Education and Democracy
A few thoughts on education for a democracy, by some of our greatest thinkers on education:
“The proper education of the young does not consist of stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree.
“Not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school.
“We are all citizens of one world. We are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view is great folly.… for we are all equally human.”
—Czech philosopher John Amos Comenius in ‘The Great Didactic’, 1649
John Dewey (1859–1952) also made important contributions to our understanding of how children learn and the relation of education and democracy.
In most classrooms across the United States during Dewey’s time, children could be found sitting quietly and obediently in their seats, passively receiving information from their teachers and committing random facts to memory. Every classroom and every teacher would be doing the same thing at the same time.
How unsettling this was for Dewey! He knew that, out of necessity, even the youngest children participated in household chores and activities, and he quickly recognized the wonderful learning opportunities these everyday experiences provided. He came to believe that the child’s own instincts, activities, and interests should be the starting point of education.
—Early Childhood Today, October, 2000
Paulo Friere (1921–1997) was superintendent of schools in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he wanted to reorient the curriculum to be more relevant to students’ lived experiences, utilize interdisciplinary approaches, and co-creation of knowledge.
Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.
One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.
To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie.
—Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Devotion to human dignity and freedom, to equal rights, to social and economic justice, to the rule of law, to civility and truth, to tolerance of diversity, to mutual assistance, to personal and civic responsibility, to self-restraint and self-respect—all these must be taught and learned and practiced. They cannot be taken for granted or regarded as merely one set of options against which any other may be accepted as equally worthy.
We want our graduates to come out of school possessing the mature political judgment Thomas Jefferson hoped for, an education that will “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”
—Education for Democracy. Albert Shanker Institute, 2003.