Participation in Democratic education

Participation in Democratic education
Before I started the summer school, I had very limited knowledge in democratic education as I grew up in a country with a different education system, culture, and structure of government. From the summer school, I understood what democratic education is and knew how to do it in school. Dewey proposed that “democracy is more than a form of government: it is primarily a mode of associated living, a conjoint communicated experience” (Dewey, 1916, p.87). According to Dewey, good education should have both a societal purpose and a purpose for the individual student. That was the traditional way to define democratic education.
Hess (2009) proposed that democratic education is a form of civic education that purposely educates young people how to do democracy. The ultimate goal for democratic education is to build a better society. Hess emphasizes even more the social function of democratic education and addresses the political world outside of school and represents the political realm as ongoing transformation of society. She regarded that education was a way to build a healthy society through the youth participation in democracy. Unlike Dewey, Hess stresses the social function more and emphasizes the action to propagate democracy. From Hugh’s article (Hughes, Print & Seals, 2010) and classroom discussion, I understood the similarity and differences among four different western countries including Britain, France, Canada, and Australia. It gave me a big picture how the system works, how students are engaged in the democratic education, and how to compare differences. Those were extremely beneficial for me. It made me to reflect which “roadmap” of democratic education China should follow in future.
Hess (2009) and Apple (2006) mentioned new ways to conduct democratic education in schools. Hess proposed that it was crucial for the teacher to develop students’ abilities to discuss highly controversial political issues without using vitriol or making personal attack. In addition, she argued that teachers can participate in discussion differently when they are skillful at surfacing the differences of opinion within the group. For schools, she argued, there are not only any rights but also obligation to build an atmosphere of intellectual and political freedom that uses genuine public controversies to help students discuss and envision political possibilities (p.6). I agree with her argument. The goal of education at school does not only meet the needs to educate students for the future job market, but more important for the needs to build a healthy democratic society. Apple (2006) defined that education is both - the cause and the effect, determining and determined. It serves as a site for battles related to whom it should be served, and who should make decisions in which resources, power, and policy, pedagogy, and evaluation in education worked through (p.30). Both Hess and Apple’s arguments promote diversity and equality. I agree with their argument because everyone is an important part of the society regardless of his race, skin color, cultures and beliefs and democratic education, which gives them a chance to realize their rights and find ways to the solved issues related to them to build a better society.










Participation for girls in democratic education
Participation is a multidimensional construct. WHO’s (2001) description and definition of participation as being ‘an individual involvement in a life situation’ (p. 14). Participation in democratic education not only includes students but schools and teachers. From my understanding after the summer school, participation includes passive and positive dimensions. If the students are passive and they attend the civic education, it is a participation, but not very effective. The more important way is positive participation including students who get involved in different kinds of decision making, attending school council, showing their thoughts, debating issues, solving the problems. Through positive participation, they become active citizens and build new collective identities that is the preservation of the cultural context in which each individual may exercise his/her capacity to choose and to live, with the rights of national groups such as Indigenous peoples to self-determination significantly different, than the rights of recognition of ethnic groups (Kymlicka, 1995).
Girls should have the same rights like boys to participate in democratic education. Before I took the subject I did not realize the high stack risk of girls in schools in the developed countries. I did not have a clear image how to do democracy and how to encourage those marginalized pupils to the active engage in the democracy, especially girls. After the summer school, I understood more about the rights and obligations for the girls. It is very important to encourage them to participate in the democratic education, to hear their voice, and to give them equal rights to discuss politics and issues that related to them.
A longitudinal study done by McLoed (2007) found that girls are at risk. The interactions in class between families and school are shaped by personal and collective stories and by deep-seated cultural expectations through influence of mother’s own educational history and girls’ accumulated sense of themselves, as not good enough at school, and teachers’ view of the students as academically not strong, could influence the girl’s confidence. As an educator, I need to be aware of the influence of my attitude on my students - girls. Those kinds of confidence are very important steps to participate in democratic education. Girls’ participation in democracy is very crucial especially for developing countries. In China, many girls are labeled at risk. They have lower expectation for their life and learn without hope. It is interesting to see the similarity comparing girls in China and girls in Australia. Girls in China are also deeply influenced by families, cultures, and school. They usually have a lower expectation than boys under multiple dimensional influences and regard themselves that they are not as smart as boys. Many girls in the rural areas are withdrawn at schools between grades 7 to 9. They choose or they are forced to work to support the family financially. Without democratic education, how could the girls change their mind and fight for a better life?
I experienced the same feeling as discovered by McLoed’s research. Girls are more sensitive and apt to be influenced by people’s view around them. I agree with her argument that the influences are multiple dimensions. Mcleod (2007) proposed that things, which influenced girls to participate in democracy - are not one, but multiple dimensions such as economic and cultural, and politics. Poor participation for girls may be linked to the combined and accumulating effect of low incomes, poor access to limited resources, feeling disrespected at school, and living in an area that was not a good place to be (p.159). McLeod’s view is somehow connected with Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological theory (Bronfenbrener, 1995). The girl as a child is influenced by dimensions around her including the mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem.
Democratic education can help girls understand their rights and learn how to deal with the social injustice and disadvantages. Democratic education can bring hope to young female students and to help them move forward for a better life. McLeod found the importance of hopefulness for girls’ participation and she proposed that hopefulness is linked to political, cultural and social contexts, particularly those of inequality and injustice, as much as it is linked to life history and biographical processes. Hope, then, can be examined as a strategy of both survival and subjectivity. (Mcleod, 2007. p.157).
To encourage girls to participate in democracy, we need to find the three different powers as suggested by Gaventa . Gaventa (2006) proposed that power is multidimensional and plays out in different spaces. He defined power in three categories:
1. Invisible Power: refers to processes of socialization, culture and ideology that shape individuals’ beliefs, sense of self and of opportunities that are open to them.
2. Visible Power: refers to the visible, definable aspects of power, such as the formal rules, structures, authorities, institutions and procedures of decision making
3. Hidden Power: refers to the people and institutions that use their ability to control decision making in order to retain their position and influence and perpetuate patterns or discrimination and inequality that might challenge the status (p.23).
We need to find different forms of interactions of power and spaces to solve the problems that obstacle the participation of girls in democratic education. As an educator, I can create spaces for girls to participate through efforts to understand and transform attitude, practice and readjust power relations at different levels. I can promote the invited spaces through facilitating the participation such as cultural knowledge exchanging, meetings etc. and promote the claimed spaces that are mainly created by less powerful groups to discuss or take action on girls, who commonly felt issues or concerns.


