AAUW Can Promote the Knowledge that Makes Democracy Possible

AAUW was founded by women who were looking for equal opportunity to attain higher education, meaning to learn from the best minds and to participate in discussion at a high intellectual level. When they were told that this higher education would impair their fertility, they knew better than to believe such misinformation, and they sought and found evidence to counter it.

AAUW members may disagree, but the  one thing we have never lost sight of is the value of knowledge. We understand how knowledge is gained and transmitted, with students of science, human behavior and society building on the foundations of their predecessors. We understand the value of evidence, which sometimes requires rejecting previously accepted knowledge because of new discoveries. We understand the importance of accurate observation, and the difference between factual reporting and deception.

In a democratic society, decision-making can only be as good as the information available to the voters. But today we are seeing significant challenges to good information and to the capacity for evaluating the quality of what flows through our many feeds.

As important as our vision, “Equity for All” is for our country today, even more important may be “Knowledge for All”. With our almost 140 years of history promoting knowledge, it would seem that AAUW is uniquely equipped to help our fellow citizens gain reliable information and exercise critical thinking. We need to try to find ways to promote these things in our communities, schools, and organizations.

I call on Tech Trek and other STEM projects to teach as much as possible of the thought processes of science and how scientific conclusions are reached. Science can offer us more than just a way for women to achieve economic security. It also offers a model of knowledge building that, at its best, is tireless and selfless in expanding horizons. Again, at its best, it does not respect ethnic and national prejudices: a good example has been provided by the international search for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Scientific knowledge is not the only kind. We also need knowledge about other people not like us and cultures that are not our own. It is the humanities that imparts this kind of knowledge most effectively. Stories are powerful because they can place us in an unfamiliar context and help us understand the motivations and values of people we would not encounter in our daily life. But stories can also be powerful when promulgated by those who seek to gain power by promoting the belief that people not like them are threats to their way of life. I call on all of us to find ways to spread the right kinds of stories, those that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

AAUW stands for nonpartisan, fact-based integrity. Like those founding women, let us reject harmful misinformation and promote the knowledge necessary for a healthy democracy.

Author: Pat DeWitt

I am a retired institutional researcher, a musician and musicologist, and support AAUW as well as several environmental causes.

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