Okay, so to continue from the last post, here’s one reason why schools today are not democratic. Remember, this is why, not how.
- Schools in a capitalistic society are going to be… capitalistic. Working with an elementary school in Tampa, Florida, I learned about the reality of 3rd, 4th 5th and 6th grade teachers having to stuff standardized tests with vomit and blood on them into plastic bags to ship them back to the state education agency. Performance anxiety isn’t isolated to schools; it is what motivates workplace, family, and neighborhood violence everyday. This anxiety is the outcome of a society which places emphasis on production and consumption, rather than process and experience. The resultant situation of “haves” and “have nots” enforcing isolationism, segregation and polarization. In turn, democracy withers on the vine. That means for every single classroom teacher attempting to have classroom elections to support the creation and enforcement of rules, there are 30 others in her building who are conforming to history models.
It is not true that people cannot see beyond horizons that they haven’t traveled to. As human beings we have limitless capacities for imagination and creation, despite the obliterating effects of the hegemony of mind suffered upon us by empirical forces that dominate our lives. That means that the Lost Boys of Sudan can be our heroes, much the same as the students of the Freedom Writers or the Freedom Riders, or the teacher down the hallway who tried “that thing, that time, with those kids.” While this sounds contradictory to what I just wrote, it is not, for to give up hope in the face of this adversity would be to succumb to the very forces which we’re attempting to give up on. However, it does challenge us to get to the core, rather than skimming the surface, of the challenge of democracy in schools.
Which brings me back to my friend Melia’s post in her blog: rather than suffering the regular complaints of liberal educators who’ve been fighting capitalist hegemony with simplistic rhetoric for so many years, I believe the challenge of any educator dedicated to democracy is to move beyond the platitudes of Rethinking Schools and towards the lenses of critical democracy, with its concern for radical democracy throughout society. Only then can we provide an effective critique of modern education and offer effective alternatives to the heinous criminalization of democracy that is going on today.