Monday, March 5, 2012

Democracy And Education

Democracy and Education from a Deweyan and Freirean perspective.

There is no universally acceptable definition of democracy. Yet, the principles of all definitions include equality and freedom. That is, in a democracy all citizens are equal before law, have equal access to power and freedom which are protected by a constitution.
The free encyclopedia on the internet Wikipedia defines democracy as follows:

Democracy is a political government carried out either directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of elected representatives of the people (Representative democracy).(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy)

Both John Dewey and Paolo Freire, two renowned educationists, described democracy both as aim and as a method of education.

John Dewey believed democracy is achieved through education. He considers democracy as a responsibility which is better shouldered by educated people. Educated people are more likely to make the right choice for the reinforcement of democracy.Besides, he said the following in his book “Democracy and Education”:
The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education (Dewey, John. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan, pg 91)
Furthermore, Dewey considered every individual equally important to society therefore should be given equal opportunity to education. This, however, is achieved not by delivering traditionally the same knowledge to everyone but rather by infusing direct experience of the learner with his learning environment and content. This implies that experiences of different groups of learners would be different. Hence, the method of education is differentiated and adapted to the experience and environment of the learner. This further implies that the teacher needs to have a prior understanding of the learner’s experience and environment. This method is known as the learner-centred approach.
Paolo Freire, too believed that education aims at transforming and liberating the society, therefore education aims at attaining democracy.
Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion. (Freire, Paulo. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007, Page 47)
Freire joined the same line of thought of Dewey in the sense that he believed to attain the ideal democracy, methods of education should be democratic. Freire believed that the curriculum being taught to the poor embedded hidden messages that would rather reinforce poverty among the poor. Therefore, he rejected the banking concept where knowledge is deposited in the minds of the learners. Instead, he believed in a dialogical approach of learning which is characterised by a mutual acceptance of the interchangeability of the roles of teacher and learner which, therefore, relies on trust. Freire suggested that the teacher, though not being on the same footing as the learner, should be humble enough to relearn what he is supposed to know already by interacting with the learner. This helps the learner develop a critical consciousness which allow him to understand the world in which he is living and to understand the various social and political contradictions so that he can take actions against oppressions and achieve true liberation.
Though they may have different approach to the method of education, both Dewey and Freire considered that the role of the teacher is not to impose knowledge. Instead, the teacher must be willing to relearn what he believes he knows already, to have an understanding of the environment of the learners and to adapt his teaching to the experience and environment of the learner so as to make them good citizens who can contribute to the development of his society, in other words to attain the ideal democracy.