Democratic Education, Alternative Schools

Posted on February 25, 2013 | 5 Comments | Edit

(Response to another’s posting from which the quotations cited are extracted)


“Personally I’ve stopped using the term democratic education as some schools who call themselves democratic have sadly in my opinion turned to ‘soft coercion’ to push their agenda upon kids. Ultimately the question is this, can you have democracy without freedom? Personally I don’t see how that is possibly authentic, it reminds me of conventional schools’ student councils, ‘sure we’ve got democracy, we’ve got student council which decides the colors of the homecoming balloons.’


It seems to me that this problem, of the co-opting of terms and titles for application to causes and institutions that look little like those to which the terms were originally applied is a critical problem.  I do wonder, too, if those who “misuse” terms such as “democratic” really do not think must about the really meaning of something as complex as democracy.  I think they need help, as do great numbers of people in this democracy, particularly those who teach in institutions that are of a democratic society, that exist in a society that is, by mandate, (constitution) is a democracy, and are supposed to be helping students to understand what it means to be a citizen of a democracy.  So, perhaps, AERO is a good place to have the types of discussions that speak to issues and principles of democracy and propagate the proper definitions of democracy and democratic so that those who wish to teach have a sense of what their obligations really are if they work in a school that is sanctioned by the democratic society in which it exists.


While we talk about free schools and democratic schools and of right and wrong and good and not so good and bad, a clear definition of what we are really about, educating people for a free and democratic society (the latter limiting, in the most interesting of ways, the former—with the CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE—we  willingly and for good purposes give up some of our freedom) is needed and, interestingly, again, as with the perfect union that the founders could only promote but never achieve (a very interesting aspect of the philosophy of democracy) the more perfect school system is more of a dialectical notion than a true and concrete entity.  Democracy, after all, is about the people reinventing their destinies as well as the institutions that serve those destinies.


The problematic democratic schools are problematic in some instances because the relationship between free and democratic is not very well understood, the basic principle that is misunderstood being that democracy is about constraints that allow for the maximization of freedom for all who cannot be free unless there are constraints, those constraints agreed upon as necessary and worth the sacrifice because they allow for greater degrees of freedom for all than would freedom pure and unconstrained.


Within the context of this discussion, I would hope, would be talk of the necessity of a public education system that could serve all in a truly democratic manner and with the goal of helping people realize the meaning of freedom and its contribution to humanization and the obligations of free citizens to participate in the democratic process, in the dialect that leads to the creation and maintenance of public institutions in the true sense, institutions that serve freedom and democratic process, and that is honest in assessing both the value of and problems with schools that exist outside the domain of the public.  This issue is a major one and I am involved in troubling conversations on a daily basis with those who, in the name of democracy, hate charter schools and private options to the public schools.  Their arguments are good ones and need to be heard and those who operate schools outside the public school realm need to make clear that the schools they run exist because the public schools really do not serve well the public that is of a democratic society, that alternative schools exist to serve as models that their purveyors hope will someday be incorporated into the public school programs because these alternatives are intended to affect the norm.


By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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