Earning and Education

The importance of earning was apparent in both American Citizenship by Judith N. Shklar and The Life of Frederick Douglass written by Frederick Douglass. In each reading, the inability to earn is compared to having a lack of freedom. Shklar compares the issue of earning to being a slave whereas Douglass’s account gives the reader concrete proof. Shklar also conceptualizes the principle of inclusion. The idea that an elite “group” who can both vote and earn and are considered true citizens. The members within this “group” continue to push back towards others trying to pervade the boundary set in place. They continue to make the “club” more elite and harder to join. This idea is extremely present in Douglass’s writing as he reflects on his time as a slave.

Douglass recalls heading to Baltimore to work strenuously all day and being forced to hand his money over to his master once he was done. His master kept Douglass from his earnings as a way to keep Douglass away from the idea of freedom. His master understood that by keeping Douglass’s profit and keeping him from earning for himself, he was keeping Douglass from being a citizen. As slaves, they were not regularly allowanced for their long, laborious days. They were not compensated and the lacked the ability to earn for themselves. They had no right to earn, thus in Shklar’s ideology, they were not true citizens for “we are citizens only if we ‘earn’” (Shklar, 67).

Another aspect of this argument is the role education plays in being a citizen. Douglass believes education is a key step to earning. He recalls his master, Mr. Auld, forbading Mrs. Auld to teach Douglass how to read and write. Mr. Auld believed that once a slave learned to read, “there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would become unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (Douglass, 338). This only made Douglass more eager to learn. It’s this action of not allowing slaves to better themselves that follows Shklar’s idea that those within the bounds of citizenship push to keep others out. Mr. Auld is keeping Douglass from permeating the boundaries of this elite “group”. He is kept in the dark of these injustices to keep him from rebelling. With education comes more desirable jobs. Why would someone labor if they are capable of doing something more?

Although slavery is no longer an issue today, the idea of citizenship as theorized by Shklar is still present. To really be a true citizen, one must be able to both vote and earn. The ability to earn gives you freedom. Whether it may be the freedom to spend your earnings how you so choose or the freedom to earn how you wish, freedom is gained through earning. Another aspect of this argument is the role of education. With education comes more desirable jobs and better ways to earn. With education, a slave can permeate the boundaries of citizenship.



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2 Responses to Earning and Education

  1. The life of Frederick Douglas is the biggest proof that education is the highest level of freedom. It allows a person to view themselves in a system rather than a reactionary figure to their environment.
    Also, you mentioned in your post a crucial aspect of this struggle to find a place in the elite group, which is that every group that makes it -or individual for that matter- pushes back against people who are outside the group, and that is a fascinating phenomenon. Is it the fact that they fought to get there that made them hostile towards other oppressed groups? or is the fact that they think that the value of the group would decrease by adding more people to the elite? or is it a combination or many factors that lead to this? But the reality is there is historical evidence of many groups who were oppressed, yet became part of the oppression system later on.

  2. vassallucci says:

    You are right, although slavery is no longer an issue today, these ideas of citizenship as theorized by Shklar and Douglass are more newsworthy than ever today. Just like it was during decades, the citizenship notion is today more than ever threatened. We cannot even give a precise definition of citizenship. As we saw today, I think we can add a new dimension to this notion, a dimension which has to be taken into account as well as “voting” and “earning” in order to accede to citizenship as a standing, a new dimension called “being”. Indeed, it seems that today it is not enough to have the right to vote and to earn to accede to this citizenship category. As we saw with Edward E. Curtis IV this morning, what we are and what we believe influence strongly on our chances to belong, or not, to this citizens category. Of course education plays an important role in this process, but I think we first have to focus on what exactly citizenship is and actualize it, put it into perspective with our respective countries, with our contemporary society and its new stakes. In my view, the American citizenship appears for example totally different than French one, Chinese one, Vietnamese one, Korean one or Ugandan one. A long citizenship education process has to start as soon as possible in each country (even it is the case in some of them).

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