Voting is morally weighty even if it is just multiple choice. Penning an extended essay is quite burdensome as an alternative to an ‘x’. Electoral outcomes can be harmful or beneficial and can do widespread harm with little benefit to anyone. When we vote, we can make government better or worse. Voting can enrich lives or reduce them to wretchedness. Voting alters the quality, latitude and kind of government.
When bad choices are made at the polls, we fight unjust wars. We spend taxes on ill-conceived stimulus packages and entitlement programmes that will never stimulate economic activity or reduce poverty. We get overregulation in some sectors, underregulation in others and lots of regulations primed to secure unfair economic advantage for the bourgeois. We intentionally overlook the omitted. We perpetuate tax injustice. We wage war on drugs that ghettoize the ordinary slum dweller. We preserve education inequality. We delay justice and overcrowd the prisons. We anchor the immigration and trade policy on xenophobia and parchment economic principles.
Plato saw democracy as a problem. If the majority are unapprised, on what basis do they make democratic decisions about the well-being of the state? Against the claim that universal suffrage is the default, some argue that it is justifiable to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others. Plato’s solution was to entrust power to carefully educated guardians. The scheme was so byzantine that Hobbes considered Plato’s proposal unworkable. By the nineteenth century, J. S. Mill suggested that extra votes be given to citizens with university degrees or intellectually demanding occupations as a defence against ignorance. In fact, in Mill’s day, select universities had had their own constituencies for centuries, allowing persons to vote both in their university constituency and wherever they lived. The system was not abolished until 1950.
In the US, élites who feared the ignorance of disadvantaged refugees tried to restrict ballots. In 1855, Connecticut introduced the first literacy test for American voters. During the next half century, this litmus test spread like COVID-19 to all parts of the country. They helped racists in the South circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment to disqualify black lives. Even in immigrant-rich New York, a 1921 law required new voters to take a test if they could not establish that they had completed the eighth-grade. Fifteen per cent failed. Voter literacy tests were not permanently banned by Congress until 1975, long after the civil-rights movement had discredited them.
But uncountable educated and enlighten minds have been confident about many proposals that proved to be ruinous—Blair’s blind support to invade Iraq, having a single European currency, collapsing subprime mortgages into collateralized debt obligations that triggered the 2008 global financial meltdown, and the distressing WHO management of the COVID-19 virus originating in Wuhan that has changed lives, livelihoods and even the way we die.
Learning is not development; however, an ecology of schooling that dismantles the unfreedoms of a plantation system of education will result in the development of capabilities that can set in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning. Being educated is part of centrally important beings and doings that are crucial to well-being. Education is foundational to all other capabilities, including the ethics of voting.
For the next century of schooling in former plantation economies, will we set as our overarching aim the promoting of a concrete set of basic learning outcomes, such as the abilities to read and write? Nothing more? This is insufficient to advance sustainable development and reduce poverty in its full sense by addressing capability deprivation.
Plantation schooling for the large majority stranded in morbidity is insufficient to advance sustainable development and address capability poverty. A more complete perspective would be the concept of equitable access to schooling that specifically enhances capability. Education content, processes, and contexts must be of such quality that it leads to developing abilities to think critically and creatively, solve problems, make informed decisions, cope with and manage new situations, and communicate effectively.
There can be no sustainable development inside of education inequality and tax injustice. Development is freedom only when every unfreedom to live the life we each value is dissolved. Education must enhance real choices and must exceed the provision of mere foundations for other capabilities. Development is freedom only when schools foster the development of discursive argument alongside intelligent appraisal that can be better described as discernment, comprehension and insight.
Here ‘intuition’ is a species of reason; it is not prior to reason or outside of reason, it is—in the highest degree—the activity of reason itself. For Aristotle, non-discursive knowledge comes first and provides the starting points upon which discursive or argumentative knowledge depends. Only this type of schooling can drive innovation and invention and make an economy competitive. Democracy in education requires that schooling cultivates reasoned agency. Learners must be free to choose whatever makes it possible to escape the cage of ideas built by others. Only then are we free to use our actual minds to make our possible worlds. Anything else is bondage and oppression.