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The Spirit of Democratic Education (Part 2 of 3)

From the beginning, democracy is premised upon and assumes that freedom is the nature of the beings who take part in it.  The process does not accept an ultimate solution, but only the solution arrived upon by free individuals, all judging the truth from their own perspective, and seeking to shape the conditions of their own life.

Democracy is a means of making decisions that have been well reviewed and shaped openly by the populace.  But this description is superficial, and misses the essence.  The core of democracy are rules of order and the Rule of law, which together ensure the equality of all members.  These mechanisms provide for the equal inclusion of all members in all details of the collective decision.  Rules of order particularly ensure that every member has equal opportunity to express their opinion and directly influence the decision being made.  The source of this equality amongst members is not the democracy itself.  Equality is understood as a natural condition.

From this perspective, it is interesting to ask why we would want democratic education.  Is democratic education the most effective?  Since democratic governance is not necessarily a superior tool for getting things done quickly or well, it follows that democratic education is not necessarily the most utilitarian.  Democratic education does not take as its foundation that students must learn as early and as well as possible, but that students have dignity and are essentially free.  Perhaps advances in developmental psychology enable students to master subjects faster.  But imposing this path upon them is an assault on their innate dignity.

This does not mean that the democratic school cannot take advantage of the latest advances in the field of pedagogy.  But it does mean that students will be ultimately responsible for their involvement in the techniques.  They must be able to determine what, if any, formal pedagogy they take part in. Perhaps an individual feels they benefit most from the reading of articles or books, conversations with peers, creative projects or apprenticeship under a master.  Perhaps they don’t know themselves.  Perhaps learning how to learn, or what knowledge is worth pursuing, is the question.  The young should have access to the supposedly best methods as options among all other possibilities that can be imagined and enunciated, just as any free adult may chose what possibilities they make reality.

The authenticity of pure democracy is crucial.  Participants of authentic democratic education are in close contact with questions regarding their birth right to dignity and respect, and are accustomed to claiming these rights.  If one or many  individuals wield power maintained by something other than informed agreement, then integrity is lost.  Without rules of order that hold up to friction, what choice do the young have but to yield to the decisions of their physically larger superiors.  Under these conditions students lack the freedom to fully participate in the conditions of their own life.

(To be continued…)

Photo by Joe Gatling. Human trafficking is still common in Vietnam, especially in the countryside where families are forced to sell their children oversea into prostitution or as human laborer (slave!) Most of the times however, these people are tricked by their relatives/friends, thinking that they’re just going oversea to find work.

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