I've just finished reading Al Gore's book The Assault on Reason. It's an impressive work, with loads of food for thought. In my mind, the most engaging argument that Gore makes is his discussion of the role of television in our republic. Gore's fundamental argument is that television has replaced the written word of newspapers and magazines as a forum for civic discussion and engagement. Gore believes this is a dangerous development for our nation. And the reason is that television, and the tv news especially, is not about engagement of citizens. TV provides information (much of it of dubious quality) and we listen and absorb. But there is no dialog between the television and the viewer or between the citizens themselves, watching their televisions in isolation.
The result is deadly for a democracy: the loss of civic engagement. Gore finds hope in the internet and it's exchange of ideas. And he writes of the blog world that, "By posting their ideas online, bloggers are reclaiming the tradition of our Founders of making their reflections on the national stage of affairs publicly available."
I don't watch a lot of television and I never watch tv news. It's a deliberate choice on my part. I do watch the Daily Show (as do my teenage students) because its style of editorial commentary is so engaging (and funny). I read Newsweek every week. I listen to several hours of NPR programming every day. I read newspapers on line and I follow a number of political blogs. And, of course, I write about some of my political views on my own blog. Each year, I face a classroom of students seeking to be well-informed; eager to be engaged. But I share Gore's fear that these pockets of citizenry are becoming increasingly rare, sucked into the vortex of disenchantment and disengagement in the political world. I'll be taking Gore's message into my classroom this fall.