Democracy and Education: Is This Marriage on the Rocks?
Ellis, Kimberly A.
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The problem: This dissertation investigated the relationship between democracy and education for the purpose of contributing to the on-going dialogue regarding those concepts. It attempted to illustrate the dynamics of that relationship based upon early and contemporary American interpretations. Procedures: Through qualitative documentary analysis, this study examined the ways in which democracy and education were related through the eyes of historical authors-Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey, Benjamin Barber-and contemporary educational policy documents-A Nation at Risk, Goals 2000. Comparisons were made first among the selected authors and then between the documents, followed by a comparison between the two bodies of data themselves. Findings: The authors viewed the relationship between democracy and education as reciprocal, considering the concepts mutually supportive and essential to each other's actualization. They specifically saw education crucial in active citizenship, which included participation primarily in a democratic and secondarily in a vocational sense. In contrast, the documents focused on the relationship between democracy and education to a much lesser degree, stressing instead the relationship between education and economics; citizenship was more vocational in nature. Conclusions: Democracy and education exhibit a dynamic, reciprocal relationship, but more than that. They both involve an intellectual process which requires judgments to justify the perpetual balancing of tensions between competing societal goods. Democracy and education also mutually support the preservation of American values since they, when taken together, potentially protect the existence of fundamental human rights. Finally, democracy and economics, both ever-present in America's enactment, demand education. The critical question raised by this analysis is whether the shift indicated in the policy documents from democracy to economics constitutes a difference in degree or a difference in kind. Recommendations: Educational and political philosophers and policy makers should join forces to create a new social awareness of the choices we make. If we believe Jefferson, Mann, Dewey, and Barber, these choices link directly to the American way of life. The implication given the public attention to the policy documents is that the democracy-education marriage is being guided, perhaps inadvertently, towards the rocks.
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