Monday, May 21, 2012

Democracy: How're We Doing?

Are we doing a good job teaching kids what it means to be citizens of a democracy?

What are the lessons in democracy that we are currently teaching?

Is it a matter of putting U.S. History and Civics into the curriculum, teaching the Bill of Rights and the three parts of government?

In his book, Democratic School Accountability, Ken Jones says,

“What about instilling the desire for schools to enact those values for our children in a way that goes beyond simply studying them. Our schools should provide living democratic experiences in order to prepare students to become the kinds of adults who can understand and promote these values in our government and society.”.

Looked at this way, how are we doing?

When we hear of an adult in a school setting saying children have to earn the right to speak by following the adult-drawn rules of behavior, we should see red flags. The most fundamental lesson in democratic community living is being ignored, but why?

The traditional model of education, being entirely built on the concept that adults know, more than children do, what they need to know, and learn, and be, is necessarily a dictatorship.  If we want to teach kids stuff, and place no value what is already inside them, then we have to expect rebellion. Misbehavior, acting out, destruction of property, drug use, bullying.

The only way to teach democracy in a civilization that ignores the needs of its people is by hypocrisy.  Ken Jones again:

Democratic learning aims for freedom of expression, pursuit of the truth in the marketplace of ideas, individual and group choices, student activity and participation, associative learning, and the application, demonstration and contribution of learning to immediate and larger communities. Such efforts are made in the context of justice and equality for all, a consideration of individual liberty and group freedom, and respect for the authority and responsibility of teachers in setting conditions for developmental learning.

It’s more than curriculum. I quote my cousin Ron once again: “Children don’t learn from what you say. They learn from who you are, and you can’t hide that.” In fact, curriculum in democracy is entirely superfluous.

Guide kids through the process of building a civilization together. Grant kids the rights that they should have, for self-determination, and let the learning begin.


  1. Democracy is a political construct for a form of government and is generally interpreted as "rule of the majority". Is that what you want for schools and education? I don't.

  2. The schools that operate under majority rule are very successful. Why not study or visit such schools and find out why they want things that way and why it works so well. I'm sure your fears about trusting children and staff to make decisions about what works best would be allayed.

  3. Nancy, why do you feel so strongly that democracy can't work in an educational setting?