Democracy: A Critical Red Ideal

Article excerpt

Education for a democracy has provided a deeply treasured language for shaping or children's schooling and a litmus test for judging their purposes and practices ... democratic schooling has been the basis of struggle....

--Linda McNeil, 2002

Surely it is time to re-open public discussion about the aims of education and ensure that our current policies and practices are consistent with the core qualities of democracy; democracy not narrowly defined as a form of government but as Dewey characterised it--as a way of life, as an ethical conception and hence always about the democracy still to come.

--Roger Simon in Portelli & Solomon, 2001

Introduction

My overarching purpose in this paper is to trouble popular notions of democracy and in the process generate questions that raise doubts about the validity and value of popular conceptions of the meaning and practices of democracy. I will also suggest some core qualities of democracy for the readers' consideration that I use in my work as an educational researcher, preservice and post-graduate teacher education instructor, and practicum supervisor to evaluate educational philosophies, policies, curriculum, pedagogy, cocurricular activities, decision making and discipline in schools.

Is democracy a way of life, a way of organising the political, social, and economic life of communities that is defined by a generalised participative dialogic process that is directed towards the nurturance of peace, and social, economic and ecological justice? In this paper I will be comparing and contrasting, this ideal, what I refer to as critical red democracy, (1) with the popular view and practice of democracy. I have written this political paper as an intervention in the world (Freire, 2004), an intervention directed towards reclaiming and reasserting an ideal of democracy I believe worth struggling for. According to my understanding of democracy, which has been composed, coloured and shaded by my first hand experiences of "Fourth World" "democracies" (Bobiwash, 2001) and my mixed Haudenosaunee and working class Scot/Irish heritage the core distinguishing content qualities of a democratic community are: generalised and empowered dialogue, ecological justice, peace, equity, anti-racism, cooperation and sharing, freedom from hunger and freedom to shelter and clothing.

Specifically, I will examine multiple constructions of democracy in popular and academic discourse. I argue that continued attempts to clarify the meaning(s) of democracy, to analyse the academic and popular discourse on democracy, and to examine diverse, historic, and contemporary examples of indigenous democracy is crucial if we hope to reclaim a substantive democracy and counter the popular flawed logic that voting and free markets define democracy.

Aboriginal ways of knowing guide my thinking. My purpose here is anti-colonial, and disruptive, yet hopeful, playful and constructive. I am, of course, keenly interested in issues related to the continuing and seemingly inexorable power of the social, economic and political minority to name, rename, define, redefine, populate and depopulate the world and the word. The philosophy of hope and possibility guiding this intervention paper springs from the discursive and redemptive moral and intellectual power of fourth world people's knowledge, practices, and institutions (Gunn, 1986; Graveline, 1998; Maracle, 1988; Said, 1993). Ironically, this paper is also situated within an approach to social science research Walter Mingnolo (2002) conceives of as "critical cosmopolitanism." Mingolo portrays efforts to explore contextualised democratic experiences that respect diversity in order to avoid the dread homogeneity of a "new universalism," as crucial. Mingnolo suggests these inclusive democracy stories from below are an empowered counter narrative to globalisation from above, and that these local histories must be given a prominent hearing in critical dialogues exploring and analyzing democracy. …