A Hitchhiker’s Guide to “Democracy in America”
by Craig Douglas Albert, Augusta University
One of the most challenging issues any instructor of political philosophy faces is how to get college students interested and engaged in a discipline composed mostly of ‘a bunch of dead white guys.’ The task is hard enough for students already interested in theory and is even more daunting for the general education American government classroom. However, a recent study has shown the effectiveness of using classics in introductory classrooms (Albert & Ginn 2014). Using texts such as Tocqueville’s Democracy in America can be an effective way to engage millennials and to meet student learning outcomes.
Although some students might find Tocqueville’s text esoteric or inaccessible, professors can overcome this challenge by relating the literature to the student. I often tell stories of Tocqueville and how he lived a tragic life—at least in his own mind. He was born a midlevel aristocrat to a regime that had just abolished aristocracy. Through his personal writings and the “spirit” that pervades his public writings, it is easy to relate his personal feelings of abandonment and entitlement to the current generation. His daily musings and failures in life help the students see him as a flawed, relatable figure. Once students see Tocqueville as “one of them,” they are hooked. This is one reason using Tocqueville as a classroom text is so useful: The author is relatable to the student in a way they do not get with typical textbooks.
Journal of Political Science Education | Pages 117-119 | Volume 13, 2017 – Issue 1, Published online: 09 Jun 2016