I want to extrapolate on last year’s post about Democracy in the Classroom and apply the same principles to the Administration – Teacher/Faculty relationship in today’s educational institution.
The post then and now is based on an intriguing YouTube video from 1945 which I’ve embedded below for convenience.
I want to compare the four principle elements of a democratic society noted in the video (1. Shared Respect, 2. Shared Power, 3. Balance of Resources, and 4. Enlightenment), with the typical characteristics governing the public educational institution today (1. Disrespect, 2. Top-down Control, 3. Poor Allocation of Resources, and 4. Narrow Mindedness).
Granted, I don’t believe the institution has swung to the opposite extreme of a democratic one. However, the tendency can trend in the wrong direction when any of the four characteristics are found wanting. This is the danger that must be avoided by maintaining a proper balance among the four characteristics.
A democracy requires shared respect among its constituents. This means understanding and tolerance of different cultures, skin colors, practices, beliefs, and corresponding opinions. This fits with today’s emphasis on cultural diversity in the classroom.
Whether or not Admin and Faculty agree with one another, mutual respect must be the norm for every school if open discussion is to be promoted. When certain ideals are depreciated, they go underground and fester. Only a platform conducive to open dialogue and debate can make genuine progress that is in the best interests of all.
Shared power in a democracy means that decision making is supported by the community and is enforced by the community (I’m speaking of the community of stakeholders here as consisting of Admin and Faculty).
This can be carried out in schools where Admin allow Faculty input regarding best practices in the education process. Stakeholder participation to establish the rules of engagement as well as rewards and penalties to be imposed on infractions, communicates to the Faculty that they are part of the the community and exist as a facilitator of outcomes more than as a babysitter focusing on the next standardized assessment commanded by the institution.
Shared power in a democracy means the right of individuals to voluntarily vote. Volunteering to vote implies personal motivation which is a vital ingredient to the education equation: Faculty must be motivated toward agreed best-practices in teaching. In a school where faculty are granted an ownership stake, personal motivation to excel in such best-practices is enhanced.
Balance of Resources
In the 1945 film, this particular point focuses on the balance of economic resources by ensuring a strong, healthy, and dominant middle class. I apply this to schools by interpreting it to mean a balance of intellectual resources and access to resources among Teachers and Admin.
This notion of balanced resources goes back to Aristotle over two millennia ago and was reiterated at the founding of our nation by James Madison who explained that imbalance of resources causes conflict between groups of have’s and have nots.
I have seen this in schools and school districts when policies that are on the table for discussion serve mainly to isolate and polarize Admin and Faculty based on resources they naturally possess. Rather than encouraging discussion and debate, top-down dominance often ensues and democracy is stifled as minds close up to hidden strongholds rather than critically evaluate other viewpoints and options.
This point has to do with free speech as a responsibility as well as a right. Free speech not only enlightens stakeholders, it also fuels their mind to judge, which grants them responsibility. Therefore, an education environment of free speech requires everyone to participate. It places the responsibility on the stakeholders to bring knowledge to light.
It does not mean some are free to be silent when a question is debated, but rather all bear the burden to ensure every point of view is presented so the entire institution can optimize best practices.
However, it bears noting that mere access to information alone is insufficient. Democracy in the educational institution means presentations of all sides of issues should be balanced. Sources should be disclosed. Otherwise, credibility could be questioned. Competence is assured by adequate disclosure.
Democracy in education is pivotal to encouraging personal motivation; a character issue that many stakeholders complain is lacking within the institution beyond the motivation of self- and/or position-preservation.
Shared respect and shared power, when understood by all stakeholders, empowers them to dig out the resources available among the community which in turn optimizes opportunities for enlightenment.
These four principles are not based on some new theory but on more than two thousand years of great thinking (the movie mentions Aristotle’s contribution). The bottom line is, when democracy is cared for, it thrives. When it is neglected, it diminishes.
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