Schools and Education
In order for democracy to work, everyone in the population must have access to seeking out new knowledge, and to participate in the public debate. This requires that everybody is able to read and write. However, this is not enough.
In order to be able to assess whether what one reads is right or wrong, and in order to critically evaluate information, one needs to know some history, geography, cultural traditions, traditions of other cultures, social science, natural science, and a lot more. It is therefore a prerequisite for democracy that all children attend school and receive a broad education.
In Europe and The United States general education or compulsory education was introduced in the 1800s. In the United States democracy was introduced in the late 1700s. In Europe, a series of revolutions broke out that overturned monarchy in the mid-1800s. Gradually this led to democracy in various countries from the mid-1800s and onwards. This development took place along with the industrial revolution in the 1800s. Several factors thus had an influence together. Nonetheless, democratization and the introduction of universal schooling for all children happened roughly simultaneously.
In the beginning, teaching was all about being able to read, write and count, along with learning Christian hymns and reading the Bible. History was also taught, but this largely involved learning about how heroic the country's historical kings had been. But from the late 1800s onward teaching began to include natural history (i.e., geology, biology and other sciences), and especially after the Second World War, social science and the humanities became very important.
The humanities curriculum in a modern school system includes many things. History, for example, is presented in a way that includes criticism of the country's own actions and does not just glorify the country's past. Learning to read includes reading a variety of fictional works with analysis and discussion of the books' contents and messages. Learning foreign languages includes reading and discussions of the foreign cultures' literature. Media literacy is included, in which students learn how newspapers, television stations and radios present news, in order to help them avoid being manipulated. Various creative and artistic disciplines which enable students to express themselves are also part of modern schooling.
Modern education in democratic societies is based on providing students with ample opportunities for discussion with each other and with their teachers. The schools have an important role in familiarizing the children with critical thinking and in engaging in dialogue with others.
Next chapter: Universities and Science