and they call it Democracy: Raising followers or leaders or free thinkers?

Mural: Monseñor Oscar Romero

photo credit: used under cc attribute, share alike licensing by Franco Folini 2003

This post is a quick reflection on the Noam Chomsky piece called, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux: Using Privilege to Challenge the State", Chomsky as always, sees past what's on the surface straight through the underlying issues presenting a clear argument with compelling evidence. What does this have to do with teaching and learning? Well, the expectation that the education system create fully functioning citizens in our democratic nation. Chomsky exposes some of the more uncomfortable evil actions of the governments we are meant to support. Read through the article and, if you're so inclined, come back and share some of your thoughts. If you want more, consider watching THIS 90 minute video where Chomsky speaks on the article and issues therein.

Serve the people, or serve the state? Chomsky unpacks the distinction between dissidents and "value-oriented intellectuals" both of whom may have the same message of change for the better, though the former is change toward a particular government regime and the latter is away from the regime. The former receives laud and honors from the regime while the latter definitely does not.

Chomsky describes how intellectualism can be used to quash participation in democracy; the citizenry is safe to trust the wisdom of the best minds in the world and just do what they are told. Not only its own citizens, but entire nations whose leaders speak out for their people rather than US policies. The government will lead, the intellectuals will vouch for them, and the public need only follow along.

Eugene Debs, mentioned in the article, was imprisoned for speaking out against military draft, statements which were construed as seditious. He was a labour leader and a write-in candidate for the US Presidency receiving almost one million votes all while he was in prison. He spoke of his leadership saying,

“I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; … I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.” (Wikipedia)

So how do we prepare students to be full participants in a democratic society where the notion of democracy differs between the elected and the electors. Where activism is seen as a fringe activity taken up by greenies and bleeding hearts. Where American electoral policies are in place to limit democratic participation. Perhaps this is best done through the “analysis and contextualization of historical traces.”(Seixas, 1999) . Exploring not just the historical facts and figures written by the victors, but source artifacts from both sides; striving to understand the mindset and worldview at the time.

Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Call it Democracy” is like the musical version of this article though Cockburn points the finger of blame directly at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Seixas, P. (1999). Beyond “content” and “pedagogy”: In search of a way to talk about history education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(3), 317–337.


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