EDUCATION AS LIBERATION?
Less developed regions have experienced massive increases in both education and democracy over the past half century, and it is widely claimed that many recent democratic transitions have been propelled by increasingly educated youth populations. Scholars have also speculated about education’s social and political impacts, variously arguing that education promotes “modern” pro-democratic and secular attitudes and weakens ethnic attachments; that it instills acceptance of existing authority; and that it empowers the disadvantaged. These views have informed international efforts to promote education in poor countries, often focusing on girls. We assess the social and political impacts of a randomized girls’ merit scholarship incentive program in Kenya that raised test scores and secondary school enrollment. Counter to modernization theory, increased human capital did not produce more pro-democratic or secular attitudes and, if anything, it strengthened ethnic identification. Consistent with the empowerment view, young women in program schools had fewer arranged marriages and were less likely to accept domestic violence as legitimate. Moreover, the program increased objective political knowledge, and reduced both acceptance of political authorities and satisfaction with politics. However, in our Kenyan context, this rejection of the status quo did not translate into greater perceived political efficacy, community participation or voting intentions. Instead, the program increased the perceived legitimacy of political violence. We argue that selection bias may account for the view that education instills greater acceptance of authority.