My Views on the Democratic Experiment
When I imagine democracy, I imagine a society free of exploitation and filled with equity. It’s hard to conceptualize this abstract concept. There is no system presently on earth that can come close to that. As far as I know, every society partakes in some form of inequity and exploitation whether consciously or not.
Democracy is a system of government that created by the entire people in that system. The ethos of this system is social equity–to give every one a fair chance at participating in said system. However, this idea is often nuanced and skewed to benefit with most power and with the most resources. The system is made of people and the same people can create barriers and gate keep access to the full participation of democracy. Thus, democracy and liberation are not synonymous.
Liberation is the act of setting something or someone free from oppressive conditions. Democracy, while a great idea, does not guarantee egalitarianism. Without checks and accountability, democracy can become the oppressive force when it falls into the wrong hands. There are countless examples throughout history in which the system of democracy is used to put tyrants in power who then unleash oppression upon the people. There are also those who do it discretely through policies and procedures that limit access to the participation in government. One of those discrete manners is education.
I got lucky and miraculously got a spot in one of the NYC’s gifted and talented programs. Key word: miraculously. My parents are immigrants from a rural part of Mexico and due to societal conditions beyond their control, my dad never went to school and my mom was barred from continuing her education past first grade because she was a girl. My parents who spoke little English entrusted my teachers with my life. I got lucky that I had the right teachers who saw potential in me, who helped me cultivate that potential and who were the ones orienting me about other opportunities. When I got into the specialized public school program, I remember the divisions and segregation very visible. My school shared the building with other schools that did not offer the same opportunities that my school had. I remember analyzing Yeats and Pattillo Beales and applying for private college prep high schools–things that the other students in the same building had no idea about.
I reference this experience because what we have in this country and around the world is a historical access to educational opportunities. Throughout history, education has been barred or restricted to those in the lower strata of society. We still see it to this day. We have created a scarcity complex within education which has limited access to the opportunities that develop holistic, self-sufficient, and independent learners. In doing so, we have pinned people against each other for top seats to institutions that grant students the best opportunity. The question I have always asked myself is why? Why can’t every school be a gifted and talented school? Why can’t every college be a reputable institution? The answer is simple. Centering and granting opportunities to the most oppressed would catalyze a societal transformation. It would result in a truly democratic society with equal access and participation that would dismantle the oppressive systems that upholds the current status quo and it would finally enable collective action and participation.