When we talk about education in politics, we often ask ourselves how much the school or other educational institutions are able to influence the political involvement of children. Theoretically, one of the school’s educational goals is to train politically active people. To what extent, however, are education and political ideas intertwined? And what is the nature of this relationship?
In this article we want to focus on the effects that formal education has on future political life. Of course, education covers a much wider field than that offered by purely school or academic life, but it is an important factor that cannot be ignored. In this sense, the “political effects” that we will take into account are: political implications, political attitude and political knowledge.
First, let’s analyze how education and political ideas influence each other through three variables: (a) external variables, (b) direct variables, and (c) indirect variables.
External variables that influence education and political ideas
At a statistical level, when we talk about modulating variables, external or third, we refer to the external elements that lead to a correlation between two factors. For example, in a city the number of hospitals and prisons is a correlated figure; cities with more hospitals also have more prisons, and this is due to the intervention of a third variable: population.
Even in the case of education and political ideas there are external factors that intervene on this binomial, partly explaining the correlation. Among these factors the most relevant are: cognitive abilities, personality and socio-economic level.
In the case of cognitive abilities, the relationship is quite obvious. Higher verbal skills, good abstract reasoning, excellent memory, along with other skills, help to make progress in education and political ideas. Conversely, poor cognitive abilities lead to poor school results and the development of poorer political ideas.
As for the personality, it is known that certain attitudes can influence education and political ideas. For example, a learner, curious, or eager to learn character benefits better academic achievement and broader political understanding.
Another key aspect is the socio-economic level: political life and higher education are socially limited domains. Those without financial resources cannot freely choose a career. Likewise, people with low socio-economic status usually don’t spend much time in politics; because they are directly removed from it or because they spend most of their time trying to survive in precarious working conditions.
Direct variables in education that can influence political ideas
In the great variability of formal education, we find that different ways of organizing education cause differences in so-called political capacity. This shows us that both variables are in direct relationship. But what are the specific aspects capable of intervening in this relationship? The most important are the contents of the school curriculum and educational values.
The contents of the curriculum can have a direct influence on the political knowledge acquired by students. For obvious reasons, the direct acquisition of political concepts generates future citizens with greater capacities for political analysis. Furthermore, the nature of this content greatly influences the student’s political position. For example, a political education that highlights the benefits of liberalism is likely to shape people more attached to this current.
An education in values based on dialogue, debate and a critical view of facts is essential if a good political conscience is to be stimulated in students. If, on the other hand, the individual receives a closed and hierarchical education, he gets used to dogmas and authority, elements that hinder the development of a critical attitude towards politics.
Indirect variables between education and political ideas
It is probable that the level of education achieved will end up influencing many aspects of the person’s life; entering the world of work after compulsory school or after finishing a doctorate is not the same thing. Many of the changes related to the level of education affect the political attitude. The most important indirect variables are social position, self-concept and opportunity.
The level of studies reached places us, in the eyes of society, “above” or “below” the others. This is due to a long series of stereotypes that the higher the level of education, the greater the political influence, all other variables being equal.
Furthermore, everything we learn during our school life affects the way we see ourselves. This self-concept predisposes us to insert ourselves, to categorize ourselves within the group of people with a level of education similar to ours. And groups that include people with better academic or academic results are more socially accepted in the political world.
Finally, a higher level of education generally offers more individual opportunities ; we are therefore talking about greater or lesser possibilities to carry out activities of a political nature.
The relationship between education and political ideas can be analyzed from several points of view. But they can all be useful in understanding how to move so that our society is made up of politically active and highly competent people. The first is perhaps that of guaranteeing access to politics for all, freeing it from a social or economic status ; in this way, political parties would certainly be more representative, with a greater chance of meeting the collective interests of society.