Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Education and Democracy - Advancing the Agenda

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Education and Democracy - Advancing the Agenda

Article excerpt

The well-educated individual easily acquires the skills of a specific workplace when these become necessary, Mr. Goodlad points out. To make the dozen or more years of schooling instrumental to the future needs of the workplace, however carefully predicted, is immoral and dangerous.

THE PAST 15 years have witnessed the emergence of several educational improvement initiatives of national scope that have taken shape largely with the support of private philanthropy. Most have focused on schools; several, on teacher education. Since its inception, ours has assumed the close relationship of the two and has addressed their simultaneous renewal.

Our initiative is driven by a research-based agenda referred to by the thousands of school and university people involved in the effort as the Agenda for Education in a Democracy.


Three agencies have been and are engaged with the Agenda for Education in a Democracy: the Center for Educational Renewal (CER) at the University of Washington, founded in 1985; the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER), assembled in 1986 and reconstructed in 1990-91; and the nonprofit Institute for Educational Inquiry (IEI), created in 1992. The major function of the CER has been research, that of the NNER has been implementation, and IEI has focused on leadership training. The Agenda emerged out of two decades of inquiry on educational change, schooling, and teacher education, conducted first by teams in the research division of the Institute for Development of Educational Activities, located in Los Angeles, and then at the CER in Seattle.1

The Agenda is comprehensive in its inclusion of a four-part mission; some five dozen conditions necessary for advancing this mission, which are embedded in 20 propositions referred to as postulates; and a strategy of individual and institutional renewal. (The 20th postulate was added to the original 19 in 2000 and pertains to supporting and sustaining the teaching career.) The whole is grounded in a concept of education as a moral endeavor serving both the individual and the common good through the development of those civil and civic dispositions espoused by the great religions and by lay thinkers in their pursuit of the ideal human condition. In the rhetoric of the Agenda, these attitudes and behaviors are referred to as indicators of "democratic character," both individual and collective, whether social or political.

The Agenda's strategy has focused on the simultaneous renewal of schooling and teacher education for the well-being of children and young people. The mission for schools addresses this end in two parts: 1) the enculturation of the young into the freedoms and responsibilities of a democratic society and 2) their deep and broad introduction into and preparation for participation in the human conversation. For those who teach the young in schools, the mission includes education in and commitment to this conception of what our schools are for and adds two other responsibilities: 1) employing a caring pedagogy and 2) providing moral stewardship of schools.

Whereas successive eras of school improvement have emphasized reform and accountability, the Agenda emphasizes renewal and responsibility. "Reform" and "accountability" connote compliance, a response that ranks low in its appeal to the human spirit. "Renewal" and "responsibility" connote limitless possibilities and disciplined commitment to moral principles. It should come as no surprise that most people who choose to work in education are motivated and challenged by an agenda of renewal but are scarcely moved by still another round of reform. We might well be surprised, however, to discover that renewal has scarcely been tried.


As with those other educational improvement ventures of recent years that have challenged educators to take the high ground of responsibility for renewing themselves and their institutions, the Agenda for Education in a Democracy has been funded almost entirely by private philanthropy, supplemented by institutional budgets. …

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