"SCHOOLING THROUGH DEMOCRACY": LIMITATIONS AND POSSIBILITIES.
The discussions on the role of democracy in education in general and school in particular have a longstanding tradition (e.g. Dewey, 1916). The interest in democratic processes in schools is relatively stable over the years and is currently visible in the massive global coverage of this topic in the form of academic texts and political documents (Noddings, 2013; Straume, 2016; Miller, 2002; Harber, 1997). Although the relation between democracy and schooling certainly is a complex issue with many subtopics and themes, it is nevertheless possible to identify two main directions in which this relationship is analyzed. The first one concerns education for democracy where the main emphasis is on teaching young generations about democracy. Biesta (2006) views this process to consist of three components: knowledge (receiving and managing curriculum about democracy), values (developing positive attitude toward democratic way of thinking), and skills (prepare children for democratic participation through practical training). The second direction, representing essentially an extension of the skill component, is called "education through democracy". The idea here is to apply democratic forms of education through practical learning and implement them in school structures in order to sufficiently reinforce the idea of education for democracy. The conceptual difference between "education for democracy" (i.e. schooling people about democracy) and "education through democracy" (i.e. democracy and democratic processes in schools) certainly is not a new one in the sense that several theorists have, in various degrees of explicitness, pointed out the conceptual difference between these directions (e.g. Biesta, 2006).
From the theoretical point of view, it is fair to say that all three components that comprise direction "education for democracy" are more or less unproblematic. Providing children in all ages with knowledge about democracy is realistic and achievable using proper and systematic educational approach. Similarly, the value component concerning democracy is recommendable as a democratic way of thinking is traditionally associated with respect, inter-subjectivity, and distribution of power in the bottom-up fashion. The skill component is also, to some degree, workable through provision of a specific arena where democratic processes might be applied and practiced. However, the second direction named "education through democracy" characterizes a tendency in general educational literature to portray school as a place that is internally organized and ruled by democratic processes. The idea of "education through democracy" that originates from literature in the social sciences has gained a status of international movement and gradually extended to political documents and politically loaded academic texts that set a global frame for organizational structure in contemporary schools (Harber, 1997). In various levels of explicitness, this idea implies that educational institutions in general and schools in particular represent, and should represent, a democratic arena where democracy is already directly applied (e.g. Backman & Trafford, 2007; Beane & Apple, 1999). This implicit tendency to portray educational institutions as democratic arenas gained gradually a status of truism (e.g. schools are or should be democratic arena) that is frequently used for rhetorical and/ or political purposes in many different cultural settings (Harber, 1997). However, research that focuses on users suggests that the idea of democracy in school does not conform to real school experiences of children and parents (e.g. Tursunovic, 2005; Yilmaz, 2009; Mncube, 2009).
The aim of the present paper is twofold. First, I argue that the idea of "education through democracy" has clear limitations that are not sufficiently and explicitly acknowledged in current literature. Expressed more bluntly, implying that schools are, or might be, organized by democratic principles is not realistic. This is based on the relatively simple argument that core processes in democracy are mostly incompatible with the manner in which most contemporary schools are conceptualized, organized, and driven. The theoretical incompatibility between democracy as a concept and a school's internal organization is not restricted to education, considering that many other institutions in society have organizational structure that is not suitable for truly democratic processes (e.g. military, police, hospitals, and various industrial and business institutions). This argument would be explored by analyzing four interrelated questions: what kind of institution the school is, why children go to school, how schooling is organized and executed, and what is to be learned in schools? Second, after providing a rather gloomy view on the role of democracy in schools, I analyze the potentials schools have regarding provision of the skills on which democratic practices depend. Building further on the tripartite division of "education for democracy" presented earlier (Biesta, 2006), I identify and delineate basic "skills" that are essential for democratic practice that could workably be implemented in school. The final argument is that only way to "higher quality democracy" or "learning democracy" (Biesta, 2011) in society is through strategic development of concrete competencies in school that support democratic way of thinking. After all, regardless of good and just intentions, democracy is meaningless if choices, debates, and decision making processes are characterized by unreasonably high levels of poor judgment, lack of basic human values, or unfortunate communicative skills. Nevertheless, it is important to note that identification of the skills that could meaningfully be implemented in school settings still would not imply that schools, under any condition, might be characterized as democratic in nature. The overall point is simple: although the value of democracy is unquestionably recognized in this paper, there still exist clear limits of which contexts can be called democratic and labeled accordingly.
