The Service of Democratic Education

In case you haven’t read it yet, please do read Linda Darling-Hammond‘s speech at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. It is a profound lament while at the same time a sliver of hope that we may have a real shot at democratizing education through teachers education.

Linda paints a grim picture:

The United States now has a far higher poverty rate for children than any other industrialized country (25 percent, nearly double what it was thirty years ago); a more tattered safety net—more who are homeless, without healthcare and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education (a 10:1 ratio in spending across the country); a larger and more costly system of incarceration than any country in the world, including China (5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates), one that is now directly cutting into the money we should be spending on education; a defense budget larger than that of the next twenty countries combined; and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country (the wealthiest 1 percent of individuals control 25 percent of the resources in the country; in New York City, the wealthiest 1 percent control 46 percent of the wealth and are taxed at a lower level than in the last sixty years). Our leaders do not talk about these things. They simply say of poor children, “Let them eat tests.”

And goes on to state:

But public education has a secret weapon—a Trojan horse, if you will: the members of the profession like yourselves who have mastered a strong body of professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of care and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and this commitment to others throughout the education system.

I would love to be inspired like that!

Much of her rant against “scientific managers”, whose application of industrial models of business to education is leading to severe consequences, is valid and global is nature. And she understands that teacher education is one such weapon that can bring change within the system. She has worked enough at national policy level to perhaps believe that policy or the mitigation of the adverse effects of policy are equally important; as is equity.

However, I don’t think that the problem lies with the scientific management. That will happen as a consequence of scale and lack of educational leadership/vision to investigate alternatives to orderly systems.  I think one of the major problem is that education system itself is un-democratic. By that I don’t just  mean that education is imposed, but also that education imposition is accepted widely.

And that is because, though we may rail about the “badness” in the system, there isn’t sufficient motivation in the democracy to take action. Democratizing education means helping make education by, for and of the people. The people are an inseparable part of the system of democracy. And they are every bit as accountable as the governments they help elect.

That is why, choice needs to be in the hands of the recipient and the giver both; equitably. And governments should ensure that they have mechanisms to fund and facilitate that exchange.

2 thoughts on “The Service of Democratic Education

Add yours

  1. Something is terribly wrong when the high school graduates of the late 1800’s were better educated from a one room school house then those of today’s “Junior College” facilities.
    More money pushed into the system doesn’t do it…. Example Kansas City high schools. More government intrusion doesn’t do it. Passing the kids along when they shouldn’t pass… doesn’t do it.

    What’s the real problems??


    1. Bob, I think that part of the problem, and there are many other parts to the problem, is that educational systems do not scale well. I think that beyond a point, the classroom can’t expand without loss in quality. You could still have a billion iindividual classrooms of which 99% could be fairly ordinary, so scale is not the only complexity. Viplav


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