Three items from my email inbox support the case for democratic education:
1. Nick Bromwell, an English professor, reviews some important recent books about democracy in the Boston Review. He argues that democracy requires a balance of liberty and equality. Although Americans value and understand liberty, we are in danger of losing political equality. Not only are our political institutions actually unfair, but people are forgetting what it feels like to have an equal share in politics. “To resonate with Americans, equality must be something they feel, something they believe in because they sense its presence within them. This means that what we might call the ‘subjective’ dimensions of democracy must be excavated. Democracy is not just a set of institutions, a cluster of marble buildings, and a collection of laws. Democracy is about self-government, and therefore the nature of the self stands at its center.” The books under review are full of practical suggestions.
2. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Gov. Roy Romer have become co-chairs of the National Advisory Board of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. As a debut, they published a joint op-ed in the Washington Post on March 25. It’s now behind the Post’s dreaded firewall, but this is my favorite part: “We need more and better classes to impart the knowledge of government, history, law and current events that students need to understand and participate in a democratic republic. And we also know that much effective civic learning takes place beyond the classroom–in extracurricular activity, service work that is connected to class work, and other ways students experience civic life. … We need more students proficient in math, science and engineering. We also need them to be prepared for their role as citizens. Only then can self-government work. Only then will we not only be more competitive but also remain the beacon of liberty in a tumultuous world.”
3. The O’Connor/Romer op-ed is timely given this major new finding from the Center for Education Policy: “71% of school districts reported that they have reduced instructional time in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and mathematics?the subjects tested for NCLB purposes. In some districts, struggling students receive double periods of reading or math or both?sometimes missing certain subjects altogether.” One administrator whom CEP surveyed wrote that No Child Left Behind “has torn apart our social studies curriculum. We are raising tomorrow?s leaders and [NCLB is] forcing us to fill their heads with math facts that do not make them better leaders or help students make choices.”
[Thanks to Scott Richardson, here’s a link to the Post op-ed.]