Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDUCATORS' ROUNDTABLE - Creating the 'Space' for Civic Dialogue

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDUCATORS' ROUNDTABLE - Creating the 'Space' for Civic Dialogue

Article excerpt

DEMOCRACY CANNOT survive unless people come together in dialogue to develop shared projects despite their differences and without unduly imposing their conceptions of the good life on others. Without dialogue, shared projects can become unilateral impositions. After all, the past is littered with efforts that started with the noblest of intentions -- only to end in tyranny.

The problem is that not everyone enters democratic spaces under the same conditions. In Canada and the United States, public memory (the widespread historical representations of movies, TV shows, newspapers, popular fiction, public monuments, and school textbooks) makes it appear as if certain people belong in certain spaces while others do not. These same representations seem to explain the intentions of those who appear to belong, while making it seem as if the intentions of those who seem not to belong are at best unpredictable. Addressing this inequality is one of the main challenges facing democratic education.

As a "white" man, I can walk through most neighborhoods in most Canadian or U.S. cities without having my right to do so questioned. Public memory helps me do this by continually representing such spaces as having been made by and for those like me. Countless movies and TV shows celebrate the occupation of the land by people of European origins, like me. Our national pasts are recounted from the same perspectives. Meanwhile, the mass media effectively exclude the experiences, perspectives, and contributions of others. Even though indigenous peoples occupied the land for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, few people of European origins today even remember the names indigenous people use to refer to themselves. Public monuments tend not to record indigenous peoples' heroes or commemorate their sacrifices. Public memory only sporadically records the ways in which cultural, institutional, and physical spaces have been made what they are today by the racist exploitation and exclusion of those whose ancestors came from Africa, Asia, or the Americas. …

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