A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (2023)

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (1)

I. A 'hypothetical'

Imagine if, on a daily basis, the tasks you perform were ordered by someone you report to; Imagine if these tasks had little to do with your personal fulfillment, or even the fulfillment of others; Imagine if performing these tasks consumed most of your waking hours year after year; Imagine if this regime of control extended to even the most basic levels of your bodily autonomy, from where and when you can eat to whether you are "allowed" to urinate or defecate; Imagine if trying to change these conditions endangered your current or future livelihood, not to mention social ostracism; And imagine if, before the start of each day, you were expected to rise and pledge allegiance to the nation-state in which you reside, a nation-state revered as the oldest liberal democracy in the world.

As you probably already know, you don't need toImaginethese circumstances. Far from being hypothetical, many of these conditions arefrom the status quoin American schools (and workplaces). Despite our aesthetic predilection for democratic fundamentals such as voting, the jury and freedom of expression, in fact, none of this regulates the experiences lived in the places where our children most inhabit.

On the Side is a reader supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

In other words, howUniversity of Michigan philosopher Elizabeth S. Anderson writes, most students today live under “private government”: onlynominallyfree to exercise their age-appropriate democratic rights, arein factauthoritarian subjects with little or no self-determination.

II. The problems

Crucially, over the last five decades, the coercive power of this private government has become less inhibited. In our public schools, where citizenship rights are supposedly more protected for our young people (i.e., less subject to private oversight), increased punitive law enforcement and enforcement practices, mandatory curricula, standardized testing, and more have created a system focused on the fulfillment of authority.

Discipline:The growing presence of euphemistically called School Resource Officers (SROs), or police on duty at schools, has been correlated with a radical new "normal" wherehundreds of thousands of American students each yearthey are referred to the police or arrested. Unsurprisingly, given the well-documented inequalities of the adult criminal justice system, a disproportionate number of these detained students are Black or Latino, (re)producing racial disparities for the next generation.

(Video) Basic Income. A radical proposal for a free society and a sane economy

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (2)

Likewise, formal disciplinary structures related to rule infractions are still predominantly channeled through the old punitive means of detention and suspension. Rather than emphasizing behavioral rehabilitation that is best for the student, these mechanisms promote what iseasierfor adults. Removing “at-risk” students from the classroom or building for a period of time (expecting them to regain performance in their courses before long) does not address the underlying reasons for their actions; counterproductively, it stigmatizes them.

Study plans:Equally restrictive, albeit in terms of student curiosity rather than freedom, are the pronounced 21st century trends toward one-size-fits-all curricula and tests. With the Bush administration's 2002 No Child Left Behind Act and its younger sister, the Obama administration's 2009 Race to the Top initiative, national curriculum mandates called Common Core Standards, and the widespread adoption of standardized tests such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT and more. it has become the norm. This left millions of professors with far less decision-making power over the content they taught (itself a concept that blurs students' intrinsic passions) and far more time spent, as is now clichéd, "teaching to the test." And again, the students' experience at school was determined from above.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (3)

Qualification:Sealing a single alphabetic or numerical credential to encapsulateallof an individual's learning and growth during the relevant testing period is inherently reductive, and I think most educators know this; however, what is equally true, but much less disputed, is the fact that assessment (as we do now) produces an antagonistic relationship between teacher and student by its very nature.

Rather than encouraging dialogue between the two, traditional grading is an entirely top-down mechanism that nonetheless arbitrates a young person's future prospects. Students have no say in the percentage distribution of various types of assignments, nor in the design of the assignments themselves, nor in the duration or number of revisions allowed. If our goal as educators and/or loved ones of students is that theylearnyto grow, so infinite attempts should be encouraged for an unlimited amount of time! Failing is a prerequisite for mastery, but point-based grading is only concerned with ranking students and hanging their past failures, like an albatross, around their necks.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (4)

Task:To be blunt, homework is a classist tool to coerce work far beyond the social contract between student and educator. school work isofUnpaid work; require, under penalty of grade reduction, that students -children- complete more than a forty-hour workweekno moleof any extracurricular activity, paid work and leisure is inconceivable. For poor and working-class students, after-school homework is discriminatory, forcing them to do double or triple the work of their wealthier peers.

