Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Purpose of Schools, Democracy

Is the point of school to prepare children to participate in democracy?  Perhaps, but first we have to disabuse ourselves the idea that America is a democracy.  We are a republic.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get o vote on the health care overhaul.  I did get to select some representatives who got a piece of the decision-making power.  If we think in terms of a democracy, traditional schools certainly do not prepare children to participate in it.  On the contrary, we are opposed to it.  Instead,  we like to prepare our children to accept authority and the rule of law.  Democracy is messy and we prefer order.  We teach them that there is a different class of people who get to make the decisions and rules.  How often have you heard a teacher abdicate the responsible of discussing the purpose or reasoning behind a rule and allow for polite debate among children.  More often we hear, “It’s the rule” or “The principal (or school board or state) made the rule, I have to enforce it.”?

What happens to children who want to debate the purpose of a rule?  What happens to a child to wants to exercise her right to free speech too often, or too loudly?

We do eventually teach them about the structure and processes of our system of government.  We teach them about many of the hot-topics of political debate raging in their time.  We teach them to look at multiple sides of these issues, and then look for leaders who most closely match their views.  We encourage them to support these leaders and help them become representatives.  In the end, we reinforce our beliefs in respect for authority and rule of law.  If you don’t like the law, find an authority figure who feels similarly and support him/her.  We typically do not teach children how to organize and become leaders themselves.  Again, our belief is that there is a different class of people who are destined to walk the halls of power and they are not us.

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