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Amy Gutman: Democratic Education

May get sued for reprinting such a long excerpt, but this gets to the essence of what hasn’t been happening and what so badly needs to happen IF we are to bring about the existence of a truly democratic society.  First published on lafered in April 30, 2013.

Amy Gutman,

Whoever makes decisions concerning the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools in a constitutional democracy must confront the question of what constitutes a good education. In the Epilogue, I therefore also address two important issues that have gained greatly in prominence in recent years concerning what constitutes a good education. What is the appropriate response of democratic education to the challenge of multiculturalism? Should schools try to cultivate patriotic sentiments or cosmopolitan sentiments among students? These and other controversial issues of democratic education raise general questions about democracy and democratic citizenship. Democratic Education, therefore, calls for a complementary conception of democracy. One of the aims of Democracy and Disagreement, which I coauthored with Dennis Thompson, is to provide such a conception.’ The conception of democratic education developed in Democracy and Disagreement supports the account of democratic education in this book, and also pursues the implications of its basic principles beyond education.

What is the democratic ideal that complements democratic education? A guiding principle of deliberative democracy is reciprocity among free and equal individuals: citizens and their accountable representatives owe one another justifications for the laws that collectively bind them. A democracy is deliberative to the extent that citizens and their accountable representatives offer one another morally defensible reasons for mutually binding laws in an ongoing process of mutual justification. To the extent that a democracy is not deliberative, it treats people as objects of legislation, as passive subjects to be ruled, rather than as citizens who take part in governance by accepting or rejecting the reasons they and their accountable representatives offer for the laws and policies that mutually bind them. Deliberative democracy underscores the importance of publicly supported education that develops the capacity to deliberate among all children as future free and equal citizens. The most justifiable way of making mutually binding decisions in a representative democracy-including decisions not to deliberate about some matters-is by deliberative decision making, where the decision makers are accountable to the people who are most affected by their decisions.

Deliberative decision making and accountability presuppose a citizenry whose education prepares them to deliberate, and to evaluate the results of the deliberations of their representatives. A primary aim of publicly mandated schooling is therefore to cultivate the skills and virtues of deliberation. Why should deliberation be considered primary even for public education when the opportunity for most citizens to live a good life today requires many more basic skills and virtues, such as numeracy, literacy, and nonviolence? Deliberation is not a single skill or virtue. It calls upon skills of literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking, as well as contextual knowledge, understanding,and appreciation of other people’s perspectives. The virtues that deliberation encompasses include veracity, nonviolence, practical judgment, civic integrity and magnanimity. By cultivating these and other deliberative skills and virtues, a democratic society helps secure both the basic opportunity of individuals and its collective capacity to pursue justice. The willingness to deliberate about mutually binding matters distinguishes democratic citizens from self-interested citizens, who argue merely to advance their own interests, and deferential citizens, who turn themselves into passive subjects by failing to argue, out of deference to political authority. Justice is far more likely to be served by democratic citizens who reason together in search of mutually justifiable decisions than it is by people who are uninterested in politics or interested in it only for the sake of power.

Amy Gutmann. Democratic Education (Kindle Locations 59-63). Kindle Edition

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