The Democratic Potential of Charter Schools

By Stacy Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Democratic Politics and Charter
Schooling: A Deliberative Conception

I. Democracy, Community, and Pluralism

In order to consider the desirability of charter schools as local democratic associations that foster a sense of community among students, this chapter theorizes a viable normative model of democratic public life amidst social complexity and pluralism. A normative model of democratic politics informs both whether charter schools are serving public interests in educational distribution and governance as well as interests in the civic preparation of future citizens. After defending deliberative democratic theory as the normative model most capable of navigating social complexity and pluralism, I consider what the theory implies for public charter schools.

Democratic societies seek a form of governance, by, for, and of the people. This succinct phrase captures the essential questions of democracy: by what processes will democratic decisions be made? how can citizens ensure that decisions are for them, or in their interests? and who constitutes the people? Theories of democratic legitimacy posit that decisions made among a polity of free and equal citizens, regarding issues of collective concern, and in the common interest of all are fair and binding. 1 Decision-making processes are fair if they include all affected parties and treat them equally; outcomes are fair if they represent common interests. Thus, normative democratic theory offers principles of equality, the common good, and inclusion with which to evaluate the descriptive definition of democracy as by, for, and of the people.

But this normative answer is not clear cut, and its simplicity belies a plethora of underlying social complexities. Differences between individuals, social groups, and autonomous organizations are characteristic of

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