David Fleming’s Strong Publics vs. Weak Publics

[A]n education [. . .] that was designed to support a truly direct, deliberative democracy [. . .] would be an education oriented to the ‘strong publics’ of decision-making rather than the ‘weak publics’ of opinion formation. (205)


In Fleming’s closing chapter of City of Rhetoric, he argues that schools need to do a better job of teaching students about politics. However, he does not want students to simply learn through presented facts, he wants students to practice using language, listening, understanding, and resolving effectively. These practiced skills would lead to the “strong publics of decision making” that Flemming finds necessary because effectively communicating and listening, will allow people to respond. A proper response correlates to decision making. In politics, there are often candidates who speak to crowds and say, “I believe this is the problem,” and “I think I can fix x by doing y.” While running, these politicians, who were trained through years of school, make these opinion-based promises, but when they get elected into office, the right decisions are not made to deliver what they promised and respond to the demands of the people. The same trend exists for the democracy of people who vote. The American people always form an opinion of both candidates, but when it is time to decide who to pick, they are often confused, and cannot deliberately choose and are upset about the results. This theory of education in relation to politics and decision making was evident in the most recent election which showed that people with higher education voted one way, while people with less education voted the other.

Decision making and opinion formation are different because opinion formation simply presents an individual’s perception of a certain topic. However, decision making actually gets things done and affects others. Concurrently decision making and opinion formation go hand and hand because people often make decisions based off of their opinion. In my papers from high school, I made a lot of my arguments based on opinions. For example, I exclaimed that Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest was female because some of the mother-like nurturing characteristics the nymph possessed. However, a different person may have thought that the nymph was male. I do not think that Fleming would disagree with my technique because although I formed an opinion, I still made a decision by calling the character a female. Fleming seems to want to see things get done through decisions. Likewise, he wants decisions in Cabrini Green to be made in order to adequately improve the lives of the people living in such a poor area.

1 comment

  1. Dear Nina,
    I really enjoyed reading your analysis on Fleming’s quote. I think you accurately portrayed the author’s main argument and you even took it further by providing an example of your own! I agree with both you and Fleming, I think schools should give more freedom to students to express their opinions and make decisions based on those opinions. If we are always told what to do and how to think, we are not really free.

    (ps. I’m not stalking you, I’m writing constructive comments for points lol)

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