Chapter One

Educating Toward Direct Democracy

I. Framing the Study
Since the late 18th century, philosophers and politicians, revolutionaries and reformists  have held as their primary purpose or goal the preservation, enlargement, and/or extension of  democracy, democratic institutions, and democratic participation within their respective social,historical, and geographical contexts. As Gert Biesta (2007) explains,
Questions about democracy have always been closely intertwined with questions  about education. Ever since its inception in the polis of Athens, political and  educational thinkers alike have asked what kind of education would best prepare
the people (demos) for their participation in the ruling (kratos) of their society.
Although our complex global world bears little or no resemblance to the polis of  Athens, the question of the relationship between education and democracy is as  important and urgent today as it was then. (743)
As evidenced most recently by the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, everyday
citizens from all walks of life continue to show a willingness for personal sacrifice and risks to
their physical safety and well-being in the name of asserting more personal and collective control
over the political and economic decisions that most directly impact their lives. For as long as
humans have been engaged in the struggle against the concentration of power in the hands of the
few, the justification of authority based upon custom, tradition, or divine right and for more
meaningful and direct participation in the decision-making process, they have turned to  education as a primary site in/for this struggle. As a result, according to Luis Miron and Pradeep  Dhillon (2004), “the disciplinary fields of political science and political philosophy deeply  intertwine with educational theory, research, and practice” (32).
While schools and the forms of education that have been enacted therein have always  been fundamental arenas in which democracy has been tested, deliberated, and cultivated, the  ways in which ‘democracy’ has been defined and, thus, the methods of education that have been  employed in its pursuit have varied greatly. In contemporary times, the connection between
democracy/democratic societies and the education of the young has certainly not waned but the
competing discourses of accountability, curricular standardization, and the economic imperatives
attached to the education of the young have overshadowed much meaningful discussion  regarding schools as democratic and democratizing institutions. Additionally, when the  relationship between education and democracy is discussed, this discussion is most often  premised upon and framed within liberal democratic theory and one historically specific form of
democracy – that is, representative or parliamentary.
In his Declarations of Independence: Cross-examining American ideology, Howard Zinn  (1990) makes clear both the historical imperatives and gross inadequacies of representative  government for securing the basic human rights of liberty and equality. According to Zinn  (1990), theories of representative government began to take rise in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries and grew out of the desire of the new middle class for more power in  government. It was during this time that John Locke put forth the idea of the social contract  under which, Zinn explains, “the community – wanting more order, less trouble, and more  safeguards for life, liberty, and property – agrees to choose representatives who would accomplish these purposes” (233). Additionally, Locke proposed, if the elected government  violated the contract, rebellion might be justified. While the theory of the social contract appears  sound and rational upon first glance, Zinn claims the primary problem with it is that,It pretends that there is some nice unified community that agrees to set up this  constitutional government. In reality, there was not such unity. There were rich  and poor, and the poor are never in a position to sign a contract on equal terms  with the rich. Indeed, they are not usually consulted when a contract is drawn up.
So while it may sound good that property and liberty will be protected by  representative government, in reality it is the property and liberty of the wealthy  and powerful that is most likely to be protected. (234)
Continuing his incisive yet simple and direct critique, Zinn draws from The Federalist Papers to  argue that “while it [representative government] indeed is an improvement over monarchy, and  may be used to bring about some reforms, it is chiefly used by those holding power in society as  a democratic façade for a controlled society and a barrier against demands that threaten their  interests” (235).
Zinn (1990) ends his appraisal with a brief mention of some of the alternatives that have  been offered to replace representative forms of government. Primary among these is the notion  of direct democracy. As Zinn (1990) points out, history is replete with examples of the  successful functioning of direct democracy: ancient Athens (despite the exclusion of slaves,
women, and foreigners); the Paris Commune of 1871; and the Soviet (councils) of workers,
peasants, and soldiers on the eve of the Russian revolution, to name just a few. Outside of these  historical examples, have we no models or frameworks upon which to anchor our efforts at  creating something similar in the present and with which to guide our thinking about how  education and schooling might be altered to support this project?
That liberalism and notions of representative democracy are the foundations upon which  discussions of democracy and education rest is generally taken for granted and are presumptions  that, I concur with Zinn, require re-examination. In particular, this project attempted to  undertake a reconsideration of the relationship between education and democracy through a redefinition
of its most fundamental categories – that is, politics, citizen/citizenship, and  democracy itself. In undertaking this project, I relied primarily upon Murray Bookchin’s theory  of social ecology and its political corollary, libertarian municipalism, to offer an educational  framework based upon and intended to create, promote, and preserve a direct popular citizens’

