Democracy truly is something all Americans (and yes, even us Canadians) should truly cherish. We should cherish it so much that we should do whatever it takes to ensure that our children be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms that we have come to appreciate.
So how do we do that?
Public education may be one of the most important characteristics of an ever-lasting democractic people. And yet it is sadly ironic that schools are one of the least democratic places inside of a democracy.
Alfie Kohn reflects on this unfortunate paradox in his article Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide:
Several years ago, a group of teachers from Florida traveled to what was then the USSR to exchange information and ideas with their Russian-speaking counterparts. What the Soviet teachers most wanted from their guests was guidance on setting up and running democratic schools. Their questions on this topic were based on the assumption that a country like the United States, so committed to the idea of democracy, surely must involve children in decision-making processes from their earliest years.
The irony is enough to make us wince. As one survey of American schools after another has confirmed, students are rarely invited to become active participants in their own education.(1) Schooling is typically about doing things to children, not working with them. An array of punishments and rewards is used to enforce compliance with an agenda that students rarely have any opportunity to influence.
When I share the idea of making classrooms more democratic with teachers or parents who are reluctant to trust children, I quite often hear, “Children are not responsible enough or trustworthy enough to be given choice.”
Children do not become good choice-makers by being told what to do, nor do children become more responsible by simply following instructions.
They must be afforded the opportunity to make good and bad choices.
They must be given the chance to be responsible and irresponsible.
If children are not afforded the opportunity to learn how to participate in a democratic classroom by being in a democratic classroom, when shall they learn how to participate and perpetuate the democratic ideals that you Americans and we Canadians have come to love so very much?