Sunday, November 28, 2010


Copyright © 2004 José Cossa

In Democracy’s Handmaiden: The Influence Of Mass Education On Political And Economic Change, Christenson and Crenshaw (1999) use cross-national samples and multivariate statistical techniques to test the reasonableness of expecting education to play a central role in all facets of society’s transition from “traditional” to “modern.” They focus on three dimensions of modernization, i.e., economic growth, stratification, and political democracy. The authors argue that they have good reason to suspect that a society’s chances of forming and maintaining political democracy improve with the provision of mass education. Education is transformative by gradually changing the cognitive terrain, it changes the way people view themselves, their environment, and their relationships to the state. Education fosters possessive individualism, secularization, and egalitarian or meritocratic expectations.

Arguing from a social psychological modernization theory framework, Christenson et. al. state that, “if political democracy requires an informed, self-interested citizenry, then mass education is truly the handmaiden of democracy. This follows the theorists’ argument that “the modern person tends to be politically active, optimistic about his/her ability to shape personal and societal destiny, anti-authoritarian, cognitively flexible, and open to change… Mass education’s attributes consist of (1) universal, standardized, rational curricula; (2) complex institutionalization; and (3) a focus on the individual as ‘action’ unit, with emphasis on personal achievement and scholastic aptitude; thus, conclude Christenson et. al., mass education is the paramount incubator of social psychological modernity.

The authors’ purpose is to demonstrate empirically that mass education plays a unique, integral role in macrosocial change, exerting direct influences on the antecedents of democracy, economic development and social stratification/inequality, thereby indirectly affecting democracy, as well as exercising direct effect on democracy itself. The findings demonstrate that,

(1)   secondary education (as a proxy for formal education in general) has linear, positive effect on economic growth; (2) education displays complex, curvilinear relationships with measures of economic inequality, reflecting how education interacts with industrial base transformations to produce stratification systems; and (3) education has a direct curvilinear (inverted U-shaped) effect on the growth of democracy as well as its indirect effects via development and stratification.

The authors emphasize that their findings suggest that “modern mass education is at the heart of the institutional matrix we call modern society, and this high level of institutional interdependency means that education is a master variable that should not be ignored in cross-national or comparative research.”

The article follows the following outline:

A.     Education and Economic Growth

A.1. Methods and Analysis of Education’s Effect on Economic Growth
A.2. Results

B.     Education and Inequality

B.1. Methods and Analysis of Education’s Effect on Income/Sectoral Inequality
B.2. Results

C.    Education and Democracy

C.1. Methods and Analysis of Education’s Effect on Democratization
C.2. Results

D.    Education and Social Change
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