February 27, 2016

Putting politics in the classroom

Harry C. Boyte, Education Week -  Today people think "politics" is a kind of warfare, funded by the superrich, revolving around parties, politicians, and professionals. Citizens need to reclaim politics as the way to negotiate differences to get something done and work out how to live together. This was politics descending from the Greeks, revolving around the people in their role as citizens. I like Wynton Marsalis' description of democracy as like jazz, "an argument with the intent to work something out." It is also a description of citizen-centered politics.

How can we introduce children to citizen politics and its skills in our divided and demonizing world? And how can schools and classrooms be free spaces, sites for political education that builds democratic habits and democracy as a way of life?

One method is teaching and spreading what are called "deliberative practices." There is a growing movement to teach deliberation and its political skills- learning to cool the heat, listen to other people with different perspectives, and incorporate different ideas in "public judgment" not only "private opinion." The Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums have been leaders here. A forthcoming study by Stacey Molnar Main has shown striking increases in both teacher and student civic interests and skills among those who use deliberation.

At the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, Dennis and Elaine Eschenbacher have been training students to moderate deliberative discussions and also to organize such discussions in communities.

A third example: Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy have a new book, The Political Classroom, which shows that many teachers, even the most partisan, are eager for students to hear radically different viewpoints. Teachers also experience pressure to "scrub" any controversy from their curriculum, so they need support in enacting this.


greg gerritt said...

As much as there is a need for deliberation, there is stil plenty of need for fire and brimstone when dealing with the powerful.

Anonymous said...

It's from out of deliberation that the fire comes. The rocket science of the Lincoln- Douglas debates was necessary to fighting the civil war. Much as a jury verdict gives certainty to a death penalty. Or in the case of mock deliberation, the Warren Report planted confusion and paralysis. The most distinctive example is WEB Dubois rethinking reconstruction which led to the civil rights movement.