As any theoretical idea, the present proposition does not represent an entirely novel approach in the sense that discussions considering this theme has been recorded earlier (Schou, 2001). Nevertheless, although the awareness about difficulties to implement democratic principles in traditional school is not entirely new (White, 1986; Sarason, 1986; Miller, 2002), it is possible that it has been neglected and partially abandoned due to powerful (political) rhetoric that combines two inheritably positive words together. Hence, considering the importance of definitional accuracy in science, the present paper explores the possibility that these ideas (i.e. school as institution and democracy as a process) are not entirely compatible and consequently should not be paired in the same sentence for rhetorical purposes and political gains.
Democracy: necessary and sufficient conditions
The idea of democracy, as an aim of achieving fair living conditions for most people, has its historical baggage in the sense that it is loaded with many different meanings and forms. The long tradition of democracy is logical considering that one of the very reasons for "inventing" democracy in the first place is probably related to minimizing the power of the few and establishing or instituting a somewhat just decision making process at all levels of social interaction. Over the years, the idea of democracy has grown in complexity and forms and discussions about what democracy is and is not have been a matter of continuous debate (Schmitter & Karl, 1991). Notwithstanding the existence of many different types of democratic arrangements, and the fact that providing an all-around definition of democracy directly represent "mission impossible", it is nevertheless possible to simplify the subject and identify a few core conditions that are necessary for the development of the democratic practice. The first one is the notion of free speech and the opportunity to promote one's own position without experiencing legal or any kind of other institutional sanctions, including normative influence of other influential people. This condition has its roots in the humanistic movement and later in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers who tended to promote an overly individualistic starting point for the development of democracy. Regardless of historical tension and differences between early individualistic and later collectivistic, pragmatic, liberal, or participatory forms of democracy, it is fair to say that in all truly democratic contexts the arguments are commonly promoted and weighted against each other, with the opportunity to change or modify one's own position if the exchange of arguments (i.e. debate) results in conviction that some alternative point of view represents a better option. The second necessary condition for democracy is the presence of voting or election of some kind, implying thus an existence of a (real) choice among several available options. Voting or election is further guided by some general principles such as (1) all people, groups, or units should be represented, (2) one unit one voice (i.e. equal worth of each citizen), and (3) representatives are linked to the masses. The third core condition is that different types of power that tend to overarch each society or any specific context should be separated, scattered, or decentralized in order to prevent unlimited power in the hands of one person or one dominant group (e.g. separation of powers on legislative, executive, and judicial). These core and necessary conditions for establishment of democracy resulted in many different types and subtypes of collective arrangements that are around the world labeled as democratic (e.g. direct, representative, presidential, parliamentary, and constitutional among many others).
Based on necessary conditions it is easy to agree that the idea of democracy is noble in the sense that democratic conditions promote emancipation of suppressed voices. However, identifying the necessary conditions represent only a starting point in the specific analysis of democratic activities. In other words, these simple conditions are necessary, but hardly sufficient in order to characterize one specific context as democratic in nature. It is clear that core democratic conditions require people's active participation (Hart, 2013). Thus, democracy is better revealed if it is analyzed as a matter of degree or quality, compared to categorical judgments that evaluate specific contests in terms of "yes" (i.e. democratic) and "no" (i.e. non-democratic) labels. It follows that necessary conditions such as voting, representation, weighting of votes, and separation of powers, only represent a starting point and should always be supplemented with the continuous analysis of the manner in which democratic processes are truly realized and applied. True democracy is the combination of legislative or institutional directions that secure participation of individuals or groups and the manner in which arguments are promoted, discussed and weighed against each other. In other words, after fulfillment of the basic necessary conditions listed above, it is the quality of interaction between actors, degree of achieved intersubjectivity, and the constancy of the democratic debates that most accurately describes the degree of democratic climate in any given context (Arendt, 1961). The ultimate goal is the decision making process that is stripped of institutionalized domination and characterized by the absence of controlling power that might be embedded in the cultural backbone of any given context or invested in specific individuals. At this point, the limits of democracy in general and democracy in schools in particular are most visible. Thus, the practical applications that indeed secure just power distribution among different individuals/groups in society as well as in schools are, and always would represent, a real challenge for democratic participation and governance.
