A case for democratic education

I don’t normally get on a soapbox, and I’m not going to do that now. Years ago I started feeling like something was wrong with our educational system, and for a long time I tried to pin point what it was that rubbed me the wrong way. I read a book called “Bomb the Suburbs” that led me to “No More Prisons”, and its message was that I could have been making choices about my career since I was in high school. It caught me by surprise and made me feel sheepish for believing that life could only really begin once my formal education had ended. Like everyone else I was anxious to finish school, then (like most people) on leaving I could think of nothing grander than going back, and it made me feel like our system had only made me good at being in school.

I feel the tenants our system has been built on haven’t evolved nearly as fast as we have socially, and as such are for an era that past us by decades ago. I’ll give one specific about a modern failure that continues to be a major part of our curriculum ~ memorization. Why do we need to focus so heartily on having a body of knowledge stored up in our heads when computers are much better at disseminating those facts to us? We need to be better at comprehending, evaluating, and adding to arguments. There are innumerable ways to attack this issue, and we just have to get the ball rolling so children don’t get left behind (for real this time though not like in the horrible Bush program that was made). We need to build institutions that benefit a digital era so that valuable graduates don’t come out of school with the wrong skill sets. And I think getting there starts with great conversations.

There are a ton of people that have chimed in on the age old debate of what to do about our defunct system. I don’t really think there is one individual answer that’s correct ~ like saying “Mormon” is the right answer. It’s just that we have more options than we usually believe, and it’s time to start thinking outside the box… or rather poking holes in the box.

I don’t know if I’m really justified to have an opinion about education in general, but I seem to have one, so I figured it was about time I said something. My brother was a teacher at a progressive school on the upper west side, and we chatted a fair amount about the state of education in our country. Another teacher I know works with autistic children, and described at length the antiquated ways in which she is forced to make them learn. I mentored young adults at Street Wise Partners, a non-profit program for bootstrapping under served individuals into better career paths, and that was at once the best experience and saddest verification of a broken system.

I directed the video above for the Institute for Democratic Education in America. I met Dana, the founder of IDEA, at a private school on the upper west side while I was shooting a fundraising video. I’m not 100% sure it’s the right path, but I do think it’s a good path, maybe a good start rather. So below is a little information about what democratic education is straight from their website. Personally, I have found the ethos to be more valuable than what I have seen in practice thus far at schools where the follow its guidelines. However, it’s still a system in its nascent years and has a lot of room to grow. One thing I really like about it is that one size does not fit all, and its implementation in different schools can be catered to what the student population wants and needs:

IDEA envisions an educational system based on respect for human rights and values of freedom and responsibility, participation and collaboration, and equity and justice.

Founded by educators from across the country, IDEA is committed to bridging the disconnect between our democratic values and the way we educate and treat young people. This disconnect is striking, as the learning experience today is largely determined by a standardized, high-stakes, and de-personalized approach that alienates young people from learning and drives gifted teachers out of the profession.

In contrast, democratic education starts from the premise that every young person is unique, and that all young people ought to have the opportunity to live and learn in an environment that practices meaningful participation, that supports self-initiative in learning, and that is directed towards greater equality and social justice.

We created IDEA to tap into and build on the energy of people around the nation who support democratic education. We believe that only by working together strategically will we have the chance to influence the national dialogue about education advance learning that matters.

The work of IDEA is further guided by our commitment to remain humble and open in our dialogue with others, to be full of genuine regard for all people, to think big and “speak truth to power with love” (West, 1993), and to infuse our work with a spirit of humor, fun, and positivity.

Download IDEA’s Brochure (3.39MB)

So please join the conversation. Share the video with a few of your friends if you would be so kind. We need to be better prepared for our digital lives than we are now.

Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza

Juan Carlos directed two acclaimed films: "Know How" a musical written and acted by youth in foster care, and "Second Skin" a documentary on virtual worlds. He is Director of Social Action Impact & Public Affairs at Participant Media, and the Founder of White Roof Project, a nonprofit organization curbing climate change. @jcpe

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *