Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Values, Attitudes and Capacities for Democratic Citizenship

As we prepare to begin our first school year at New Orleans Liberation Academy we wonder what this journey will bring. We are also spending time reflecting a lot on what it means to learn and grow in a "Democratic Community" and considering what it means right now for our students to be "Democratic Citizens" and working to understand what our role as educators will be in helping them to develop values, attitudes and capacities they'll need to find success in the 21st Century.

In engaging in this type of personal reflection while reaching out to our allies in democratic schools around the country, we were reminded of some work by David Sehr (Social Studies Teacher at West Orange High School in West Orange, New Jersey) in his 1997 book (part of a series on “Democracy and Education” edited by the Forum for Education and Democracy's George Wood), Education for Public Democracy. Sehr offers the following detailed description of what our students will need to exhibit as global citizens that resonated deeply with what we are hoping to achieve and seems to provide a very thorough framework for all of us as classroom teachers, school administrators, educators and community members concerned about developing democratic, global citizens:
1. An ethic of care and responsibility as a foundation for community and public life
    (a) understanding of the interdependence of people as ‘individuals-in-relations’
    (b) understanding of the need for individuals to live as responsible members of communities

2. Respect for the equal right of everyone to the conditions necessary for their self-development
    (a) a sense of justice based on that right
    (b) principles of equal individual civil and political rights, and equal political power and vice, within a context which balances the right of individuals against their responsibilities to the larger community
    (c) acceptance of the fundamental equality of members of all social groups in society including that of social groups other than one’s own
    (d) acceptance of a person or a groups’ right to be different from oneself, or from accepted norms and vales of the community, as long as the rights of others aren’t threatened

3. Appreciation of the importance of the public
    (a) appreciating need to participate in public discussion and debate, and to take action to address public issues
    (b) recognizing need to expand and create new public spheres as sites for discussion and debate of public issues
    (c) understanding public nature of certain person problems

4. A critical/analytical social outlook
    (a) habits of examining critically the nature of social reality, including the ‘commonsense’ realities of everyday life
    (b) habits of examining underlying relations of power in any given social situation

5. The capacities necessary for public democratic participation
    (a) analysis of written, spoken and image language
    (b) clear oral and written expression of one’s ideas
    (c) habits of active listening as a key to communication
    (d) facility in working collaboratively with others
    (e) knowledge of constitutional rights and political processes
    (f) knowledge of complexities and interconnections of major public issues to each other and to issues in the past
    (g) self-confidence, self-reliance, and ability to act independently (within context of community)
    (h) ability to learn more about any issue that arises

Sehr goes on to describe the “Characteristics of School Life Likely to Engage Students in a School’s Programs”, all of which we are proud to say that we have worked hard to create as New Orleans Liberation Academy continues to develop.
1. an atmosphere in which students feel a sense of belonging or membership in the school community
2. a feeling of students’ safety, both physical and emotional/psychological
3. schoolwork with intrinsic interest for students
4. schoolwork that is meaningful not only for school purposes, but also in the real world outside school
5. a sense of student ownership of their school.

However, all of these things alone will not bring about the Liberation we seek with our students, their families and thier communities, as Washington State University Professor of Education Walter C. Parker challenges in Educating the Democratic Mind (1996),
“Without democratic enlightenment [knowledge of the ideals of democratic living, including the ability to discern just from unjust action and the commitment to recognize difference and fight prejudice], participation cannot be trusted: the freedom marchers of the Civil Rights movement ‘participated,’ but so did Hitler’s thugs and so did (and does) the Ku Klux Klan. Participation without democratic enlightenment can be worse than apathy.”

So, what do you think are the “values, attitudes and capacities” of a democratic, global citizen? What do you do in your school to teach these to your students? We, at New Orleans Liberation Academy would be very interested in you sending us information about how you teach these “skills, knowledge, attitudes/ dispositions” while achieving "democratic enlightenment."

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