Limitations of "democracy through education"
The idea of "democracy through education" is in the present paper examined by analyzing the four very simple, yet basic, questions: what kind of institution is the school, why children go to school, how schooling is organized and executed, and what is to be learned in schools?
The first essential question is: what kind of institution is the school? This question is important considering that conditions for development of democratic practices must always be seen in the light of the given framework or context. Thus, the analysis of the internal structure of any institution, society, or any other context is decisive in understanding potentials and limitations of democratic processes. Bearing in mind the necessary conditions for development of democracy listed earlier, the first aspect that collides with core democratic principles is that choices are restricted by the absence of elections and voting procedures concerning school practices that are meaningful to children. Although elections do exist in the form of pupil's representatives in school councils, there is a reason to believe that these practices are executed in a fairly automatic and non-engaging manner (e.g. Tursunovic, 2005). Thus, despite the fact that children represent children in these contexts, the school organizational structure limits these debates, at least when it comes to important matters. One of the consequences of such practice is that many important decisions that influence parents and children and to some degree professionals in school, are not internally formed. Although the power and influence in decision making processes fluctuate between school, municipality, region, and state, the perspectives of children or parents are rarely taken into consideration, at least in the early phases when "things" are discussed in the light of pro and contra arguments. Indeed, it is easy to agree that current literature on decision making process in schools is mostly about teachers and principals and less about children and parents, and the reluctance to involve them in democratic processes (Mncube, 2009).
The nature of elective procedures in schools is connected to a second important obstructing aspect, namely the fact that there exists no direct link between masses or users (children or parents) and representatives or those in power (e.g. professionals such as teachers and principals). One of the most important premises for democracy is that those who have power originate from the same group of people that they represent. This means that democratic representatives per definition should not be members of the completely another group, having perhaps other interests. As expected, the situation where there is no elective link between different groups is likely to produce asymmetric roles in terms of power, responsibility, interests, and ultimately goals. One should remember that the democratic process is characterized by the manner in which those in power obtained their position. This also means that elected representatives can be called accountable for their decisions by the masses who invested their trust in them. None of these descriptions even remotely applies in the relation between children/parents and school employees. Simply stated, the fact that professionals in schools do not represent children and parents logically impedes the possibility to characterize school as a democratic arena.
The third obstructing aspect that is not compatible with core democratic conditions is that power in school is centralized and embedded in the hands of the principal and few other individuals. True democratic contexts are characterized by division of power in the sense that authority is not solely invested in one particular person or group. The results of these arrangements are that various participants in traditional school setting do not have equal rights and the real opportunity to influence the existing conditions. It follows that the effects of the argument-based debates and discussions that have a real chance to alter established circumstances in school are severely limited due to sharp divisions between interests various actors have and a centralized power hierarchy in the school. The absence of meaningful debates that might produce a change is not only reserved to the relation between children and adults, but is equally applicable to communication pattern among all stakeholders in school, also including external relationships such as parents and officials in the municipality. This is understandable considering that professionals in schools are sandwiched between user groups such as children and parents on the one side and officials on the other. In fact, there exist multiple sandwiches in this system considering multilevel arrangement of those who influence daily practice in school; ranging from municipality, governmental bodies, and all the way to international influences. This point emphasizes the lack of community decision-making in traditional education, which is incidentally one of the main pillars on which alternative, liberal, and truly democratic schooling is based (Stronach & Piper, 2008).
