rethinking democratic classrooms

Date: Thu Apr 13 2000 - 10:46:49 EDT

With all due respect, I must disagree with some of the ideas listed as
democratic teaching. The worst possible nightmare is the idea that the
teacher is the all knowing expert depositing their knowledge into students.

This form of education relegates the students to mere passive recipients of


I think the first idea of a democratic class is all participants entering
class have a type of knowledge to contribute. It may not be academic
knowledge which is deemed as more worthy than other types of knowledge. We

devalue the knowledge and experiences students bring.

The role of the teacher may be to transmit knowledge in part but it should
also be to help students interrogate their everyday lived experiences. A
democratic classroom helps student become actively involved in building the

kind of future they want. This future has a social justice component. I
think the idea of a democratic classroom is complex and constantly in the
making. A democratic classroom in no way should be construed to think
decisions are not made or that all decisions are popular. That the teacher

has no power and we have at it.

As a democratic teacher you set up the conditions for democracy to become
present- a living idea as Dewey said. At best, a democratic teacher tries
balance the relations of power, but the teacher is always in control and
holds the power. As a student, the best classed I have attended are the
where teachers tried to run classes democratically. The reason I was in
was to gain some 'expert' knowledge but also to be able to critically
society in order to change it.

Two books I recommend regarding this is Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the
Oppressed. He talks about a theory of education towards liberation.
Ira Shor has an excellent book, Empowering Education. He recounts the
and tribulations of teaching Ethics to largely working class college
students. He has a model of 'how to'. The point being is that democratic
classrooms are misconstrued and their is an absolute wrong impression many
times as to what it is. Secondly, even when we know what it is, in what
are teachers (k-12) and especially college faculty being prepared to teach

With a ripple of hope,

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