Participation of school
Education needs radical reform and improvement. If the schools suppress, ignore or deny the important role of controversial issues in the curriculum and they are not willing to teach young children how to participate in discussing controversial issues, the students would lose the ability to criticize the issues and they would never have a chance to realize the importance to be active citizens and the importance of political issues which may influence their daily life and community.
Regarding the participation of schools, the first step is that the schools should not be assessed not only by academic learning, but also in a different perspective such as how the students are involved in decision making and discussion in democracy. In this way, the schools could spend more time and resources to encourage students to participate in democracy. Yates and McLeod launched a qualitative longitudinal study for students 12 to 18 to give a rather different perspective on ‘school effectiveness’ than researchers who work with a focus on learning. This research project revealed how teenagers see themselves, schooling and their future today. The research findings are relevant part of assessing what schools are doing and students who go there both short and long term (Yates and McLeod 2000; McLeod, 2003; McLeod and Yates 2003). Borrowing from Yates and McLeod’s research, the schools could organize meeting with students to find out the issues that students really are concerned about and to apply those issues in the classroom for discussion to promote participation in democracy.
Smyth, Angus, Down, and Mclnerney (2008) suggested that the school can establish school and students councils, design curriculum that is more responsive to students’ lives and cultures, as well as being accessible to adult members of the community; Foster is a flexible, student-focused and supportive school culture; Creating spaces for dialogue, reflection, and innovation; and revitalizing democracy at the grassroots level through participatory forms of decision making in local community organization. In this way the school can promote dialogic engagement, reciprocal listening and learning. The QCA guidelines (1999) suggest ten elements to promote participation including leadership, management and change, policy development, curriculum planning and resourcing, teaching and learning, school culture and environment, giving pupils right to tell their opinion, provision of pupil support services, staff development, health, and welfare, partnership with parents and local communities, and assessing and recording and reporting pupil’s achievement. We need to be cautious when applying those guidelines to different countries with different cultures and people because those guidelines are designed for schools in England.














