Schooling, citizenship and democracy

Year: 1999

Author: Knight, Tony, Pearl, Art

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we are proposing a fundamentally different look at education. We share with many, criticisms of existing policy and practice. We however part company with most 'reformers' concluding that proposed reforms will make a bad situation worse. The major problem of schools is that from first grade through graduation with an advanced degree the intelligence of students is undervalued. The gist of the argument goes something like this. The world is faced with difficult problems. These problems cannot be solved without a democratic process and become worse the more the education of the public is 'dumbed down'. Essential to a democratic resolution of those problems is a reconstructed school that prepares all students to become effective problem solvers. The goal of each school is to prepare every person with 12 years of schooling to be informed and responsible citizens. We propose a school informed by a comprehensive general theory; the theory we recommend is a cognitive democratic theory. Our proposal, developed through nearly three decades of collaborative applied research, has at least seven critical constructs or attributes:

the nature of educational authority;
the ordering and inclusiveness of membership;
the determination of important knowledge;
the definition and availability of rights;
the nature and participation in decisions that effect one's life;the creation of optimum environments for learning;equality.

We contend that it is how each of these democratic constructs are developed or advanced that will determine whether schools become more democratic. It is through their intwining that students are provided the opportunity to install the necessary principles of a democracy, that prepares them to assume the awesome responsibility of democratic citizenship.