What’s the Role of Education in a Democracy?

The political candidates vying for local, state, and national positions have included education as a plank in their platforms.

To energize and curry favor with the voters, these politicians have focused on hot-button issues, such as standardized testing, the Common Core, and the affordability of college. Without question, these topics deserve our attention.

But, are we limiting ourselves? Are there other issues that we should include in our current conversation about education?

I encourage all educators to read the latest themed edition of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. (Click here to access full issue.)

The authors expand the current political debate about the role of education in a democracy to include issues such as community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities. Let me pique your curiosity by sharing highlights from three articles in this edition.

Stacey Campo in the article titled “Nurturing Democratic Education in Community Schools: The Role of Leadership,” builds on her work as the director of a community school in the Bronx, New York, to explain how schools are ideal places to teach students about democracy. She contends that when schools and communities partner and inform one another’s work, students benefit intellectually, physically, and socially.

Rachel Chapman and Michael Olguin in the article titled “Teaching Democracy Without Borders,” detail an ethnographic research study that examined the use of humor and critical pedagogy in teaching undocumented youth in an alternative high school in Tucson, Arizona. These researchers found that schools can help students to learn how to challenge negative policies and practices, and create a more just society.

René Roselle and Chelsea Connery in the article titled “Food Justice: Access, Equity, and Sustainability for Healthy Students and Communities,” explain the food justice movement in Hartford, Connecticut. The authors claim that the health of a democracy depends upon the health of its citizens. Today’s young people need access to healthy foods.

The ideas of John Dewey, the great educational philosopher and KDP Laureate, serve as a foundation for two of these articles. Dewey (1916, as cited in Roselle and Connery) believed that a primary purpose of a school was to improve democracy. Dewey (1987, as cited in Campo) also believed that a school, by giving students opportunities to examine their differences in a nurturing environment, prepares them to become productive citizens in a democracy.

As you listen to the candidates’ campaign speeches, note the presence or absence of community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities.

If you can, ask the candidates to clarify their positions in these areas.

As we move forward, let’s include these issues in our ongoing conversations about the purpose of a school in a democracy.

nbondDr. Nathan Bond is a full professor at Texas State University and the chair of KDP’s Public Policy Committee. Dr. Bond served nationally as KDP President from 2010 to 2012, and he has served locally as KDP Faculty Counselor at his university for the past 16 years. He and Sam Perry co-authored the article titled Voting as a Form of Professionalism: Five Steps to Take Now, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of the New Teacher Advocate.

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