It’s the perfect reason to think about the next mapping I want to do for looking at education design. How would we apply some key democratic principles if we were doing it from scratch?
First up, the principles. There are a few. Here are thirteen, that I lifted from lawandemocracy.org:
- CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
- POLITICAL TOLERANCE
- REGULAR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
- ECONOMIC FREEDOM
- CONTROL OF THE ABUSE OF POWER
- BILL OF RIGHTS
- ACCEPTING THE RESULTS OF ELECTIONS
- HUMAN RIGHTS
- MULTI PARTY SYSTEM
- RULE OF LAW
I’m going to keep this mapping thing simple, and take the first three of the above thirteen, outline what they entail, and how it could be applied in an education context. A lot of schools are engaging in this approach already. Which is neat. Even though I’m not a massive academies fan in principle, I do love what the UCL Academy are doing.
Definitions are all taken from lawanddemocracy.org
1. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
One of the most basic signposts of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is the key role of citizens in democracy. It is not only their right, but it is their duty. Citizen participation may take many forms including standing for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community or civic meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, and even protesting. Participation builds a better democracy.
How this can be applied to education: empower students to be active participants in shaping and curating what they want to learn, as well as becoming an active part of the school. Enable them to understand how to express their opinions, debate issues that affect them and their communities both in and out of the classroom, and take a proactive role in creating a school and an ethos that benefits them and their peers. More than just school councils.
How this can be applied to classroom teaching: this is easy! Down with the textbooks and the copying from the board. Out with the desks. Boom.
Democratic societies emphasize the principle that all people are equal. Equality means that all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and may not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation. In a democracy, individuals and groups still maintain their right to have different cultures, personalities, languages and beliefs.
How this can be applied to education: provide schools with equal and fair resources to support students, particularly those who come from less privileged circumstances, so that schools enable everybody to fulfil their potential by the time they leave compulsory education rather than just a few.
How this can be applied to classroom teaching: Make equality a fundamental tenet of every interaction in a school. Devise a range of activities that support multiple learning styles and that encourage the development of a range of skills, talents and interests equally, not just the academic ones.
3. POLITICAL TOLERANCE
Democratic societies are politically tolerant. This means that while the majority of the people rule in a democracy, the rights of the minority must be protected. People who are not in power must be allowed to organize and speak out. Minorities are sometimes referred to as the opposition because they may have ideas which are different from the majority. Individual citizens must also learn to be tolerant of each other. A democratic society is often composed of people from different cultures, racial, religious and ethnic groups who have viewpoints different from the majority of the population. A democratic society is enriched by diversity. If the majority deny rights to and destroy their opposition, then they also destroy democracy. One goal of democracy is to make the best possible decision for the society. To achieve this, respect for all people and their points of view is needed. Decisions are more likely to be accepted, even by those who oppose them, if all citizens have been allowed to discuss, debate and question them.
How this can be applied to education: reestablish a genuinely comprehensive system that enables young people to interact with a diverse range of peers from as young as possible. Make schools porous, enabling local communities, businesses and individuals to engage with them.
How this can be applied to classroom teaching: Build opportunities for students to design and debate the learning objectives and outcomes that they want, while being respectful of the diversity of opinion. Teach consensus and compromise, as well as confidence to express own opinions.
Finally, here’s what I’m saying at the panel today. I’d love to know your thoughts.
I only became seriously interested in politics myself when, as a teacher in a south London school, I saw first hand the chasm of opportunity that exists in this country. What young people end up doing, or not doing, has nothing to do with their actual capabilities or potential, and everything to do with the lottery of circumstance.
There are four key issues at play that have an impact on young people’s engagement with the democratic process, especially marginalised young people
- In school, dissonance between what they are studying, what they need, and what jobs and education they will be able to access.
- Whenever you leave school, there are few jobs available—over a million young people are still unemployed
- “Soft” skills or aptitudes are rarely taught in schools—so the young people who don’t have effective, empathetic role models, are the ones who are failed.
- The UK has some of the worst levels of social mobility in the developed world—4% of policitians and business leaders come from one school in this country, Eton.
If we want young people to participate fully in, rather than to protest strongly against, society, then we have to prepare for a major social and cultural shift.
- We need to involve young people in the democratic process, and to make that involvement feel authentic rather than photo-oppy.
- We need to design an education system that empowers teachers and students to explore what is important and relevant to them; making them feel connected to society rather than cut off from it.
- Students discuss issues and concerns and hopes
- Teachers help them to connect these to wider societal patterns
- We need to create opportunities for intergenerational and cross-class communication and collaboration.
It’s understandable that there’s a tendency for a lot of people just to look out for themselves, if they live in a society that doesn’t seem to look out for them. If we want young people to engage with democracy, we first need them to experience the benefits of being part of a positive, empowered, effective community—one that is both respectful and respected.
In other words, we need to start by making strong ties stronger.
The anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that the optimal group size for stable stable interaction and collaboration is 150 people. Where’s a community that size to be found in this country? On a street, in a block of flats, in a school year, in a pub? If we want to reboot democracy and engage young people, I suggest that’s these are the places where we start.