In study after study, a multitude of working high school and college students testify that their paid hours, a necessity to avoid debt, negatively impact their study time. And while many educators are forced to assign homework due to the pacing demands of Common Core and AP tests, they seem to confuse rigor with workload; in fact, it is possible, not to mention the benefits to students' mental well-being, to have robust coverage of all required curriculum material during class hours.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (5)
(Video) The Stakes: 2020 & the Survival of American Democracy | The New School

Mobility:In my opinion, obstacles to student mobility and basic bodily autonomy are the clearest example of authoritarian rule in contemporary education. That it is “bien” to limit the power of one to use the bath, go to the library, take a soda or take a rest simply because of the age of that person is once more a modern consensus that is radical as soon as one takes one rest. time to articulate. While some would argue that knowing where every student is every moment of every day is mandatorydue to the dystopian rise of mass shootingsand other life-and-death emergencies in American schools, even this reality does not imply that an educator exercises complete control overethese necessary facilitieshe canto be used.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (6)

Economy and Democracy:Finally, on a tangentially related note, it would be short-sighted to think that these crackdowns on self-determination ended at the school gates. In reality, this proverbial disease is infecting our broader economy and national democracy as well. Unions - the democratic voice of labor - have been crushed at a staggering rate, halving their density since 1970. The holy grail of pro-union legislation, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, has also been destroyed by conservative court rulings and subsequentanti-heavyy'Right to work'legislation.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (7)

And, unsurprisingly, such attacks on organized labor were accompanied bypolitical donation registryfrom the corporate and managerial classes to Republicans and Democrats. I argue that these are bribes effectively legalized to maintain undemocratic control over political elites, and that the long-term economic instability generated by such a political-industrial complex aids the candidacies of politicians like Donald Trump, whose authoritarian impulses speak to populist rage.

With congressional approval ratings steadily declining for three decades (except after 9/11), the results of the most recent presidential election led to an insurrection in the US Capitol, and the Supreme Court now sits at its seat.highest disapproval rating in recorded historyafter tippingRoe contra Wade, it seems that the contradiction between the majority ideals of the United States and the minority systems of education, economics and politics may be poisoning its democracy at the root.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (8)

third democratic interventions

In the face of the above challenges, it is imperative that we now intervene, in collaboration with our own youth, on behalf of student well-being and the democratic voice. A better form of schooling is within reach, but to get there we must act radically. And although this word is often used pejoratively to connote someone or somethingdangerouslyoutside the mainstream, in this context I use it to convey something more hopeful. A radical, so long as he seeks to expand rather than restrict the freedom of others, is, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "...a man with both feet firmly planted in the air." The solutions proposed below, while far from exhaustive, would get our education system off the ground.

(Video) Democracy in Question: Socialism and Liberalism in the Age of Trump

Restorative Justice:“Restorative justice” is an increasingly popular term.Modain reformist circles, but what does that really mean? Diametrically opposed to punitive (or punishment-based) justice, restorative justice focuses on dialogue, accountability, and rehabilitation. Based on the belief that none of us are defined by the worst decisions of our lives, restorative justice is fundamentally democratic because it replaces outsiders like teachers and administrators with a dialogue between the wounded and the wounded mediated by a council of peers.

Innovative schools across the country, such asGrand Mesa High School em Grand Junction, Coloradoythe Rochester City School District in upstate New York, implemented restorative justice practices with great success. Whether as a civic elective, a 'school citizenship' duty for all students, or an extracurricular activity for service-minded leaders, restorative justice forces the perpetrator into a healthy confrontation with their mistakes and demands a solution that does not seek to leave scars. .theyalso.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (9)

Participatory budgeting:What if, instead of scholarship writers and bureaucrats chasing one fad after another in the education space, students themselves could allocate resources based on democratically determined needs? By teaching them about economics, popular sovereignty, philanthropy and much more, this process, also known as participatory budgeting, has the potential to revolutionize the way students perceive their school community.

If at least a sizable portion (think more than 20%) of all allowances, bonuses and the like fell directly under the purview of the Student Assignment Committee, then the level of, pardon the pun,investmentthat students feel that at the school they report to each morning they will grow to match the level of responsibility entrusted to them. Having felt the incredible obligation to co-manage a $50,000 annual budget as a member of my county's Community Foundation Youth Advisory Board in high school, I can testify that the opportunity to disburse funds that will tangibly benefit the community is one of the tasks most unifying and inspiring events in which a citizen can participate.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (10)

Mobility:Unequivocally, educators can still satisfy the contemporary expectation that they monitor the whereabouts of all students at all times, without each student nervously asking permission to simply attend to their bodily needs. Using workarounds such as short Google forms (or equivalents) that serve as bathroom, hallway, or library passes, while providing instant digital notification of a student's next move, staff members can quickly retrieve the location of a student in an emergency without exercising undue authority. about common migrations.

