Academic journal article Education

Democratic Education, Public Policy, and Disavowing Local Culture

Academic journal article Education

Democratic Education, Public Policy, and Disavowing Local Culture

Article excerpt


This article addresses the public and private knowledge of children. Local knowledge, or folk culture, is an evolving belief system at the heart of personal knowledge. My primary focus is on simple, nonpolitical, and low-status local folk cultures in poor, ethnic, racial, and minority groups. What is the relationship between local knowledge and scholastic, or public knowledge? I intend to compare public and private knowledge of children - some from the middle class, but mostly from socially disadvantaged groups - to study how dominant popular cultures influence the moral, political, and ideological bases of public school curriculum.

Local knowledge has - or at least ought to have - direct implication for the philosophy of public education, the thinking about schools that must take into account many aspects of childhood, learning, and culture. In my view, public education - the implicit political education currently predominant in American public schools - is not democratic now, because it is based on a narrow, self-serving definition of educational values; it discriminates against particular cultural groups, disavowing local culture. Public education true to democratic principles would provide schools that are different from now. Their curriculum would have to be reformed to draw on sacred and secular traditions so as to nurture children's personal knowledge.

Community Life and Learning

Human beings live individual and social lives. The mental and physical life of the individual interacts with community life, contributing to the social mind. Necessary conditions of social life are constitution, contingency, and conflict.(1) In a multicultural society, different social groups compete for territory and influence. Cooperation prevents warfare between powerful groups and saves those less fortunate or powerful from despair or destruction.(2) State and national constitutions express hope, channeling and harnessing conflicts for cooperation between different local cultures. The search for a perfect society (an outgrowth of romantic idealism), despite its continuous appeal, all to easily becomes one belief that is absolutely and eternally obligatory on all people. Such attempts have a dark and sinister history.(3) There never has been nor will there ever be a perfect society.

Local knowledge, embedded in local or folk culture, is the unique set of beliefs, activities, and values worked out over time and held in common by people. Their patterned social interaction not only imparts particular, personal identity to individual group members, but also constitutes the very identity of the group itself. The characteristics of particular local knowledge originate in environmental factors, contributions of individual group members, and ties to sacred and secular traditions. Local knowledge, developing spontaneously through myriad pathways between irrational and rational thought,(4) is the intimate relationship that individuals enjoy with the particulars of the world, thereby helping that person to make sense of his or her human condition.

The family provides the basic elements for cultural and social being, a child's first and formative education in local knowledge - a soul. The health of the family is essential for the well-being of individual children, therefore society. Public education in a democratic society is the formal, institutional means for all children to gain an understanding and appreciation of the family in its relationship with the local community and, ultimately, the complex cultural heritage.

Over time, various local cultures are born, struggle or flourish, and die. Some, like those affiliated with the major religions of the world, have all-encompassing apprehensions of the world that continue for centuries and give their members a personal identity, tying them to "family, to tradition, to community, and to being part of the human race."(5) Other such cultures, like those in emergency shelters, are ephemeral and functional, and spiritually and psychologically limited. …

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