Critical Voices in School Reform: Students Living through Change

By Beth C. Rubin; Elena M. Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

"We have a motion on the floor"

Montclair High School and the Civics and Government Institute

David Lee Keiser and Shana Stein

To become an integrated person is not only to understand the worlds in which we live and work, but to become the kind of person who will take part in shaping those worlds. This emphasis on critique of current realities, and on participating in the re-creation of our worlds, is a central part of democratic life.

(Beyer, 1996:17)

The need for students to engage in the democratic critique and participation to which Beyer (1996) refers has lately become acute. Due both to the contested 2000 Presidential Election, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, students in this country's schools have had the opportunity to examine what it means to live in the social and political democracy of the United States. Of course, most debates about democracy are less momentous than those precipitated by the two events mentioned above, and yet, one function of debate and critique - about any subject - is both to strengthen and challenge the democratic process. In this time of heightened student civic engagement in school - brought on in recent years by school shootings as well as national crises - many topics generate heated debate and constructive critique. Much as the Columbine shootings galvanized movements towards educating for compassion, the recent challenges to working democracy have renewed many educators' commitment to enculturating students into a democratic society (Aronson, 2000; Goodlad et al., 1990). Some whole school reforms, such as the Coalition of Essential Schools, operate under democratic principles of participation, consensus building, and equity (Sizer and Sizer, 1999). Schools unaffiliated with whole school reform and renewal organizations can also create democratic spaces for students to learn about and enact democratic principles.

At Montclair High School in northern New Jersey, a small, democratically run student congress meets regularly to enact and review legislation. On one recent Friday, the congress needed to raise money for a trip to Washington, DC. A representative brought a motion to sell lollipops and

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