Monday, August 16, 2010

Democratic Education: A cure for the common Ism?

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. Is Democratic Education a cure all for the social ills that plague our society? Is that asking too much from one methodology? What I am talking about specifically, is our tendency to discriminate against that which is different from what we know; as individuals and collective "us against them" mentalities. I doubt that I need list the myriad of "isms" of which I speak. You know what I'm talking about. We've all either been an "us" or a "them" - often times, if we take a good look at ourselves, we'll see these attitudes tucked away behind our good will.

And then there is Democratic Education. Time and space dedicated to allow rapidly growing and learning human beings to explore the world around them. Freedom and Liberation!, some say. Freedom with Responsibility!, others say. <--- I personally like that one. I read a Nelson Mandela quote recently that summarized this concept.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

So the question is: will Democratic Education help our next generation to be more respectful of all humans and living beings? Will living and learning in as true a democracy as we can create foster the onset of an ism-free world?

Think about it: assuming that the school is diverse ("multicultural" - an overused and under-understood terminology, imho) rather than homogeneous (which we're striving towards - diversity in Dem Ed. I mean), the people there will live and learn in an environment in which every single person has One Vote - every One - theoretically, at least - equal to her peers. I am having a hard time seeing how having lived in this community of learners, anyone can grow up to discriminate against other people. Let's face it, bigotry is learned, not inherent. What better place to learn inclusion and acceptance; at the very least a "live and let live" mindset than one where everyone's voice has the same value - different tones, but the same value?

It is possible that I am being too idealistic about Democratic Education. It's possible that it is not a Cure All. It's possible. But from where I'm sitting, I'd say it's a strong contender for a Cure Most. Which, I can't say the same for unschooling. (Internal *gasp* - "HERESY!!!" my mind is yelling) But wait, hear me out.

Unschooling/Organic Learning in the home environment is a wonderful thing! (I mean, I'm in an unschooling family!) But I feel that where unschooling can find challenges is that the nature of the environment lends itself to the potential sheltering of the children (and adults) from those who are different. "Those" might just be schooled people or people from a different socio-economic arena or those from other belief systems or religions, or anything else, really. I'm not suggesting that all unschoolers are deliberately or otherwise keeping their children from "the others". What I am saying is that it's easy for many of us to live within the confines of a social circle of people that all think and believe all the same things we do. The environment of the learner, though varied, can remain isolated and Same-ish whereas in a community of learners, people get exposed to many different perspectives. And in so doing, learn to hear and respect other people's rights to their own opinions and ways of being that may even be strange or uncomfortable for the observer.

I can't say that I am in an either/or paradigm about unschooling and democratic education. There are underlying principles of the learning modalities that are very similar: learner-directed, freedom from external pressure, freedom from coercion in learning - those kinds of things. How they look in 3D, moment-to-moment "real life" however, are very different. I realize I've gone off on a tangent that's best served in another blog post and will return to my original point now.

I believe that democratic education has the potential to help us get to a place as humans where everyone is free to live in a way that promotes the freedom of themselves and others. Circular logic? Yes. I believe it's a circular motion of give and take; of sharing while respecting boundaries that we are aiming for. (yes? no?)

This post serves as my official, single vote for Dem. Ed. as a way to facilitate a new world. One filled with passionate people pursuing their dreams and *letting* other people live their lives and pursue their dreams too; working together where it suits them and bringing their own gifts to the table. A world in which there aren't any us and them ideologies and where everyone is included if they want to be. A world where everyone belongs.

After all, that's what a democratic school is!


  1. Cian,
    I am reading your post and I have mixed feelings. While a Democratic Education is ideal, I wonder if it is possible?

    I guess I'm just tainted. I feel as if although I would want to be one of the "passionate people pursuing their dreams and *letting* other people live their lives and pursue their dreams too; working together where it suits them and bringing their own gifts to the table. A world in which there aren't any us and them ideologies and where everyone is included if they want to be.", I wonder how many other people would be willing to be the same.

    I guess that's why this has to start with the children. Some adults are just way past changing the "us vs. them" mentality. Even I can honestly say I have those feelings at times as well. You've given me something to reflect on.
    Keep going girl, great blog!!! Looking forward to reading more.

    1. Hi Michelle,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree with you 100% that it has to start with the up and coming generation. We adults tend to get a bit set in our ways - often times doing things Because.

      My objective in writing is to turn periods into question marks. Even within myself.

      Thanks for your encouragement! I am plodding along!

  2. Cian, although we didn't get talk together much in June at AERO, after reading bits of your blogs (some via IDEA's website, facebook etc). I feel so appreciative of your presence in the education reform conversation... I love this post in particular, I too cast my single vote for dem. ed...

    1. Please accept my three years late thanks for your comment. I sincerely appreciate your support and encouragement. I very much love being with passionate education reformers! Hopefully we will meet again. And share a sip of tea... or coke! :)