Energy Program for a School of Democratic Practice
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A republic bereft of concerned citizens quickly degenerates into an oligarchy. Modern pedagogy instills apathy towards government rather than a desire to participate, facilitating this trend. A new educational paradigm is required, and it will not fit graciously within a standard school design. Schools are run in an authoritarian fashion while democratic ideals are espoused in mainstream discourse. From an early age students learn that authority cannot be engaged or reasoned with, only obeyed or avoided. Ira Shor, a professor at City University of New York who writes frequently on the need to reevaluate this facet of education, highlights the paradox: “One morning, [the principal] called me to his office to let me know he was banning the little school newspaper I had started with my best friend Barry. (We called it "The Spirit of '93" to play on "the spirit of '76" we had read about vis a vis the American Revolution, and to honor our public school that had a number but no name.) When the principal abruptly ended our literate venture, I learned that 11-year-olds in our democracy can't publish a paper without prior official approval.” Knowledge, the ostensible reason for the school's existence, is imparted in the manner of an assembly line, alienating its recipients and teachers alike. When students leave and go about their 'real' lives, the curriculum is of little relevance and quickly forgotten. Specific knowledge is prone to decay; instead schools should seek to instill the values and habits vital to critical thinking and a participatory system of government. This must be done through practice. It is not enough to teach democratic principles, schools themselves must become microcosms of democracy where students learn that communal decision making and discussion is the only valid means of resolving conflict and choosing direction. Student government should not be a farce, whose primary responsibility is to determine whether the next dance will have a nautical, heavenly, or tropical flavor. Curriculum, process, and educational values must be decided with, not for, the student body. Only in this manner can an engaged citizenry be created through public initiative.