By Edward Lovo
There is a view of education that requires challenging. It’s rather natural to be anxious about the prospects of one’s choice of study. One worries about what career path one will take after completing a liberal arts degree, for example. However, the view of education that ought to be challenged sees education solely as a means to these prospects; in other words, education is an investment.
Living in a (more or less) democratic society, education is more than just an investment; more than what many regard as a privilege rather than a right. Education is a social good that is integral to the ideals of a democratic society. Two such ideals are political equality, and open and fair discussion.
Democracy, in the first place, implies that all citizens come together to reach a decision on questions that concern them all. Accordingly, the second of the democratic ideals, open and fair discussion, expresses each citizen’s right to the opportunity to articulate their views and supporting reasons, and to listen to an array of other viewpoints on matters of public concern.
Political equality requires that all citizens are equal participants in decision-making. Political equality is a robust conception that goes beyond the empty formality of filling out a ballot. Open and fair discussion presupposes a substantive equality between citizens.
Thomas Christiano, a democratic theorist, gives the following example by way of illustration: “Consider a citizen who has a vote and is not forbidden to say something in the process of deliberation. But suppose that because of poverty, lack of education, and lack of organization this citizen is unable to understand the issues involved in the decision-making or have a clear idea of what [their] interests are or how to articulate them to others. Such a citizen is not the political equal of the citizen who is wealthy, well educated, whose interests and points of view are supported by organization, and who is able to understand issues as well as clarify and articulate [their] interests…most of us would believe that [this society] does not live up to the democratic ideals of political equality and participation in rational social deliberation.”
So, political equality does not end with the uneducated worker being able to cast a vote in the same way the educated employer for whom he works is able to cast a vote. This is merely equality on paper and not equality in our substantive relations with one another.
Education, as well, ought not to be restricted to a select few, such as to those who can afford it, as this exacerbates the inequality between the classes. Limited accessibility reflects in society an inequality in power among classes that privileges an educated elite not only in the process of deliberation but also in the fulfillment of political roles.
Education, then, is fundamental to a democratic society, which promotes political equality among its citizens. It serves as a grand equalizer of its citizens, and a society that limits its accessibility is not living up to its ideal of political equality. Upon these considerations, one should see that education is not an investment in a democratic society – it’s a right.