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Supporting Democracy Beyond Content

Session 6
Dave Thomer — Parkway Center City High School

One reason that our schools face such challenges in creating a democratic culture is that many people continue to disagree about what democracy entails and what it demands from its citizens. This conversation will bring those questions to the forefront and, if not resolve them, provide some clarity and possible direction for the future.

Jane Addams had a vision of the social settlement as an educational institution that would be directly connected to the concerns of the community and give citizens the knowledge that they needed to actively participate in democratic society. Many theorists today argue for a definition of democracy that does not require the public to be so involved. The first part of the conversation will highlight and compare these different visions of democracy.

Even the least-participatory vision of democracy requires some engagement by the citizens, and theories such as deliberative democracy place strong demands on content and skills. Research skills, knowledge of government institutions, and the ability to evaluate arguments are examples of what citizens in a democracy may need in order to be effective. The second part of the conversation will be a group brainstorm to identify as many of these essential elements as possible.

Some elements can be taught as part of classroom content. Others can be conveyed through extracurricular activities or school culture. Others may involve organizing the school community for external activism. The final part of the conversation will share ideas that we can take back to our schools to support democratic culture.

Conversational Practice

You can check out the outline for the conversation in this presentation. The presentation has links to three Google Docs that we'll work on as a group, and which will serve as a digital "take-home" resource. The goal of the conversation is to lay out the challenges and brainstorm solutions rather than present an argument for one particular method. Of course, I have my own opinions on the matter, so as a backup in case the people in the room are feeling shy, I will have a few ideas ready to present as proposals for review in order to create some conversation starters. But feel free to bring your own instead!

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