And finally, the case for "democracy through education" is also weak based on the fact that school as a public institution is also increasingly driven by evidence based knowledge and data from research (Marsh, Pane, & Hamilton, 2006). It follows that decision making is based on information that is available only to persons higher up in the decisional hierarchy. These decisional bodies have formal power but also a societal mandate and responsibility to organize daily procedures in school. Based on this accountability aspect, the truly democratic discussion about alternative courses of action that originate from children or parents might in school settings frequently be perceived as costly in terms of time, effort, and attainment of intended goals.
These statements might be perceived as a caricature of the existing conditions and practices in schools in general. Furthermore one could object to the present arguments by saying that a school's leadership follows directions of democratically elected governmental bodies, hence democratic governance in school. However, governments and school leaders have their own interests and represent a completely different group than children and parent, inaugurating thus a practice where participation of users is restricted. As noted in the introduction, internal organization of schools differ little from many other similar institutions in society that are based on direct chain of command or efficacy of delivering results. Taking these points together (no link between users and those in power, clear hierarchy, absence of real choice, rigid internal structure, clear top-down mandate and responsibility, strong external influence that is imposed on users), it is clear that the development of truly democratic practices in school are at present severely restricted due to internal organization and basic premises upon which traditional schooling is based. Hence, the incompatibility between democracy and traditional school is logical from the perspective of school history (Miller, 2002) and school internal organization considering the fact that school settings are in many cultural contexts characterized by having a clear hierarchy at all levels of the decision making process (Yilmaz, 2009).
The second important question that shows the limitations of "education through democracy" is associated with the issues of autonomy: "why children go to school"? It is fair to say that this question is not an issue for debate between adults and children at any point during early childhood. Children from early ages are programed to take educational steps and to participate in general schooling. In many cultural contexts eight to 10 years of schooling are mandatory indicating the absence of the real choice. This premise, which is often taken for granted, implies coercion and is incompatible with the core democratic principles (Noddings, 2001). In addition to motivational aspects of attending school, the choice of a specific school might also, in practice, be severely restricted by the workings of the dominating governmental or practical concerns (Herbst, 2006). I am certain that an attentive reader at this point realizes that I am not arguing that these conditions should be changed, allowing young children to freely determine their future by choosing school-free childhood. Propositions of this kind are neither realistic nor useful. I am merely describing the existing conditions in schools, the premises that guide school organization as they are, and emphasizing the points on which these conditions collide with democratic principles. Thus, I am simply pointing out that schools are composed of groups of stakeholders that by definition have no other choice than to conform to existing conditions when it comes to the question of "why go to school". It is easy to see that origins of such conformity (i.e. the lack of real choice) create conditions that can hardly be described as democratic in nature. It follows that if school truly aspires to deserve a label of being a democratic arena, the participation in school activities should be voluntary. Indeed a rare example of such practice is the widely known Summerhill school where children attend lessons and classes on voluntary bases. It is not than surprising that Summerhill school administration calls the school "the oldest child democracy in the world" and their educational idea that is "still ahead of its time" (www.summerhillschool.co.uk). There are certainly good arguments to call the Summmerhill concept a true democratic considering the high level of student's autonomy and the ability to influence decision making process and their own situation as a student (see Stronach & Piper, 2008). However, Summerhill can hardly be an example of mainstream schooling that is targeted in the present article. Hence, the answer to children attending "ordinary school" concerning the "why" question must inevitably take a patronizing reply such as "it is good for you and your future", "all children must go to school", or something equally undemocratic. Such lack of autonomy in traditional educational settings when it comes to behavioral causality hardly establishes a valid ground for development of democratic practice. Thus, when it comes to the issue of "why go to school" (i.e. motivation and internal locus of causality) it is easy to argue that none of the previously listed core, necessary, and sufficient processes are a part of, or even remotely detectable, in traditional schooling.