Domain transcript:Gone are the days when sitting was a substitute for acquiring knowledge, when our students were fully capable of demonstrating what they had.dominatedwithout waiting for your peers to 'catch up' or feeling that your questions, the most fundamental unit of learning, are an anchor for class 'progress'. Through the various pedagogical philosophies of intellectuals such as Maria Montessori, bell hooks, Susan D. Blum, Baron Acton, Paulo Freire and others, as well as my own classroom experiences, it is clear that when we follow the intrinsic motivations of each student, rather than imposing extrinsic mandates on them, we reach out to "loved ones." community” we need to solve the world's most pressing challenges. A domain transcription only requiresskillsySkills, nocoursesymechanical knowledge, thus providing each student with the autonomy to pursue what fuels their fire.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (11)

Programs against poverty:One of the lessons I've tried to convey to the students I've mentored this year is that our resources are so much greater when they come together. Some of us simply have more than we need, while others in our community are struggling to make ends meet. so we practicemutual aid: “…a form of support based on solidarity, in which communities unite against a common struggle, rather than leaving individuals to fend for themselves”.Each week, through a snack cart donated by students and staff, we sell healthy snacks to elementary school students, directing all proceeds to causes ranging from Amazon rainforest conservation to Hurricane Ian relief.

(Video) Glenn Weyl Book Lecture: Radical Markets Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society

It is conceivable that this model could be implementedinsidea school community to help feed, clothe and provide hygiene tools for those most in need. After all, "misbehavior" is often a maladaptive response to stress caused by inequalities.forafrom school; To get to the root of the problems faced by some of our most challenging students, we must provide them with a modicum of material security.

Labor Protections:Just as unions collectively negotiate contracts that stipulate labor rules and procedures regarding pay, benefits, health, safety, due process and more, I believe it is time for students to exercise power. blurred the boundaries between teacher and manager.

Instead of living in a constant state of precariousness, not knowing day after day what excessive homework your AP Biology teacher might assign or what heat exhaustion-inducing workout your athletic coach might have planned, imagine if high school students , if they chose - they were represented by a school or district union that negotiated a contract with the administration every August. Perhaps the most transformative policy proposed in this document, student unions would potentially adjudicate task levels, studio plans, evaluation methods, qualification policies and safety standards in chemistry laboratories, stores, sports facilities and more.

And for those who would scoff at the idea of ​​students representing themselves, I say this: young people live up to our expectations of them.

4. call to action

While what we think of as "school" looks the same since the beginning of the 20th century, movements towards the dictum about dialogue have accelerated in recent decades. Even leaving aside the pedagogical criticisms, of which there are many, schoolingwrote bigreflected the civic and democratic decline of the United States.

As students, public/employed/private educators, parents and/or concerned citizens, we are all in a different situation when it comes to this issue. For some, our livelihood, disciplinary record, or education itself depends on whether or not we stand up to the oppressive structures of academia. However, at this time, it is imperative that each of us conduct a cost-benefit analysis of what we stand to lose by taking action versus what our young people stand to lose by doing so.in action.

Grassroots change in our education system doesn't have to be the same in every district, state or region! If you are a public school teacher in a conservative district currently beholden to harsh disciplinary practices, perhaps consider, where professionally defensible, implementing restorative justice practices such as collaborative responsibility design driven by conversations among your own students about people. wounds instead of traditional punishments. If you are a parent whose child is experiencing a mental health crisis over grades, consider bringing alternative grading systems, such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium, to your local school board. If you're a 3rd AP student who feels your life circumstances make the assignment an undue burden, use free (and paid if you can) resources like answer keys, AI chatbots, and more to deliver this assignment. .

None of these measures is a sign of laziness or ineptitude; instead, they show your self-respect and care for the people you love! Ultimately, a system based on univocity, mandates, and general disregard for student work and well-being owes its share of sabotage.

A (not so) radical proposal for school democracy (12)

On the Side is a reader supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.


1. Historian: Republican Push to Replace Obamacare Reflects Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
(Democracy Now!)
2. The Supreme Court in a Constitutional Democracy | Law and Politics in the Roberts Court
(Harvard Law School)
3. International Women's Day: Roots in Radical History, Labor & Reproductive Rights
(Democracy Now!)
4. Radical markets: Uprooting capitalism and democracy for a just society
(Blavatnik School of Government)
5. Citizens’ Assemblies: A Radical Idea from Ancient Athens | Restoring Public Trust
(Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House)
6. Democracy: A Harvard Law School Lecture Series | Session 5: Living with Money in Politics
(Harvard Law School)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Barbera Armstrong

Last Updated: 16/07/2023

Views: 5870

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Barbera Armstrong

Birthday: 1992-09-12

Address: Suite 993 99852 Daugherty Causeway, Ritchiehaven, VT 49630

Phone: +5026838435397

Job: National Engineer

Hobby: Listening to music, Board games, Photography, Ice skating, LARPing, Kite flying, Rugby

Introduction: My name is Barbera Armstrong, I am a lovely, delightful, cooperative, funny, enchanting, vivacious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.