People were born equal, but with the advancement of civilization there has been less and less equality and less and less justice. When it does not consider individual differences, equality can be violent.
I am searching for the meaning of democracy in education as it applies to our present times. Classical meaning of the word as equality does not apply anymore, and a new meaning is emerging but seems to be challenged by a very rigid system of schooling.
The origins of the classic concept of equality and democracy in education stem from three major philosophers whose thought has left its mark on education.
In his ‘Utopia’, Plato presented the first model of state education that stressed obedience and uniformity especially from people who lack wisdom and intelligence. Plato believed that very few people have the intellectual power and moral perseverance to know absolute truths and apply them in life. While the good society is governed by wise people, ordinary people will be busy producing and consuming ordinary goods and services.
Plato did not believe in democracy and was opposed to it because in his view it leads to chaos in society. He saw the individual is best served if subordinated to a just society.
Education in his view is to train citizens on discipline and obedience to rules. This training is governed by the state.
Martin Luther advocated for the modern concept of state education when he called for public schools. He argued that if the state can call citizens for military in time of war, then it can compel its people to send their children to school in the war against evil.
This argument may reflect the spirit of teaching everyone to read the Bible, but some may present a counter argument that it was done in the spirit of controlling the minds and hearts of the people. Martin Luther supported rulers and at the same time asked them to be harsh and severe with ‘evil agents’ who were not ‘Luthern’.
John Dewey is considered to be the most significant American educational thinker of his time. Dewey criticized and expanded on the democratic educational philosophies of Rousseau who emphasized the individual, and that of Plato who emphasized the society in which the individual lived. For him democracy meant meaningful activity in learning, student participation in classroom, and students’ involvement in what they were learning. He argued that curriculum should be relevant to students’ past experience and saw learning by doing as crucial to students.
Modern school system is failing a growing number of students whose educational needs are not met and are not prepared to compete in today’s job market. The content is not relevant to students’ lives and it can not be applied in actual life.
Fortunately, I see a big change coming out of new innovations in technology. New school models are presenting themselves in a manner that takes more consideration of students’ abilities, interests, passions, and needs. Real democracy in education! Teachers and their educational leaders need to understand the new revolution in education to perform their new roles that are greatly different from what they are now!