Third, the manner in which school activities are organized and executed does not seem very democratic in nature either (i.e. the "how" question). Organization of the daily school program is a part of multilevel planning that has a prolonged timeframe. It follows that the organization of practice is planned well ahead of its execution (i.e. teaching and educational guidance as a part of daily routine). The "how" question is not a matter of spontaneous decisions that might fluctuate based on the strengths of the arguments coming from the various groups such as assistants, children, and parents. The decision making process is, in most (relevant) cases, closed a long time ahead of the moment when various stakeholders are confronted with "this is the way of how we are going to do things". Most methodologies in school are in chosen in advance by teachers and there is in general very little possibility for input from parents or children. This is understandable considering that the democratic decision making process is costly (e.g. time and efforts) and does not necessary results in unanimous resolution. This nondemocratic organization is also logical considering that schooling represents a complex combination of contextual or cultural traditions of every given region, basic pedagogical view of fundamental issues attached to children's upbringing, epistemological issues on valid or useful knowledge, and international movements or ideologies that tend to shape directions in which each specific country is headed. Formulated in this fashion, it is understandable that the possibilities to discuss daily operations in terms of organization or execution in a truly democratic manner are severely limited in the realm of traditional schooling (see Stronach & Piper, 2008, for description of liberal schooling). Nevertheless, this situation where decisions are reached ahead of time and in time where users can alter them clearly collides with the core democratic principles listed earlier.
Finally, the fourth line of argument that shows the limitations of the "education through democracy" idea considers the question of what sort or type of knowledge is to be learned in schools. The roots of this epistemological never-ending discussion are longstanding and easily detectable in the course of educational history. One of the most fundamental educational challenges during the entire history of schooling is related to finding a balance between advance selected of knowledge and the stimulation of knowledge or affinities that learners already possess. Regardless of the chosen direction or the weighting among different types of knowledge, it has always been reasonably clear that learners have minimal influence of what is to be learned, at least when it comes to mainstream schooling. The choice of subjects and curriculum that covers main subjects in school is typically selected by a third party, usually situated in the higher levels of educational hierarchy. Curriculum in most situations is fixed and pre-approved in the top-down fashion, resembling nutrition advice adults have for children ("eat" this--it is good for you). The curriculum is also frequently selected based on general and a predetermined understanding of what kind of knowledge is fitting for children in general rather than adapted curriculum that reflect needs, interests, and affinities of specific children or groups. Similar to the question of "how", the approach to the "what" question is understandable. The choice of "what" is to be learned is based on traditions that reflect years of established views of valid knowledge. These decisions are not accidental, for they reflect the historical background of any given society at large, and the guiding norms and principles that effectively define the relationship between various actors. However, these traditional and established practices regarding the choice of valid knowledge reliably reinforce the authority of teacher at the expense of the processes that promote democratic conduct. Thus, corresponding to the conclusion to all three previously discussed issues in this section, it is easy to see that the answer to the "what" question does not support an application of truly democratic practices in school.
Potentials for "democracy through education": identification and stimulation of basic skills
As noted earlier, democracy depends on two basic conditions: (1) necessary structural and contextual arrangements that are embedded in legislation or societal structure, presiding in any given context and (2) people's individual or collective skills that promote democratic practice. In the first part of the paper I have argued that organization of the mainstream or traditional schooling in terms of fundamental questions (what, why, and how) directly blocks the possibility that school, at any rate, can be called democratic arena. The argument is based upon the simple observation that traditional means of schooling does not possess the necessary structural and contextual conditions for development of democracy. This is a logical conclusion based on the premises that originate from the analysis of "school internal structure" and "necessary conditions for democracy". However, considering the fact that school is an arena where all aspects of knowledge are central, the clear learning potentials lie in the systematic teaching of skills that support active democratic practice (Lenzi et al., 2014). Thus, the fact that schools at present do not fulfill basic requirements in order to be labeled "democratic context", does not automatically imply that skills needed for practicing democracy couldn't successfully be taught at school. After all, sufficient conditions for development of democracy mentioned earlier are mostly about competencies and skills. It follows that the most appropriate place for developing basic democratic abilities is in institutions that are designed to promote learning. Insisting on developed cognitive and affective skills as an important aspect of practicing democracy implies that basic necessary conditions are not sufficient on their own (Csapo, 2001). The ultimate aim should not only be mere democracy where voices of people are heard, but rather a "quality democracy" and decision making based on fundamental skills that promote democratic thinking. However, one of the obstacles for systematic training of democratic skills in schools is that traditional propositions about this issue at overly theoretical without providing a clear direction of what exactly should be improved in practice (Gutmann, 1987). In the following I will propose and briefly describe the four basic necessary aspects of "quality democracy" and emphasize their connection to democracy and learning: basic knowledge, basic values, deliberative communication, and critical thinking.
