Taking Aung San Suu Kyi a Step Further: the Importance of Education in Burma

In an October 25th blog post written by beneikey, an attendee of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Skype session at Rackham Auditorium, the author mentions her statement that Americans have a tendency to take democracy for granted and how it is truly of value for Burmese citizens. While it was an important point, I wish to stress Aung San Suu Kyi’s emphasis on the importance of education in Burma. Coupled with Douglass’ statements on education, it seems that both Aung San Suu Kyi and Douglass reasonably challenge Shklar’s theory of citizenship.

In Frederick Douglass’ “What the Black Man Wants he writes:

“By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means leads us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibility like other men.”

We see that he advocates for voting as a manner in which someone can become educated and therefore a citizen. Without enfranchisement there is limited opportunity to become well versed in politics and to contribute to society. Voting and therefore education, drives a wedge between the slaves and citizens.

On the other hand, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of the development of universities to educate young people in Burma and to raise the standard of education. It is through our generation and as students that we can help stress its importance. Education enlightens students and they become politically cognizant. Knowledge of basic subjects or of Burma, a country teeming with political history enables those in Burma to determine whether they have attained their essential rights. To have a grasp on civic education, she implied, is an indispensable characteristic as a citizen in one’s country. The political and social consciousness acquired from education leads to voting rights and creates a framework for citizenship and democracy.

Both Douglass and Aung San Suu Kyi incorporate voting, a concept of citizenship that we once saw with Shklar whose theory is based on the premise of earning and voting. Education rests outside Shklar’s realm and Aun San Suu Kyi’s Skype session strengthens my belief that education is a significant factor in citizenship.

Douglass clearly believes that voting leads to education and consequently citizenship while education is of importance to Aung San Suu Kyi because it leads to voting and then citizenship. We determine that education, despite where it falls in the process, before or after voting, is a vital component.

The importance of education from a modern perspective only strengthens my notion that education contributes to citizenship. Douglass’s mention of education was not fully supported enough to deem it a crucial element but after hearing Aung San Suu Kyi speak I am convinced that it is. My next logical question is, does Shklar give enough credit to education? Perhaps she should consider incorporating an additional element of citizenship.

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One Response to Taking Aung San Suu Kyi a Step Further: the Importance of Education in Burma

  1. miswain says:

    Aung San Suu Kyi’s viewpoint is simple common sense, no offense to Shklar or even Douglass. If one was to go out onto the street and ask people what makes a good citizen, the most cookie-cutter answer out there would be something along the lines of “Somebody who is informed and who contributes to society.” I know that I would not be an involved voter today if I hadn’t first been educated about what is happening in the world and what our civic role is. Shklar’s definition just seems too rigid for this.

    On the other hand, Fredrick Douglass valued voting because it was an opportunity that he had never had. Most of us who are American citizens, on the other hand, were educated about voting on the basis that it was something we would certainly possess in the future. This however, was not the case in Burma, which is what makes the contrast between Kyi and Douglass.

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