The Importance of Education for Democracy
Democracy or Philosopher-King?

The U.S. electorate has just had a stark lesson on this subject: The administration of one of the most politically brilliant presidents in U.S. history, Barack Obama, immediately followed by the most politically ignorant president in our history, Donald Trump.

Lenin often said in his speeches that anyone who can run a lathe can run a country. This has been a political theme in the U.S. American politicians try to look as much like an ordinary, middle-class American worker as they possibly can. Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton used their nicknames as they talk about “kitchen table issues,” as though political issues are so simple even poorly educated people can understand them.

As of 2016 the federal government comprised 523 departments, bureaus, divisions, offices, centers, radio networks and other subdivisions. According to the Office of Personnel Management, today it employs 2.1 million civilian workers, the largest employer in the U.S., if not the world.

Most lathe operators would be at a loss heading such an organization. Most corporations with not nearly so large a workforce would search for the most intelligent, well-educated president they can find.

In the country that invented liberal democracy 2,600 years ago, Greece, Plato wrote a still famous book “The Republic.” In his proof that a just society brings happiness to all, he concludes that the most just government would be led by a philosopher-king, a highly educated intelligent autocrat, the farthest thing from a democracy.

Plato proposed a special class of highly educated people called “the guardian class” to select each newphilosopher-king. A philosopher-king cannot be allowed to pass the office to his children as Trump apparently planned to do, following the practice of traditional kings and queens. Otherwise, the intelligence and education level will vary over time.

Why did Plato not approve the democracy invented by his ancestors? Education and intelligence are the most critical components of successful governance. So, for a democracy to be successful, a majority of voters mustbe intelligent and well educated, especially in the politics of their country. Otherwise, they will elect incompetent presidents like Donald Trump and the criminal syndicate with which he surrounds himself.

The latest poll (2021) by University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that while 58% of Americans know our government contains three branches (up from 36% in 2014), only 33% can name all three (up from 25% in 2014).

Approximately 30% of Americans still support Trump. The two sets of figures are too close to be coincidental.

If we could assure that all our children could graduate from high school with an understanding of how our government works. If we could teach them the difference between democracy and autocracy and how many c ountries—including Greece and Rome—have easily slid from democracies to autocracies, we could secure our democracy all the more steadfast.

All states should require a year-long course in civics to graduate. Currently 11 states do not even require civics. Thirty states require civics for half a year, and only nine require a year.

We must also do something about student college loan debt. Our college students graduate with an average of around $30,000 in student loan debt. This is because of all advanced industrialized countries on earth, the U.S.is the only one that cannot provide free or at least debt-free education through the college level.

That means it takes our graduates longer to buy cars and houses. It takes some up to 30 years to pay off their debt. Since 2012, banks, the federal government and other institutions have been keeping over $1 trillion out of the economy as student debt.

Should current student loans be forgiven, or should students be held to honor their contracts with financial institutions? But students sign contracts for loan under unnecessary duress, the duress of having been born in arich country that prefers to cultivate billionaires over providing free or debt-free college.

Education is the heart and soul of democracy. As the Washington Post’s slogan starkly reminds us, “Democracy dies in darkness.”

(Sunbury Daily Item, September 22, 2022)
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