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Democracy in US Public Education; a Historical and Theoretical Review
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Democracy in US Public Education; a Historical and Theoretical Review


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  • 1. Democracy in US Public Education A Historical and Theoretical Review "You can't come to know what it means to be a responsible, decision-making member in a democracy if you are not in a classroom or a school that practices democracy to begin with.” (Wölk, 1998, p. 80)
  • 2. What is Democracy? de·moc·ra·cy noun di-ˈmä-krə-sē ! ! : a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting ! : an organization or situation in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights ! :  a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections. ! :  the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority ! :  the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges ! ! - Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  • 3. ! ! What Does Democracy in Education Look Like? This should be an easy question to answer if we apply the basic definition of Democracy to an educational setting. ! ! ! ! Democratic Education is an educational ideal in which democracy is equally the goal, the guiding philosophy, the structure of the educational institution, and the method of instruction. Schools can be places to learn and enact democratic values such as justice, equality, respect and trust. Schools can be places that serve as as an experience of democratic individual–community interdependent relationships. A school system that teaches all children equally well without labelling the white, or the rich, or the male, or the American as more deserving of the best education possible, as well as the subsequent economic privilege that such an education should provide, is an essential component of an egalitarian and Democratic education. (bowles, giles sica 25years) ! ! ! ! Schools can be places to teach and practice necessary democratic skills such as discussion and debate amongst a community of equals. Schools can model participatory democracies through empowered and meaningful student governments and other student activities that allow for the practice of democracy. (TSADC)
  • 4. Obligations of Democratic Education Public schools, especially in a democracy such as ours, have the primary institutional obligation to provide children with the academic skills ―particularly literacy, numeracy, and an acquaintance with other disciplines, such as history, science, and the arts― to learn about the world in which they live. ! In addition, schools typically have had an important role in shaping youngsters' traits and attitudes, such as their ingenuity, integrity, and capacity for hard work both individually and collectively.
 ! A democracy, unlike an authoritarian state, expects participation of its citizens in shaping public opinion and making decisions about governing the nation. That participation needs to be both informed by knowledge and leavened with judgment, fairness, and respect. ! Educational institutions nurture all those qualities. (Graham p.250)
  • 5. Research Agrees with Graham on the Role of Public Schools The Carnegie Foundation= Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) report, The Civic Mission of Schools (Gibson & Levine, 2003), clearly points out that since the beginning of public education in the United States, our public schools have been the central way to educate for full participation in our democracy. It also points out that today our public schools are the only institutions with a clear mandate and the ability to reach and educate every child in the United States.(source) ! !
  • 6. So... have we achieved democracy in our public schools? • Realization of these democratic ideals has been a goal of our public education system since it's inception in the early 1900's. Over a hundred years later our education system, as well as our country as a whole, still do not reach these fundamental ideals. ! • All of us live in a democracy, but when we leave our private lives and enter a school or the workplace, democracy is suspended and we are submersed back into an age akin to feudalism with it's authoritarian power structures. ! ! ! Some laudable steps have been made in this direction which we will explore throughout this presentation. !
  • 7. Why not? There are many reasons, both diverse and systemic, in the private and pubic sectors. Many of these are deeply imbedded in our history and culture. All of them can be remedied. • • • • • ! From the very beginning employers and the well-to-do played the preeminent role in the political process by which schools emerged and evolved. ! Income inequality has persisted and steadily increased in our country, and with it inequality has grown in access to education and the opportunities that come from a good education. (Bowles & Gintis) ! Government and the private sectors have invested comparatively little in public education, research, technology, teacher education, community education projects and schools. ! Persistence of social, economic, racial and gender based inequality in education as well as our society as a whole has limited equal access to educational opportunities. ! Democratic principles encourage individual criticism of the power structures in which we participate. Administrators, policy makers, business leaders and others at the top of those structures actively avoid any such educated criticisms.
  • 8. A Brief Historical Review Naturally we need look no further than the founding fathers to begin our historical exploration of Democracy in Education. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! “The Founding Father's Enlightenment goals for education in the new democracy had been knowledge and virtue, building as they did on Puritan values in which both were valued equally.” (Graham p.16) !
