Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Qualities of Democracy: Links to Democratic Leadership

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Qualities of Democracy: Links to Democratic Leadership

Article excerpt


For the school principal, recent trends--such as increasing student diversity, achievement disparities, democratic schooling, and accountability testing--have created a perfect storm, one that promotes research, reflection, and dialogue. Evidence, for instance, is beginning to emerge that principals with accomplished careers in the state of Texas are losing their jobs because of low test scores, and those Texas principals who serve as leaders of schools with diverse student populations are especially vulnerable (McGhee & Nelson, 2005). In defining the worth of students, teachers, and principals by test scores, education is turning further away from the very substantive qualities--like responsiveness, equality, and respect for civil and political freedoms--which are necessary for a healthy democracy. Such inattention leaves a democracy vulnerable, for as Dewey reminds us, "What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life" (1916, 9).

At no other time in the field's history have educational leaders been so aware of the importance of leadership to the enduring good health of education and to that of democracy (Goldring & Greenfield, 2002). Westbrook believes that as a result of decades of educational neglect, the American democracy has weakened, and its prospects are dim (1996). Bracey writes that No Child Left Behind has produced academic atrophy in the social sciences, languages, and the arts. "A little more of this and we can declare 'No Education Left'" (Bracey, 2004, 17).

For long-established democracies like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the psychological and political advantages of linking educational leadership to democracy are obvious, especially in light of our own vulnerability and our realization that the most potent influence against outside forces is a populace that understands democracy and the effort needed to make democracy work. As Westheimer and Kahne (2003) note, the lesson that many are learning is that democracy is not self-winding.

Cultural Context

Executing democratic leadership within schools is an essential task, although not an easy one. Many of today's schools have lost recognition of their central purpose, to educate future citizens to live in a democracy. And they have done so because of public pressure. A Nation at Risk held schools accountable for maintaining America's economic vitality and global standing rather than stimulating interest in democratic ideals (Chubb et al., 2003). Although it is true that democracy frequently thrives in societies that are economically viable, should schools be held accountable over that which they have no control? We have too often and unrealistically expected public schools "to compensate for the shortcomings of our society" (Reyes, Wagstaff, & Fusarelli, 1999, 183). Eliminating poverty, reducing crime and lowering unemployment, while helpful, does not by itself sustain a democracy. For example, three fourths of high school students take the First Amendment for granted, and only one adult in 100 can name the five freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution (Yalef & Dautrich, 2005). Furthermore, the business community plus state and federal governments are now major players in education. This involvement often chips away at the foundation of democracy, its grass roots.

Another reason for concern is that even as democracy spreads in parts of the world and more people are liberated from tyranny and oppression through gaining their right to vote (Diamond & Morlino, 2004), the United States seems to have lost a sense of its democratic self. During the recent presidential election, that awareness showed itself in three venues. The three major television networks used the national spotlight of morning and evening news programs to urge people to vote. Advertisements and campaigns from private citizens urged others to vote. …

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