The first basic element of "quality democracy" is the concept of knowledge (Csapo, 2001). This is based on the premise that promoted views should have an easily recognizable link to some sort of knowledge, information, understanding and similar. Debates that are empty of historical background, factual descriptions, updated information, or basic sociological perspectives on various contextual arrangements between people encourage short term thinking and decisions that might be proven unbeneficial overtime. The manner in which knowledge is obtained, processed, and applied is not a mechanical process but rather represents a skill that could be developed strategically in order to support "quality democracy". Schools are types of institutions that have an explicit mandate to address this issue and train learners basic skills to promote thinking which is compatible with democratic premises. Thus, schools have a potential to implement knowledge-based discussions that result in concrete decision making in almost all traditional subjects. By "forcing" young people to fill their propositions with some sort of knowledge-based arguments, schools are directly developing pupil's skills that are necessary for "educated" decision making and subsequent democratic and civic participation.
However, although knowledge represents an important starting point for democratic discussions, it is nevertheless only one aspect of "quality democracy". Knowledge based discussion needs to be supplemented with other important aspects, taking into consideration that decisions made solely on knowledge could easily be destructive or "blind". Thus, the second basic element of "quality democracy" refers to values that tend to accompany almost any cognitive endeavor. Knowledge seldom represents a mere cognitive activity that is separated from having some kind of value loaded perspective, individual or collective position, or normative angle. It follows that increasing the knowledge-base of young people without simultaneously increasing complementary values that assure the defensible use of these skills is risky in regards to the direction in which each society is heading. Expressed more bluntly, without proper values, the propositions and actions of knowledgeable people could be dangerous and destructive for society. Certainly, at this point a logical question arises: "who is to determine the proper knowledge and which principles are proper values"? Discussions of this kind are beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is important to note that many versions of knowledge and values are acceptable in truly democratic discussions. Posing restrictions by insisting upon a very narrow definition of knowledge and values is directly undemocratic. Fortunately, valid knowledge and to some degree inherently positive values that are associated with democratic premises are not accidental, as these are the product of historical developments and the accumulation of human experiences over time (Underwood, 2001). In summation, in the process of developing basic skills in terms of knowledge and values, schools have a unique chance to educate young people in what direction discussions are headed and on what grounds the final decisions are reached.
