Just the other day I stumbled upon the StudentNewsDaily (happened upon, met up with… what is the proper expression for our nearly daily online discoveries). The goal of the NewsDaily, as I read on their web site, is to build students’ knowledge of current events and while doing so to strengthen the students’ critical thinking skills. To that end they would, as they say, provide resources that would make students informed viewers and readers of the news. 

Well, I thought, good luck! Our schools also say they would do this, but of course, as we’ve seen during 100 years or more, they haven’t. In fact, has anyone ever done this for someone else? Made a critical thinker of him or her?

What more would parents ask then to be able to this for their children? In your own experience with parents how many have done so? How many of my own children are critical thinkers? Critical thinkers of course we have had in the country, from its very beginnings, but rather in spite of than because of critical thinking programs in the schools or elsewhere. Critical thinking is another one of those virtues that can’t be taught, only uncovered within ourselves by any number of means, usually not foreseen.

But in other ways the StudentNewsDaily is generally helpful. It has on one of its pages as clear a statement as I’ve ever seen of the liberal/conservative divide, that sharp division between us which acts as a brake on all our efforts, inside and outside of Washington, to work together in pursuit of solutions to our problems.

Here is their statement:

Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs

Liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all.  It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.  Believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need.  Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.

Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense.  Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.  Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

[Compiled by the Editors. Copyright 2005 (revised 2010)]

NOTE: The terms “left” and “right” define opposite ends of the political spectrum.  In the United States, liberals are referred to as the left or left-wing and conservatives are referred to as the right or right-wing.  On the U.S. political map, blue represents the Democratic Party (which generally upholds liberal principles) and red represents the Republican party (which generally upholds conservative principles).

For me the essence of their statement is this, that Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems, whereas conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual. And, as is said, this is a question of emphasis, which do you emphasize in your own life, the role of government, or the role of the individual?

I’ve never understood, since I began thinking about these kinds of things, how one could be all to the one side or the other, even in regard to emphasis. In all things there are essential roles for both government and the individual. How could anyone believe anything else? Not even the communist, anarchist, socialist. or libertarian.

So what is it that keeps us from working together? Beats me. It’s true that the respective roles of government and the individual, in regard to whatever the issue may be, abortion, the country going to war, education, healthcare, 11 million illegal immigrants mostly from south of the border, pornography, freedom of speech, just about everything and anything, we will and should differ over the relative weights of the two, government and the individual, but while the relative weights will vary according to the issue, each of the two will always have some role to play.

Where we’ve gone wrong has been to overweight the role of the one over the other. In the schools, government is clearly too heavy. And also in healthcare. For ultimately education and health care depend more on the individual’s own efforts than on those of government. In regard to protection, protection of the environment, of our work places, of our homes and cities, of our food and medicines, of the air we breathe, and the water we drink, government is clearly better placed than the individual to insure our being protected in all these and other respects.

I’m going to give the last word to the Student News Daily. Would that we all could agree with them in what they say here:

We all want the same things in life.  We want freedom; we want the chance for prosperity; we want as few people suffering as possible; we want healthy children; we want to have crime-free streets….  The argument (between left and right) is how to achieve these and others…

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