Preparing for Citizenship: Teaching Youth to Live Democratically

Preparing for Citizenship: Teaching Youth to Live Democratically

Preparing for Citizenship: Teaching Youth to Live Democratically

Preparing for Citizenship: Teaching Youth to Live Democratically


Understanding democracy, learning to be democratic and to value democracy are critical competencies to be developed by all Americans. In the present debate about what knowledge is of most worth in the public school, these civic competencies are seen as second in importance only to the development of critical thinking. They are typically, however, honored more in commencement rhetoric than in school programs or practices; their actualization falls far short of their ascribed importance. The authors argue that critical opportunities for democratic development occur in the day-to-day life of the schools. It follows that all grade levels should participate in the creation of the "constitution" of the school and classrooms, the justice structure of the school (its disciplinary code, norms, and adjudication), the policy-making of the school, and in the understanding of the school as a social laboratory. The authors demonstrate the effectiveness of such a program by reporting some two decades of applied research on democratic schools which have realized some of these outcomes.


How are we to bring children to the spirit of citizenship and humanity which is postulated by democratic societies? By the actual practice of democracy at school. It is unbelievable that at a time when democratic ideas enter into every phase of life, they should have been so little utilized as instruments of education.

--Jean Piaget

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.

-- Ben Franklin

Item: Nearly one in four students and one in ten teachers say they have been victims of violence on or near school property, according to a 1993 Harris Poll of teachers and students in grades 3 to 12. A mother of a sixth- grade girl in a small town comments: "Susan has been coming home from school upset about the gangs of girls who have taken to roving around the playground, harassing other students. They steal hats, call names, stomp on lunch boxes, and push kids in the mud."

Item: In a 1993 study by the American Association of University Women, four in five high school students--85 percent of girls and 75 percent of boys--said they have experienced sexual harassment in school. Example: A boy backs a 14-year-old girl up against her locker, day after day. Com-

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