  • 9. ! ! "If you expect a nation to be ignorant and free and in a state of civilization, you expect what never was and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson, 1816
  • 10. Actually, We Need to Look a Little Further Back to a Lesser Known Origin ! • Did you know there is a historical precedent for democratic governance in the Native American traditions? It turns out our founding fathers were being educated on democratic principles by the Iroquois, and founded parts of our own democracy from their rich democratic tradition.(James 2010) ! ! • “The Iroquois Great Law of Peace provided a template for democratic principles of initiative, recall, referendum, and equal suffrage. It established the responsibility of governmental officials to the citizenry and of the present generation to future generations (James 2010, p.17).” !
  • 11. • In 1952 Felix Cohen wrote: "It is out of a rich Indian democratic tradition that the distinctive political ideals of American life emerged. Universal suffrage for women as well as for men, the pattern of states within a state that we call federalism, the habit of treating chiefs as servants of the people instead of their masters, the insistence that the community must respect the diversity of men and the diversity of their dreams―all these things were part of the American way of life before Columbus landed." (Cohen, cited in James 2010, p.17) ! • The original Iroquois Great Law of Peace was ‘written’ using a belt of wampum. Bellow is another famous belt of wampum written to commemorate our undemocratic subjugation of the Iroquois people.
  • 12. Early Experiments ! Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), "father of modern educational science," was a vocal supporter of freedom and autonomy. Around the time of the American Revolution he created a school to engender those qualities in students. His theories and work were an inspiration for John Dewey, the father of the progressive education movement. (James 2010)
  • 13. Horrace Mann (1796-1859) ! ! In the 1840's the Massachusetts commissioner of education Horace Mann fiercely advocated for the founding of a public education system. At the time there were only private schools that did not seek to educate all children equally, but typically focused on children of the wealthy or members of a particular religious community. Mann argued for universal access to education for all citizens, subsidized by taxes. (Graham 2005)
  • 14. Horrace Mann and the Advent of Public Education ! • Horrace was adamant that public education should become the standard education for the nation, “not the assortment of private schools driven by assorted ideologies and economic interests. This argument echoed that of the Founding Fathers, namely that a democracy relying on the will of the people needed to be sure that the people were both informed and loyal or the nation itself would suffer.”(Graham 2005, p.13) ! • By the middle of the nineteenth century Mann had integrated his version of democratic principles into the new public education system he helped advocate for. ! • He felt that participation in the democratic process required acceptance of certain moral standards, which schools were expected to teach. Unfortunately these moral principles were limited by the discriminatory social norms of the time.
  • 15. John Dewey (1859-1952) ! John Dewey was a philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and democratic social reform. !
  • 16. Democratic Dewey ! • Dewey believed that education and learning are essentially social and interactive endeavors, which makes schools inherently social institutions where social reform should take place. He recognized schools as a place to nurture a democratic patriotism in which it is a citizen's responsibility to serve their country through enlightened criticism of it. ! • In addition, he believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning. He also believed that while children must experience democracy to learn democracy, they need adult guidance to develop into responsible adults. (Wikipedia) ! • He argued that schools had the responsibility to encourage full participation in our democracy by being places that, through education, dismantled the barriers of class that have continually kept people from interacting with each other in ways necessary for a functional and equitable democracy (Graham 2002).
  • 17. Albert Shanker (1928-1997) • • ! ! ! ! In the 1970’s a teacher and teacher’s union advocate, Shanker was a famous and profoundly controversial figure. According to Graham, “He deeply believed that the public schools had been and must continue to be instruments of democracy, providing opportunity for all citizens, while at the same time he worked toward building a strong teachers union committed to active participation in both the national and international labor movement. These seemed contradictory goals to some onlookers. (Graham 2002, p.173)” ! That these two forms of activism are seen as a contradiction touches the heart of why democratic education has not been successfully implemented in our public schools, both teachers and students are not give democratic rights in our socioeconomic system.
