Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Deliberating through Group Differences in Education for Trust and Respect

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Deliberating through Group Differences in Education for Trust and Respect

Article excerpt


In an educational setting with students from a variety of cultural, ethnic, and social backgrounds, there is the abiding challenge of fostering mutual respect in spite of conflicting beliefs. The extent of the disagreement falls along a continuum. A limited kind can be sub-cultural differences among members of the same culture. For example, some Caucasian students from one geographical region or socioeconomic status hold one view, relative to their culture, about appropriate forms of cultural expression that differs from Caucasians in the other regions. Another form of cultural difference would be the broader definition of family held by cultures from South and Latin American countries compared with a definition of family, as primarily nuclear, that characterizes the American middle-class ideal. In the American context, the competition among cultural groups (e.g., Caucasians, African Americans, Native Americans, those of so-called "Hispanic" descent from the Caribbean, South and Latin America) over whose narrative will be socially and politically determinant constitutes a form of cultural conflict. The Jewish and Palestinian cultures, which have differing religious beliefs and political views regarding Jerusalem, are exemplars of extreme cultural differences.

In Nicholas Appleton's (1983) view, "cultural conflict" occurs when there is disagreement "between different cultural groups; when culturally, ethnically, or racially identifiable groups clash over material rewards, status, power or values" (p. 157). The most significant aspect of Appleton's definition of cultural conflict for the purpose of this article is that the conflict is based on the cultural, ethnic, or racial distinctiveness of the contending parties. The question I am addressing is: In the context of differing conceptions of the good life in a democracy, on what basis can education encourage mutual respect for the beliefs of others without illiberally imposing a particular moral or political view? Or, relatedly, how should respect be fostered in a democracy given the differences among ways of life?

As a proponent of democratic deliberation, Amy Gutmann maintains that schools can promote respect through implementing the principles and procedures of deliberative democracy in a "politics of recognition" or public acknowledgement of minority cultural beliefs and their significance for political, social, and educational policy. For Gutmann (2004), this approach recognizes "the role that cultural differences have played in shaping society and the world in which children live" (p. 71). I argue that despite Gutmann's cogent efforts to accommodate a plurality of cultural views in the politics of recognition within a deliberative democratic framework, for a multicultural democratic society, Gutmann's form of deliberation falls short of the moral ideal of civic equality that fosters mutual respect. I develop and elaborate upon this critique of Gutmann below.

Democratic Deliberation, Gutmann, and Respect

The body of Gutman's work on democratic deliberation fits within a fairly recent discourse on morally legitimate forms of government in society. Over the last 30 years, democratic deliberation theory emerged in the political philosophy literature as participatory politics has gained prominence on the political front. It has done so as a counter reaction to liberalism and its institutions, in the 1950s and 1960s, that were intended to promote and preserve human flourishing but instead were exposed as failed bureaucracies (e.g., military, education, Congress). As Bohman and Rehg (1996) explain in their seminal text on deliberative democracy, two central tenets characterize deliberative democracy. The first is "that deliberation constrains citizens to cast their proposals in relation to the common good" and the second is that "deliberation should improve decision-making" (p. xiv). (1) Gutman's work is particularly concerned with the second claim, particularly given the fact of pluralism in society. …

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