CHAPTER FOUR
THE LIMITS OF
DEMOCRATIC AUTHORITY

The democratic purposes of primary schooling constrain as well as empower democratic communities, but not in the name of parental choice, liberal autonomy, or conservative virtue. The principles of nonrepression and nondiscrimination limit democratic authority in the name of democracy itself. A society is undemocratic—it cannot engage in conscious social reproduction—if it restricts rational deliberation or excludes some educable citizens from an adequate education. Nonrepression and nondiscrimination are therefore intrinsic to the ideal of a democratic society, as parental choice, liberal autonomy, and conservative virtue are not. Chapter One developed a theoretical defense of this suggestion. This chapter refines our understanding of the principled limits on democratic authority by examining some actual cases, taken from common practices of primary schooling in the United States.

If our understanding is accurate, the constraints of nonrepression and nondiscrimination, properly interpreted, are necessary and sufficient for establishing an ideal of democratic education. Both claims are controversial. A “strong” democrat would argue that the constraints are not necessary, that the ideal of democratic education is fulfilled whenever majorities control education, even if the results of their decisions are repressive or discriminatory.1 To the extent that democrats place limits on the legitimate outcomes of majoritarian decisionmaking, the strong democrat argues, they devalue the very process that they profess to defend.

The strong democrat's critique of the constraints could be compelling only if (a) majoritarian decisionmaking were all that we valued about democracy, and (b) democracy did not extend over time. Neither is the case. We value democracy not primarily as a pure process that defines what is just, nor as a perfect process that guarantees justice (defined by some nonprocedural standard).2 Rather, we value democracy because it is the best way by which we can discover what a community

____________________
1
Cf. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy. Again, Barber uses the term “strong democracy” in a broader sense than I am using it here.
2
For a discussion of the difference between pure and perfect procedural justice, see Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 84–88.

-95-

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