  • 18. Racial Inequality • Racial segregation was one of the major glaring undemocratic practices in US public education. In1944, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned a team of researchers to study this issue. They published An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. “They argued eloquently that the "American Creed" held the values of democracy and fairness to all, but that racial segregation as practiced in the United States violated the creed's most fundamental tenets.” (Graham 136) This report was largely ignored in the noise of WWII. ! • Desegregation of schools finally began on May 17, 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled, “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs . . . are by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the FourteenthAmendment.(Graham 2002, p.127)” ! • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 permitted the federal government to cut federal funds to schools that violated this act by remaining segregated. ! • Democratic ideal embodied in desegregation was very slow to find its way into our schools. Twenty years after the Supreme Court ruling Boston had to be desegregated by federal court order. Today schools are still sharply divided by race and income, though not in policy, but in practice.
  • 19. The Changing Tides of National Education Policy • The Port Huron statement, initiated by University of Michigan undergraduates, argued that everyone should participate in the decisions that shaped their lives. It became the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 and of the student protest movement in general.” (Graham 2010, p.225) ! • The Higher Education Act of 1965, which provided financial aid for undergraduates, was passed with the partial intention to increase social justice by providing the opportunity for students from low-income families to get a college education. ! • Title I- 1965 was also the year the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also a mechanism for social justice for younger students, was passed. Title I paid for “compensatory education” programs for children in low-income areas. Title I was used to enforce the Civil Rights Act as well as the No Child Left Behind education policy enacted under president Bush. (Graham 2002) ! • Common Core Standards have increased accountability and consistency among states while trying to ensure a quality education for every student. Though this is a laudable step towards democratic education, the new Core Curriculum Standards were developed with a primary focus on preparation for the workforce, not for full and equitable democratic participation.
  • 20. Sudsbury Valley School Sudsbury Valley School was founded in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1968 based on a model of full democratic governance. They have a School Meeting open to all students, teachers, administrators and other community members that votes on and manages all aspects of the school, including staff hiring and facilities. Beginning in the 1980s, several dozen schools opened based on Sudbury Valley. (Wikipedia) !
  • 21. Modern Democratic Schools ! • One of my favorite developmental theorists Lawrence Kohlberg used his research and theories as a foundation for the development and implementation a strong democratic education intervention: the Just Community approach. Put simply, the just community schools take seriously the democratic ideals of active participation in decision-making by all, respect for individual rights, and attention to the common good. The Just Community approach has been successfully implemented in schools throughout the USA and Europe. (Oser, Althof & HigginsD'Alessandro, 2008) ! • Democratic School Movements are increasing, mainly in private and “alternative” schools. ! • Alternative Education Resource Organization • This organization is dedicated to supporting democratic education, student decision-making, self-direction and equality. • Their website has an extensive list of democratic schools in the US.
  • 22. A Future We Can All Agree On “We were then [1978] , and remain, hopeful that education can contribute to a more productive economy and a more equitable sharing of its benefits and burdens, as well as a society in which all are maximally free to pursue their own ends unimpeded by prejudice, the lack of opportunity for learning, or material want. Our distress at how woefully the U.S. educational system was then failing these objectives sparked our initial collaboration. The system's continuing failure has prompted our recent return to the subject.” (Bowles & Gintis 2003) ! Let us take our hope and use it to create an education system that exemplifies the principles of our democracy. "22
  • 23. Bibliography Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (n.d.). Schooling in capitalist America. Sociology of Education, Vol. 75(No. 1 (Jan., 2002)), 1-18. ! Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2003). Schooling in capitalist America twenty-five years later. Sociological Forum, Vol. 18(No.2, June 2003), 343-348 ! Conley, D. (2011, March). Common core. Educational Leadership, 17-20 ! Democratic Education (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved Oct 20, 2013, from Democratic_education ! Graham, P. (2005). Schooling America; HOW THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS MEET THE NATION'S CHANGING NEEDS. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ! James, A. (2010). Reclaiming deep democracy. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 19(3), 16-19. ! John Dewey (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved Oct 20, 2013, from ! Massey, M. (1999). THE ROLE AND NECESSITY OF EQUAL EDUCATION AND COMPETITIVE DEBATE IN POST CAPITALIST/INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY. Retrieved from NFL/rostrumlib/ MasseyEqualEducNov99.pdf ! Oser, F., Althof, W., & Higgins-D'Alessandro, A. (2008). The just community approach to moral education: system change or individual change?. Journal of Moral Education, 37(3), 395-415. ! Quinn, B. (2011). The School as a Democratic Community. APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE, 15(2), 94-97 ! Wolk, S. (1998). A democratic classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. ! "23