It is relatively clear that skills such as knowledge, values, and civic participation represent an important part of any democratic practice (Lenzi et al., 2014). However, democratic discussions are limited if messages are exchanged in a nonproductive manner or the channels through which knowledge and values are communicated are blocked. Thus, the third basic element of "quality democracy" refers to communication and the way in which people related to one another. Similarly too many concepts in social sciences, the idea of communication is difficult to define, ironically because of its intuitive and common sense in nature. Furthermore, it is widely recognized that successful or effective exchange of massages through various channels represents a difficult task in many contexts. Communication is often modified by the presence of additional processes such as power, intentions, motivations, and general skills. Notwithstanding this complexity, it is easy to see and acknowledge the important role of communication in democracy considering that the democratic process is not a lonely mission aimed at the promotion of extremely individualistic positions that are the product of cognitive isolation. On the contrary, democratic opinions are relativistic in the sense that they are created through the exchange of knowledge and values among different participants or groups. During preliminary discussions, different views are (carefully) expressed and owned positions are formed only after other, possibly confronting, perspectives are heard, processed, and weighed. Although the ability to practice a communication style that supports truly democratic discussions is certainly partly a matter of individual talents, it is nevertheless also a skill that can be thought of and strengthened in educational settings. The kind of communication that I am currently referring to is promoted in current literature by Habermas (1981) and more recently Englund (2000, 2006, 2016) and widely known under the term "deliberative communication". The idea of deliberative communication refers to modes of social interaction where different views are met in the climate of tolerance and respect without influence of predefined authorities of any kind, with the aim of reaching some form of consensus or common ground. The ultimate goal is decision making that is based on nuanced judgments where everybody, during the previous steps, had a chance to challenge the existing conditions. As expected, the notion of "deliberative communication" represents a cornerstone of "deliberative democracy", although basic premises and interpretations are not unchallenged (see Dryzek, 2000). Far from representing the perfect way of deciding future courses of action, the process of deliberative communications creates majorities that are formed on the principle of coming closer to one another and by the power of increased understandings of each other arguments. Thus, the main point with communicative skills is to present clearly own positions, understand positions of others, and reduce the distance between opposing parties by finding some workable common ground. It is nevertheless important to emphasize that the success of reaching some bearable consensus directly depends on the two previously described components of "quality democracy", namely sharing similar values and knowledge.
And finally, the forth basic element of "quality democracy" refers to critical thinking (Csapo, 2001). The ability to critically assess and process incoming inputs is one of the most important skills that school has in educating young people in their preparation for future occupational and citizenship participation. Critical thinking represents an established concept in current literature as evident in the quantity of literature that covers this topic. It is also an extremely complex concept consisting of several main skills, sub skills, and dispositions (see Abrami et al., 2008) that combined emphasize human ability for "good thinking" (Pithers & Soden, 2000). Although several definitions and understandings exist, the majority of conceptualizations agree that critical thinking refers to a purposeful way of thinking that involves interpretation, evaluation, and inference of available information, including the continuous assessments of contextual influences or the nature of the underlying assumptions. A critical thinker has the ability to scrutinize information in an open-minded and flexible manner and exhibit willingness to reconsider one's own positions if incoming information alters the original premises. The ability to be guided by the value of available realities and flexibly adapt to existing "evidence" is the reason why critical thinking represents an essential part of the "quality democracy". Furthermore, the conceptual connection to knowledge and deliberative communication is obvious. A critical thinker does not absorb knowledge mechanically but processes incoming information in a rather dynamic manner using continuous evaluation of the pro and con arguments. Similarly and following the basic premises of deliberative communication, a truly critical thinker applies a flexible approach and is, at any point in discussion, ready to reconsider own position if arguments suggest that alternative course of action is more suitable for present state of affairs.
In the present paper I attempted to argue two interrelated points. The first one adopts a "calling a spade for a spade" approach and straightforwardly states that the idea of "democracy through education" is logically impossible, at least when it comes to traditional mainstream schooling. Consequently, the implicit portrayal of school as a democratic arena is theoretically and conceptually inaccurate and represents an attempt to pair, at present, incompatible terms. One should use careful and precise formulations where these two processes are coupled in the same sentence in order to avoid powerful rhetoric that is void for theoretical substance. The present analysis suggests that one cannot have it both ways simultaneously: either one has a traditional school where the possibility for core democratic processes is severely limited, or one has an alternative educational organization that accommodates basic democratic principles. In other words, at the point where democracy is truly implemented in school, traditional school stops to exist.
