There is a belief out there in the world that democratic education is a white, gleaming ideal that belongs only on pedestals high up in the sky, or faraway on another coast. This image promotes the extreme models of democratic schools like Sudbury Valley and the Village Free School, inherently dismissing the good work of teachers, students, and school leaders who are attempting to integrate democracy in every day public schools. These are the folks, these are the places, and these are the practices that I think constitute REAL democratic education.
With all their shortcomings, the founders of the United States saw public education as the cornerstone of democracy, enshrining the responsibility for schools to the people who would benefit most from them: every day citizens. With that vision, though, there was not security that the people would take that responsibility. The dilemma that I see is that The People don’t understand that they are responsible for the schools they learn in. They don’t understand that the future of democracy is in democratic education. EVERYTHING in public schools is everyone’s responsibility. That’s why I developed the Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement.
The Frameworks use comprehensive research from across the education realm to demonstrate the effectiveness of REAL democracy in schools. Through them I propose that schools re-envision the roles of learners specifically, and all adults subsequently. I draw out the need for democratic education for every person in every place of learning throughout society, identifying that every child, youth, and adult needs to learn about learning as a goal, and education as a process towards learning. The entire system has to become transparent. Then, the Frameworks show how every child, youth, and adult should be engaged throughout education in many roles, including those of student, teacher, researcher, evaluator, planner, decision-maker, and advocate.
These are the core elements of REAL democratic education that can and should be everywhere. Only then can we actualize the hope for democracy that so many of us hold in our hearts. Only then can we be the country and world we know we’re capable of being. Only then can schools truly succeed, and only then are students truly successful. Anything less is undermining hope.