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Laura Sibinescu

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Are governments interested in keeping us 'dumb'?

Educated citizens are difficult to govern - this is a recurrent argument I've encountered while discussing education with various people.

Do you think it's in a democratic government's best interest to keep its citizens ignorant by maintaining largely outmoded school systems and educational policies, a lack of transparency, or the failure to encourage social and political participation? Or would a democratic government prefer to work with an educated, involved citizenry?

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    Apr 26 2013: As has already been said here, every government's greatest interest is in keeping itself in power. Having a well-educated citizenry may not keep them in power.

    Democracy is the most difficult of all governing systems. It's core idea is that power to rule derives from the people, and the ultimate power to decide policy rests with the people, though we entrust this power temporarily to representatives. And here's the rub: Policy made by uninformed policy makers is apt to be bad policy. So for democracy to really work, the public must be well educated. Very well educated. Even an ordinary good education does not prepare "the people" to make sound decisions about governmental policy, where "the devil is in the details," - details that the people generally will be unaware of.

    Lenin, who supposedly wanted to create a society where everyone was equal, realized that the people couldn't possibly run the country. That needed to be done by an intellectual elite. The people couldn't even be trusted to select their leaders. Similarly, every revolution - even the American revolution - has been led by an elite which was careful to preserve their power by limiting the people's opportunity to unseat them. (The gaining of voting rights in the U.S. was a gradual thing - originally only white males with a certain wealth could vote, and not for the President or Senate, just for the House of Rep's.)

    The unfortunate fact seems to be that these founders were right. By and large, the elite could make better decisions than the people. Today our situation is the U.S. is that most people have a fairly good education, but it is still not good enough to withstand the lure of easy campaign slogans and phony promises of benefits. People vote on the basis of the most shallow appeals, with little understanding of complexities. So if a country with reasonably well educated voters sees its democracy hi-jacked by political professionals, we should at least open our eyes to the limits of democracy.

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