CONCLUSION
THE PRIMACY OF
POLITICAL EDUCATION

“Nor can we regard a republic as disorderly,” Machiavelli wrote, “where so many virtues were seen to shine. For good examples are the results of good education, and good education is due to good laws; and good laws in their turn spring from those very agitations which have been so inconsiderately condemned by many.”1 Whether or not Machiavelli was right about Rome, his general argument expresses an important truth about democratic education: good laws, which are the consequence of peaceful political agitation in a democracy, are the source of good education, and good education in turn creates good citizens.

We know, of course, that political agitation does not always produce good laws. In any democracy but one of our imagination, some laws regulating education will be bad laws, like the separate but equal statutes still standing in the 1950s that taught children the wrong lesson about democratic citizenship. Laws that violate the principles of nondiscrimination or nonrepression ought to be overturned in the name of democracy itself. But even laws that lie within the legitimate bounds of democratic authority may fail to institute practices that educate children fully to their rights and responsibilities as citizens. It is all but inevitable that our laws fail in this way, because the democratic ideal of citizenship is so educationally demanding.


DISCRETION IN WORK AND PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS

Democratic education is demanding not just of laws governing schools and other primarily educational and cultural institutions, but also of laws that shape our economic and political institutions. The aims of democratic education will not be fully realized until citizens have additional opportunities to exercise discretion in their daily work and to participate in democratic politics. This point is most often raised today by radical critics of American society, but the insight was widely shared by classical liberals. In The Wealth of Nations, for example, Adam Smith commented:

____________________
1
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses, in The Prince and the Discourses (New York: Modern Library, 1950), book 1, ch. 4, pp. 119–20.

-282-

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