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The JUST education section explores media literacy and education as they relate to the needs of learners attempting to interpret, react to, and affect change for their own personal development as well as for the  benefit of their respective cultures and communities.

Richard KroonBob Lasewicz



Democracy's Need for Education

Richard Kroon
August, 2012 

Thomas Jefferson is known for his belief that a democracy cannot survive without a well-educated electorate. He supported an educational Constitutional amendment and helped establish both West Point (during his presidency) and the University of Virginia (after leaving office). But what happens to a democracy without education?

As the franchise is expanded, it inevitably encompasses people who are not prepared for the responsibility. Education can fill this gap, but only if it is available and accepted. Failing that, you end up with people voting against their own self-interest out of ignorance.

  • Joe the Plumber became the conservative media’s darling as he railed against candidate Obama’s tax proposals during the 2008 US presidential election – despite the fact that he would not have been affected by the proposed tax, demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of how income tax is calculated.
  • Tea Party advocates are infamous for their calls to “Keep government out of my Medicare” – despite the fact that Medicare is a government program.
  • Actor turned political advocate Craig T. Nelson once said, “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare, did anyone help me out? No.” – despite the fact that both food stamps and welfare are government aid programs.

This is not just a liberal complaint about conservative voters, even if some of the more amusing examples do come from the conservative side of the spectrum. Conservatives themselves are also concerned that uninformed voters are polluting the democratic process and have their own proposals for correcting this imbalance.

In the end, this is a democratic issue. It affects the world’s largest and longest-established democracies, as well as its newest. Every time someone is given the vote – either by reaching their age of majority or by an expansion of the franchise to a previously unrepresented group – the potential danger to democracy posed by the un- or under-educated voter increases.


Jefferson, Education and the Franchise

Professor Thomas Jewett
Archiving Early America

[Thomas Jefferson] placed education as the foundation of democracy and a prerequisite to vote. Ignorance and sound self-government could not exist together: the one destroyed the other. A despotic government could restrain its citizens and deprive the people of their liberties only while they were ignorant. Jefferson could never completely separate education from government. With the fullest faith in the ability of man to govern himself, Jefferson nonetheless realized the responsibility of self-government could be assumed successfully only by an enlightened people. Read more...


If Democracies Need Informed Voters, How Can They Thrive While Expanding Enfranchisement?

Jennifer L. Hochschild

H.L. Jayne Professor of Government, Professor of African and African American Studies, and Harvard College Professor

Three uncontroversial points sum to a paradox: 1) ... Citizens need to know who or what they are choosing and why – hence urgent calls for expansive and publicly funded education, and rights to free speech, assembly, press, and movement.  2) In most if not all democratic polities, the proportion of the population granted the suffrage has consistently expanded, and seldom contracted, over the past two centuries. ... 3) Most expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote.

Putting these three uncontroversial points together leads to the conclusion that as democracies become more democratic, their decision-making processes become of lower quality in terms of cognitive processing of issues and candidate choice. The paradox is both historical – why have democracies expanded the franchise to include relatively ignorant voters? – and normative – why should democracies expand the franchise to include relatively ignorant voters? Read more...


Help Wanted: Only Informed Voters Need Apply!

Dale Glading, 2010 Republican candidate for Congress in New Jersey's 1st District
July 24, 2012
… Simply put, the right to vote isn’t a right at all. It is not included in the main body of the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights or in the succeeding 17 amendments. Therefore, it is a privilege and not a right. And as such, it can be regulated by each state, providing that they meet certain federal and constitutional guidelines. …
Today, America is facing some of the most pressing and complicated challenges in our 236-year history. It is going to take the best candidates our country can offer to solve those problems and it is going to take an informed electorate to choose those candidates.
That is why I support a national civics test as a prerequisite for voting in a federal election.  Read more...

Americans Too Stupid to Vote for Ron Paul