The second point argued in this paper was that traditional schools, instead of talking about democracy, should systematically and strategically develop means to educate children in basic skills that support development of democratic practices. Indeed, children in primary and secondary school should not learn specific occupations but rather skills that are necessary for execution of the whole range of different professions later in life. Analogous, schools should focus on developing democratic habits (Hansen & James, 2016) that are needed for practicing civic duties in adult life instead of creation of artificial settings where children can "play" democracy. Providing children with arenas for democracy backfires if the emphasis is not primarily on the development of abilities to develop democratic skills (Kahne & Westheimer, 2014). Based on this logic, I have suggested that educational institutions should aim higher and beyond "mere democracy" where basic civil rights are defensibly, but mechanically, represented. Educational institutions should rather aim toward "quality democracy" that is based on skills such as credible knowledge, human values that are developed in the course of history, deliberative communication, and "good thinking". However, the development of democratic skills depends on the contextual features, i.e. the dominating view on the children's role in the learning process that the school has and the manner in which any particular school is organized. It is meaningless to teach the above mentioned democratic skills in the strict traditional educational settings that are cemented by outdated perspectives on teaching process and the asymmetric power relations between various actors. It follows that liberal or progressive education that has users in centrum represents a more suitable context for development of necessary democratic skills comparing to settings where power and decision making is centralized. The challenging issue that is obvious and connected to arguments promoted in the first part of the paper lies in the practical difficulties to unite the development of the above listed skills with the organizational structure and established practice of any given context. Nevertheless, schools should strategically and systematically implement democratic skills in all subjects and create conditions that naturally stimulate processes that are compatible with "quality democracy"
Some limitations of the preset reasoning should be acknowledged. First, I can easily be accused of making a caricature of existing conditions in school by simplifying the concept of democracy and ignoring contextual, historical, and cultural variations that exist in relation to both themes (i.e. school and democracy). Although there are some merits in recognizing this objection, the simple answer is that the nature of the presented issue in this paper calls for generalizations and simplifications. The applied logic here goes beyond specific instances and aims to highlight the fundamental global inconsistencies in pairing democracy and schools in the same sentence. Thus, notwithstanding objections about oversimplification, I still believe that limits of "education through democracy" (i.e. practices of democratic principals in schools) are poorly analyzed and neglected based upon the expense of powerful rhetoric that reinforces romanticized and idealized practice of democracy in schools. Second, similarly to many theorists who write about democracy, I fail to address the question of motivation. Although skills are important, democratic participation ultimately rests on engagement in causes of importance. Thus, future analyses should include motivation and engagement in descriptions of the "quality democracy". And third, it is theoretically problematic to condition true democracy on the existence of skills. The obvious challenging question is: must one possess skills in order to practice democracy? Or more bluntly: Can one practice democracy and be stupid (i.e. lack knowledge, have poor judgment and values, and be short sighted). Without attempting to directly answer this question, I again emphasize that educational institutions should strategically strive toward establishing a more systematic conceptual link between subjects in the school and the manner in which they promote development of democratic skills. Democratic process can backfire if people are easily seduced by charismatic leaders that exploit the workings of short term thinking, personal gains, intimidations, fears, and other processes that are reliably proven to cause societal injustice and trouble.
Imagine one king or dictator that rules the country X. Influenced by historic developments, he finds some distinct and separated forum where certain individuals can discuss some matters in the democratic fashion. None of these discussions have real effect on the manners in which the country is ruled. Can this country be called democratic solely based on the existence of hints that resemble democratic process? Similarly, increased rights of the users (parents and children) in the school that is evident in the last few decades still does not mean that traditional schooling is able to accommodate core principles of democracy. The use of democracy in school settings resembles selling strategies to place a pretty young girl on the hood of the car with the aim of increasing the attractiveness of the car. Pairing positive terms with one another, even in the cases where there is no conceptual connection between the items, tends to increase attractiveness of both. The only way in which traditional schools can truly be democratic is radical and involves its termination in the current form, and the establishment of the alternative, progressive and liberal approaches to organization of the educational institutions. Needless to say, this is not realistic. Alternatively, schools could reduce empty rhetoric about democracy and communicate more realistic expectations about their contribution in forming democratic society (Biesta, 2011). In sum, schools should focus on what they do best: educate children in skills that are proven to support civic participation later in adult life.
Velibor Bobo Kovac
University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway
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|Author:||Kovac, Velibor Bobo|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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