When Education is Withheld from Citizens, Democracy Declines

In her blog, Diane Ravitch hints at “a post-election analysis by Nate Silver. He is a numbers guru who has an interesting website. I followed him during the campaign, and he was more cautious than other pollsters but still predicted a Clinton win. By analyzing voting patterns, he discovered that the best predictor of votes for Trump or Clinton was education. Where there were high levels of BA degrees, Clinton won. Where there were the lowest, Trump won.
Trump was right when he declared during the GOP primaries:
‘I love the uneducated!’ ”

The finding that education is decisive for voting for or against “lout-speakers” like Trump, is no surprise for me since I have been studying the dependency of political cultural on moral-democratic competence since four decades. We define moral-democratic competence as the ability to solve problems and conflict through free thinking (!) and respectful discussion (!), instead of through violence, deceit and power.

Many studies show that people with no or very low such competence have a high risk of offending against the law and of becoming psychologically disturbed to a point where they need psychiatric treatment or, when this is not available, treat their uncontrollable emotions with excessive drug consumption. I know of no studies of their voting behavior but studies consistently found high correlations of lack of moral-democraric competence with authoritarian and rightist political attitudes.

In sum, as I argue in my book “How to Teach Morality”, people without a minimum of moral-democratic competence are overwhelmed by the task of self-government. Although they appreciate the moral ideal of democracy like everaybody else,  paradoxically they have no choice but to fight democracy or to elect politicians who promise to do this on their behalf.

This means that the only effective and sustainable way to defend and to develop democracy is to provide a free and good education for all citizens, as already Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville and many others have argued. General education is important but not sufficient. It needs to be supplemented by modern methods of moral-democratic education which easily fit into existing curricula. Permanent testing and grading, in contrast, has a devastating effect because it keeps our kids from using the frontal part of their brain, where moral-democratic competence is located. Like all parts of our body, it degenerates when not used.

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