Democracy! We are discussing this word every week with the members of our Amnesty club and with the middle school and high school students!
What makes a Democratic classroom??
Charles Dickens published Hard Times in London in 1854, over 150 years ago! In the opening paragraphs, Dickens describes with raging fidelity the following to teachers:
"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Sticks to Facts, Sir!"...
Charles Dickens' description of nineteenth century English schooling sounds resonant, oddly close at hand, a bit like the school-world teachers face here and now in the twenty-first century world!
School leaders even in Apartheid South Africa, Saudi Arabia, fascist Germany, communist Albania, agreed that their students should behave properly in school, stay away from drugs and crime, do their homework, and study hard!...
Well, this the common ground we should find in our Democratic classrooms!
Democracy is a form of associative living in which people make the decisions that affect their lives. "Every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and creative force, each born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience, and deserving , then, a community of solidarity, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect."
In my Democratic classroom, I want my students to be able to think for themselves, to make judgments based on evidence and argument, to develop minds of their own. I want them to learn to ask essential questions: Who in the world am I? How did I get here and where am I going? What in the world are my choices and my chances? What is my story, and how is it like or unlike other stories? What is my responsiblity to others?
As Democratic teachers, we must keep these questions vital, alive, and fresh as we, ourselves, are searching for answers!
Respect for persons, for teachers and for students and community members, is at the core of good democratic classrooms!
To be continued...
With our discussion with William Ayers who said "We reach toward freedom, we crawl toward love"
Dickens, G. (1990). Hard times. New York: Norton. (Original work published 1854)