“In this classroom there is no such thing as democracy!” This is a very common comment from teacher all across the nation when children express their thoughts on creating a democracy in the classroom. Normally what encourages this response is when the students state “This is a free country we don’t have to do what you say.” Instead of shooting down the student’s ideas about their form of democracy, the teacher could use this interaction to teach the students what our democracy is truly like.
In American Creed, Condoleezza Rice and David Kennedy talk about the importance of education. They stress that anything is possible with education and hard work. They even interview a principal from Oklahoma who describes a child’s school day. She stresses the amount of time a student spends in the classroom. She then goes on to add how important it is to use this time to teach our students values (American Creed, 2018). One of the values which our children need to understand is Democracy. Many of our schools will never explicitly teach what the United States’ democracy looks like until their senior year, when they take a government class.
Democracy is in our daily lives, so it can be a part of my students’ daily lives as well. As a future educator I believe students have to be prepared to function in this country’s society, which is a democratic society. By breaking the different parts of our democracy apart, it will make it easier for students to understand how our democracy functions. This can be started as early as our students start using the comeback “This is a free country so I don’t have to do what you say.” Instead of putting a stop to the conversation, I will use this time to establish what a democracy can look like in an institution such as the classroom. The focus could be on how even in a free country, citizens still have rules to follow and do not actually get to do whatever they want to do. Giving my students a description of democracy in this form can make it relatable, thus making it an important part of their day. If this cycle continues and I have my students solving problems using a democratic approach, by the end of my time with them, they will be one large step closer to being functioning members of society.
Another way to bring democracy into my students’ lives daily is by looking at the principles and values discussed in Bean and Apple’s Case for a Democratic School. The five of them are as follows; “Concern for the dignity and rights of individuals and minorities. ” Concern for the welfare of others and “the common good.” Faith in the individual and collective capacity of people to create possibilities for resolving problems. The open flow of ideas, regardless of their popularity, that enables people to be as fully informed as possible. The use of critical reflection and analysis to evaluate ideas, problems, and policies. An understanding that democracy is not so much an “ideal” to be pursued as an “idealized” set of values that we must live and that must guide our life as a people. The organization of social institutions to promote and extend the democratic way of life.” (Bean and Apple, 2007) All of these are vital for students to understand so they can fully understand a democratic society. One example of how I would incorporate this into my classroom would be using “Concern for the welfare of others and “the common good.” I would show my students how I care for the good of the class, the common good, and make decisions based on that. As an educator, I will never intentionally make a decision which does not have my students’ best interest at hand.
Another way to think about introducing democracy into the classroom is by using some of the Influential Philosophies of Education from Teaching to Change the World by Oakes and Lipton. The first philosophy is a perennialism approach to teaching. This is similar to the response “In this classroom there is no such thing as a democracy.” The students are expected to simply sit and absorb what the teacher is saying without questioning authority. In this philosophy the teacher is viewed as the authority figure and someone who holds all of the knowledge (Oakes and Lipton, 2018). On the other hand, taking a social reconstructionism approach would be similar to the response where the educator informs the students of how a democracy works. In this philosophy, students are encouraged to interact and understand social problems. The book’s description of this approach it explains how students who are raised in this type of learning environment develop “a consciousness about social problems” (Oakes and Lipton, 2018). This means our students have an understanding of the function of the world before they enter it. Preparing students for the society they will all most likely enter can be not only beneficial to the students, but also the community. Having functioning members of society at young ages means there can be much needed change coming from fully informed members.
I believe these examples of informing students about the working parts of our society is the best way to make students ready to function in our society. Just like solving math problems or preforming science experiments, students need practice to be successful. In my future classroom, I hope to provide my students with enough knowledge to solve problems in a democratic society. If the students do not get the opportunity to practice this in a safe place, they may never develop this skill. Once my students leave my classroom, they will be on their way to becoming functional members of society. If I do not prepare them for this, then I have not done my job as an educator.
Oakes, J., Lipton, M., Anderson, L., & Stillman, J. (2018). Teaching to Change the World. Milton: Taylor and Francis.
American Creed (2018). Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.americancreed.org/watch
Beane & Apple, (2007), The Case for Democratic Schools