We can just mimic or even plagiarize these things into a given essay. Ooh, ooh. Essay. Essai. I love that word. From the French it means to attempt or try. Kinda what a society does with a successful democracy. We attempt and try to make it the best for the people. Apologies for the composition faux pas of breaking off my unity.

Back to it. Reason and analysis as tools of progress and fairness. Progress is forward not backward. Just like each college class we have is a forward in the understanding and connection of a larger pool of knowledge, a larger tribe, and a larger world for us. Our college education, by default, make us leaders. And here is a major grade markdown: many persons become leaders due to privilege, personality, or a will to power, and not due to having skill in reasoning and understanding larger forums of fairness. Behind the skill set is the homework, the doing the work to distinguish fact from lie, reasonableness from extreme media and button-pushing, listening to both sides of an issue/argument. Weighing what is best not only for you but for a common good made up of disparate others (my definition of a democracy). Knowing yourself enough to know when your reason can be unduly be overcome by family, peer, or media influence. Which brings us to the skill and ethics of using rhetoric and the markdown there.

Go back to school for a moment and remember your logos, pathos, and ethos. If I wish one understanding above all others for a citizen to hold, it is the knowledge and wisdom of this tirade of inner and outer human interaction. Some of us have had to go kicking and screaming to finally understand that logic never carries the day. All hail Spock fans! I am with you!  But in all fairness, we are more than our prefrontal lobe. We are a bundle of tribal influence, biological influence, and sometimes complete emotional messes. Like a raging river trying to be held back by a handmade dam of river rocks and sticks. Sometimes the sticks and rocks of logic just don’t hold. Awareness of who we are (know thyself) goes a long way in mitigating the conflicts of logic and emotion. Part of the play of life and the tetter-totter on the playground.  More sunlight though in the balance than in the shadow of the power of one over another.  And when in doubt? We have the trump card of ethos.

Ethos. That cord of connection to the Good called up by Plato and Aristotle. The democratic Good. Both thinkers knew the hope of a demos and the tragedy of civil war and discord. Aristotle ran more than once for his life. I believe the genius energy behind his science of rhetoric was about giving his beloved Greece  a weapon to survive and prosper-not a hand of violence but a mind of understanding fairness and accord in politics. We seriously need to recall his lesson today in America. Ethos is that part of us that reaches out to differences  through civility and measured discourse. And by measured discourse, I mean no lies, no corruption, and no over emphasis of personality and celebrity. All of those are a misuse, however convenient for holding power, of rhetoric. And they do work if we allow them to. As we do. A huge markdown of our American Comp II skills!

My biggest markdown for our America and its democratic/composition skills? Not knowing our audience. The audience here is one democratic soul to another democratic soul. We fail here in large part because teachers and education fail in teaching about democratic audience. Because it is a difficult concept and we do not have a great vocabulary for it. Civility, empathy, compassion, outreach. These words fall short because the bedrock below all these things is human nature in all its possibility that include discord and violence, set against our “better angels”. Our words come across as idealistic or as weaker points of human nature. A default so as not to pursue the hard work and creative aspects of a democracy.  When America can finally decide on moving forth with the civility-compassion-empathy-outreach side of who we are rather than the disrupt of abusive rhetoric and underdeveloped or forgotten Comp II skills, we can get that higher grade of an A or a B.

Like our great human reformers, a Douglass or Lincoln or Dewey or King in our America, we can know the Common Good is just a well-composed expression away. That expression lies in the purview of all citizens. As those of us who have the incredible privilege of a higher education, we have more capability and responsibility to lead by example and measured voice. Putting the skills of Comp II together as reasoning, analysis, honest expression, and a consciousness that we are in this together, as well as doing our homework, I call these useful, formulated skills seen together as a democratic heart.

In life, a grade-A heart is the one grade that should really count. From a D to an A? Absolutely. My students do it all the time once they synthesize their individual drive and needs with a larger view of a world that needs them. Our move in America? Citizen by citizen?

  1. Obtain higher education skills if possible
  2. Even if not, live with a heart that is patient of difference and a mind that is loving as well as logical
  3. Do the difficult inner work of knowing self, with all its foibles and fears and talents and dreams
  4. When in doubt (or rather when in extreme confidence), compromise
  5. Write your life as the best essay possible

Cheers to our democratic heart.

Go Humanities!

About Post Author