Democracy and K-12 Schools
I was amazed to see a letter to the editor published in yesterday's Washington Post ("'Democracy' schools don't live up to their name"), challenging the relatively authoritarian practices of a so-called "Democracy School" set to open in the District, a school that the Post lauded in a previous editorial, because the author of the letter, unidentified other than her name, was Mary Beth Tinker.
Mary Beth Tinker, as a child, was one of the plaintiffs in an important student rights case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, when she and her siblings wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.
It happens that the Post ran an article on her a number of years ago ("Wearing the Right to Free Speech on Her Sleeve") and apparently she lives in the Forest Hills area of DC according to the local newsletter there ("Meet Your Neighbors: Free-Speech Champion Mary Beth Tinker").
Her letter mentions visiting schools where the students are involved in and lead decision-making.
My basic "line" about citizen participation has been the same for more than 30 years...
"Upon graduation, after having gone to relatively authoritarian schools where you're lectured at for 13 to 17 years of your life, how can you expect people, upon graduation, to become active, free-thinking, participating members of [civil] society."
cf. "Schooling in Capitalist America Revisted,"by Bowles and Gintis. From the article:
[in the book] We advanced the position that schools prepare people for adult work rules, by socializing people to function well (and without complaint) in the hierarchical structure of the modern corporation. Schools accomplish this by what we called the correspondence principle, namely by structuring social interactions and individual rewards to replicate the environment of the workplace. We thus focused attention not on the explicit curriculum but on the socialization implied by the structure of schooling.
For what it's worth, most of the "reform" agenda in the K-12 public education field is shaped by an authoritarian approach to learning, where the development of independent, creative thought and self-expression is not a priority. See "Countering the Authoritarian Reform Agenda."