A. Contemporary Discourses on the Relationship between Education, Democracy, and  Citizenship

Historically, considerations of the role of education in preserving and furthering a  political democracy and democratic institutions have been within the purview of philosophers,policymakers, educational theorists, teachers, students, and common citizens alike. In other  words, the topic has not been relegated to any one set of professionals or experts but rightly has  remained open to debate and differing conceptions articulated by the diverse sets of ideological commitments and social and cultural backgrounds brought together within a democratic society.
That said, within the contemporary field of education, discussions of competing conceptions of  democracy, politics, and citizenship have most often found their home in the area of social  studies. I, on the other hand, have approached the topic of democracy and education from a  primarily philosophical, generalist, and/or theoretical perspective and not situated it within a  specific subject area. Neither have I considered literature that is strictly situated within a  particular subject area but rather comes out of this more generalist perspective. I would like to argue that the preparation of citizens for democracy, in its truest sense (demos ‘the people’ +kratia ‘power, rule’) is the responsibility not only of the entire school community but also of the  concentric communities in which the school is situated.
While there continue to be fierce debates around the meaning and practice of citizenship  in the contemporary western world, most of these debates fall within the spectrum between civic  republicanism and liberal individualism. The liberal-individualist conception of citizenship has  as its primary concern the individual’s rights and responsibilities within the nation-state and the
government’s role in safe-guarding while also not impinging upon those individual rights. The  liberal perspective is rooted in a language of “needs” and “entitlements” necessary for individual  human dignity and is based on reason for the pursuit of individual self-interest. This primarily  western notion of citizenship suggests a focus on humans’ propensity for the individual pursuit
of material well-being and the guarantee of civil rights under shared law. From this view,
citizens are sovereign, morally autonomous beings with duties to pay taxes and obey the law and  rights to freely engage in economic activities, but are often passive politically outside of their  right to vote. In this view, essentially passive citizens are most concerned with their private  interests, and the management of society and formulation of law is left to a body of elected
representatives. While contemporary theorists of liberalism such as John Rawls do include  within the purview of liberalism the responsibility of society to try to benefit its least advantaged  members, this conception of citizenship, which I will eventually contrast with a more communal  sense of citizenship rooted in place, has given rise to what has been termed homo economicus,almost entirely focused on individual autonomy and material production and consumption – a  notion almost totally foreign to many cultures of the world, but one that has gained increasing  hegemony (Esteva & Prakash, 1998). It is within this framework of liberal citizenship that much  of the educational literature on the topic is situated.
In “Participatory Citizenship: Civics in the Strong Sense”, Walter C. Parker (1989)  claims the deterioration of civic life in recent times is obvious and he largely attributes this to the  rampant individualism that pervades contemporary American society and that has begun to divert  the public mission and vision of schools. At the same time, Parker acknowledges that schools,
by themselves, cannot be expected to reverse this crisis in civic life. However, he argues,
schools can have a significant influence through stronger emphasis in three areas:

1) helping  students acquire in-depth knowledge of history and politics;

2) conducting themselves as  communities and exploring what community entails; and

3) providing students with ample  opportunities to participate in democratic practices (353).
Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne (2004) attempt to examine the wide range of ideas   about what good citizenship is and what good citizens do that are embedded in democratic  education programs. In short, there are a variety of perspectives on citizenship and each has  equally varied implications for curriculum (238). Rather than focusing on these curricular
implications, the authors develop a framework that is intended to “highlight several important  political dimensions of efforts to educate citizens for democracy” (239). Their framework  emerges out of three answers to the question, “What kind of citizen do we need to support an  effective democratic society?” (239, italics in original) and these answers suggest three distinct
visions of citizenship: the personally responsible citizen, the participatory citizen, and the justice  oriented  citizen.


By Kevin J. Holohan

Submitted to
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of


About sooteris kyritsis

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