Participation for teachers
Radical democratic education needs brave staff. Fielding (2007) argued that not enough attention has been paid to those matters in our current school system and talking democracy often regarded unnecessary and embarrassed. In order to promote democracy, we need brave staff, students, and communities that support such work not only to serve themselves well, but also to provide concrete evidence of possibility to build a quite different world that are against to preoccupy present policy and practice.
As a teacher, I should know how to guide high-quality political talk. Teachers could attend regular training to improve their ability to guide high-quality discussions. For teacher, it is quite a challenge to encourage children to participate in the democratic education such as discussions about politics, public issues, and global issues. The teacher may feel the pressure from other teachers and parents who have different views of the purpose of education. Nussbaum (2006) found out those teachers who still take pride in stimulation children to question, to criticize were increasingly suppressed by other teachers, and especially by wealthy parents who wanted education as a way to help their child to achieve financial success (pp.301-302). In order to encourage student to participate in democracy, it is important to develop capacity for Socratic self-criticism and critical thought about one’s own tradition and the ability to see oneself as a member of a heterogeneous nation, and word, understanding something of the history and character of the diverse groups that inhabit it (Nussbaum,2006, p.309). Those abilities are very important for children in China. China has a long history and self-pride culture and history. The children should be able to discuss and ask questions about traditions. They should not fear to ask authorities questions, especially the teachers. In the long Chinese cultural tradition, the students should not ask teachers any challenging questions. It was an unacceptable behavior regarded by teacher, parents, and the whole society. As an educator, I should break those boundaries and my students should be encouraged to apply friendship, security, and recognition of each child instead of the influence of fear such as the fear of authority, fear of failure, or fail of punishment. Singh (2007) explains significant progress in civic education that is likely to occur when teachers connect school knowledge to the learner’s background, passions, cultures, language, needs and interests. I need to be able to build multiple connections to promote my students’ participation. I will encourage my students to develop an ethic of care-care for self, care for intimate others, care for associates and distant others as suggested by Nod-dings (2005b, p.47). If they start to care for people, they will like to get involved in solving issues around them. I will also encourage my students to consider issues and make decisions which affect them. Besides, I can apply some approaches suggested by Smyth et al (2008, p.157-159).
• Teaching content connecting to students’ lives and cultures;
• Giving students a say in what they learn and how;
• Incorporating youth and popular culture into the curriculum;
• Encourage multiple perspectives and inquiry based learning;
• Encouraging students to think about big questions and ideas related to controversial issues.







Students’ participation
Nash (2006) argued that personal characteristics such as beliefs, needs and value orientations determine the individual’s mode and intensity of participation, relationships with the social and physical world, and respond to issues and activities.
Discussion in democracy is an effective way to build political tolerance (Hess, 2010, p.17). As for the students, they can actively engage in classroom discussion about public issues because as Fishkin and Farrar (2005) mentioned, that this discussion arises spontaneously tending to bring together people who already know one another and to share an interest or a concern (p.72). The students should be guided by the teacher and everyone should have the equal chance to participate in issues they are concerned about in a safe environment and where they are willing to show different opinion. The students should be encouraged in decision making and to build a sense of ownership. Protest is a good democratic action. The students can also organize protests against some undemocratic issues. This democratic action is supported by some countries such as France. Big size of political protest is extremely prohibited in China, however the students can organize small size protests such as the protest for protecting forest or animal rights.
With the development of technology, the website is a new way to enhance youth civic participation. Many research studied how to use internet to encourage young people’s participation at different developed countries (Montgomery et al, 2004., Dahlgren 2006., Livingstone et al, 2005., and Selwyn 2007). Banaji( 2008) conducted a research in UK to exam websites engaging young people in democracy. Her research found out, that some pre-democratic engagement are regarded as unquestionably democratic for some groups but may be viewed as undemocratic by different groups. For example, the invasion of Iraq was viewed as a legal democratic action by many countries but we need to see the opposite side of the story. Many ordinary Iraq people including many young children died in the war. Many people in China protested American troop’s onslaught behavior which was supported by the government. At the same time many young people in UK protested Iraq war nationwide in 2003, which was a huge contribution for youth political engagement. For the “Net” generation, websites and forums are a good manner to engage them, but we need to be aware of what topics and the presentations of the websites are. If the issues violate the beliefs and cultures of some groups, those youth participation of democracy may be silent. Besides, Banaji (2008) mentioned young people, who are from a category, cross-cut by ethnicity, gender, class, race, and religion, as well as disability and sexuality. When we use internet to engage young people in democracy, we need to be aware of the differences and to promote the diversities. Besides, we need to care about those students whose families cannot afford to buy a computer when we are using websites to engage young people. Everyone should have the equal rights to access democracy.
Museum, parliament and gallery visiting are another good ways for democratic participation, which help students to develop critical thinking, self-determination and identity, and human, cultural and social capital (Taylor, 2006). Our impressive museum visiting experience in London demonstrated that such kind of visiting experience can promote experimental, collaborative, dialogical and open-ended nature of learning processes of students rather than the formal school education. As John Reeve (2010) presented, that using museums galleries and heritage can encourage supporting awareness and participation in local decision-making and wider civic and political engagement, enabling community empowerment through the awareness of rights, benefits, improving group and inter-group dialogue and understanding, and supporting cultural diversity and identity, and contributing to crime prevention and reduction.


Conclusion
Although the nature and character of young people’s democratic learning processes are neither straightforward nor predictable, participation is still a crucial part to achieve our democratic education. I want to say that teaching civic education is an important part of democracy in schools, but more important thing is encouraging internal democratic processes that help children to learn how to critique, use confrontation or challenge rather than the conformity. As Apple (2006) proposed, the education is a site of struggle and compromise. Our educators can apply his view to promote diversity in the classroom in the democratic education. I am expecting more radical reform and research to promote the participation in democracy.

Participation in Democratic education 8.5 of 10 on the basis of 2544 Review.