Teaching Democracy by Being Democratic

Teaching Democracy by Being Democratic

Teaching Democracy by Being Democratic

Teaching Democracy by Being Democratic


The best way to teach democracy has been the subject of an ongoing debate for 2,500 years. Unlike most books about teaching democracy, this one spends more time on how to teach democracy than the what and why of teaching democracy. It punctures the irony of teaching democracy by lectures and superior teachers. In its place, this book provides a variety of illustrations for the teaching of democracy in an experiential and egalitarian fashion. The introduction presents a theoretical and analytical framework of democracy and democratic pedagogy. The six chapters cover topics such as structuring a democratic classroom; democratic practices that empower students; problem solving and community service that make the classroom a laboratory for democracy; and university-based programs of democratic alternatives that serve the community. The volume's treatment of community organization, students as collaborators, personal empowerment, the "community of need and response," and the democratic organizationexpresses its preference for direct democratic participation.


James MacGregor Burns

Not long ago I had the kind of experience that Teaching Democracy by Being Democratic illuminates. Some colleagues and I, concerned about the nonrepresentation or underrepresentation of huge groups of Americans in Congress, convened a gathering of grass-roots or "cobblestone" leaders of such groups. Women, African Americans, ex-offenders, "illegal" aliens, Native Americans, and others accepted our invitation. Absent were teen-age representatives of the largest of nonrepresented groups in Congress -- children.

My colleagues and I were aware that our leadership in calling this gathering gave us no commanding role in the discussion that followed. We had agreed that we would merely start the meeting off and let the invited participants take over. Still, we felt we needed to state the assumptions that lay behind the gathering. But immediately some of those assumptions were challenged. Why did we take for granted that they wanted representation in an irremediably "elitist" government? Why representation in Congress, that hopelessly reactionary institution? Why try to begin a debate that would be inevitably muffled or distorted by the media? and where were the children?

Most of all -- and to our considerable surprise -- the participants challenged our assumption that we had some right or duty to convene this meeting, because, inevitably, this assumption would color the nature of the discussion. Who were we to do this? in vain we contended that we were "only getting things started." a long discussion followed as the group shifted the subject to their assumptions. the outcome was best expressed by one of the African-American participants: "You called this meeting hoping we would join you -- we will go ahead and let you join us. . . ."

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