Democracy and Education

Article excerpt

Over the past six years this country has seen the Constitution discarded, the inilitary privatized, the church married to the state, women's reproductive rights repealed, gangster-style cronyism, disgusting incompetence, and propaganda campaigns of Orwellian proportions.

None of these abuses would have been possible if our country had educated children towards becoming the types of adults capable of recognizing and acting against threats to life, liberty, and happiness.

If we continue to force children to memorize the dates of wars without asking why we have perpetual war; if we continue to force children to memorize mathematical precepts without understanding how and why we use math; if we continue to force children to learn to read while ignoring literacy, we should not expect anything different than what we have had for many years: a bewildered herd.

If, however, we want something much different for our children, for our communities, and indeed for the world, then we must take a radically different approach to how we educate future citizens.

If we want democracy, we must educate for democracy.

Democracy is a form of associated living that fosters the growth of the individual through her participation in social affairs. Free, reflective, critical inquiry and the welfare of others undergird interaction, communion, and community building. Unlike authoritarian modes of government, democracy requires its members to participate in the political, social, cultural, and economic institutions affecting their development and, unlike authoritarian countries, democracies believe in the capacity of ordinary individuals to direct the affairs of their communities, especially their schools.

The trajectory our schools now follow does not bode well for democracy. The No Child Left Behind Act produces a hyper-productive, blindly obedient, worksheet completing citizenry, one capable of voting for American Idols, but one unable to recognize larger threats to humanity. In place of NCLB, Americans must develop education for democratic participation, a type of education that helps children mature into intelligent, critical, engaged, reflective, and compassionate members of their schools and communities.

Active participation in institutions prevents authoritarianism and allows for individual and community re-creation and growth. Privatizing or standardizing institutions does quite the opposite. …