There is an integral and reciprocal relationship between democracy and education. Democracy is more than a political system or process, it is also a way of life that requires certain habits and dispositions of citizens, including the need to balance individual rights with commitments and responsibilities toward others. Currently, democracy is under threat, in part because of the shallow and reductive ways it has been taken up in practice. Understanding the historical relationship between democracy and education, particularly how democracy was positioned as part of the development of public schools, as well as current approaches to democratic schooling, can help to revitalize the democratic mission of education. Specifically, schools have an important civic role in cultivating in students the habits and dispositions of citizenship, including how to access information, determine the veracity of claims, think critically, research problems, ask questions, collaborate with others, communicate ideas, and act to improve the world. Curriculum, pedagogy, and organizational structures are unique in democratic schools. Developing an active, inquiry-based curriculum; using a problem-posing pedagogy; and organizing schools such that students develop habits of responsibility and social engagement provide our best hope for revitalizing democracy and ensuring that it is not simply an empty slogan but a rich, participatory, justice-oriented way of life.
Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a buzzword in contemporary professional debates, for example, in education, medicine, psychiatry, and social policy. It is known as the “what works” agenda, and its focus is on the use of the best available evidence to bring about desirable results or prevent undesirable ones. We immediately see here that EBP is practical in nature, that evidence is thought to play a central role, and also that EBP is deeply causal: we intervene into an already existing practice in order to produce an output or to improve the output. If our intervention brings the results we want, we say that it “works.”
How should we understand the causal nature of EBP be understood? Causality is a highly contentious issue in education, and many writers want to banish it altogether. But causation denotes a dynamic relation between factors and is indispensable if one wants to be able to plan the attainment of goals and results. A nuanced and reasonable understanding of causality is therefore necessary to EBP, and this we find in the INUS-condition approach.
The nature and function of evidence is much discussed. The evidence in question is supplied by research, as a response to both political and practical demands that educational research should contribute to practice. In general, evidence speaks to the truth value of claims. In the case of EBP, the evidence emanates from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and presumably speaks to the truth value of claims such as “if we do X, it will lead to result Y.” But what does research evidence really tell us? It is argued here that a positive RCT result will tell you that X worked where the RCT was conducted and that an RCT does not yield general results.
Causality and evidence come together in the practitioner perspective. Here we shift from finding causes to using them to bring about desirable results. This puts contextual matters at center stage: will X work in this particular context? It is argued that much heterogeneous contextual evidence is required to make X relevant for new contexts. If EBP is to be a success, research evidence and contextual evidence must be brought together.
Parental involvement is frequently touted as a key part of any solution to the achievement gap in US schools. Yet the mainstream model of parental involvement has been challenged on the grounds that it neglects parents’ political agency, the cultural diversity of families, and the empirical evidence of limited efficacy. This article argues that to understand parental involvement’s promise and limitations, it is necessary to consider it in historical context. Accordingly, it traces the history of “parental involvement” as a policy goal through the past half century. It provides an account of the mainstream parental involvement research, as well as critiques. Ultimately, the article argues that parental involvement is neither boon nor bane. As an important aspect of the politics of public schooling, parental involvement has diverse effects, which can support or hinder equity and student success.
Sarah M. Stitzlein
Public schools are intricately connected to the stability and vitality of our democracy in the United States. The important relationship between public schooling and democracy began as a foundational idea in our fledgling republic, and it grew slowly over the course of our country’s history. Along the way, the relationship has been tested and challenged, encountering significant problems and limitations over time, including some that continue today. Despite these struggles and the many ways in which we’ve failed to fully fulfill the relationship, it has become a key one for maintaining the strength of our society and our political system.
Unlike a monarchy and other forms of government, it is difficult to maintain a democracy. Democracies take work; they rely upon the ongoing effort of elected officials and citizens, because they cannot run themselves or rely on just one person to lead. While democracy may be a highly desirable political system, its benefits are not always self-evident to children, and the pursuant skills and work it requires do not come naturally to most people. This is the rather precarious position of democracy; in order to maintain it, we have to educate children about its benefits and rationale while also equipping them with the skills and dispositions they need in order to for them to perpetuate it well. This is why we must link education and democracy.
Democracy requires informed and active voters who seek information to make wise decisions on behalf of themselves and the common good. Such voters must understand their own rights and freedoms, as well as those of others, as they deliberate together to reach mutually agreeable policies and practices. They must be equipped to engage in free and critical inquiry about the world and the problems surrounding them. And, they need the imagination and creativity to construct, revise, add to, and share the story of democracy with others, including the next generation.
The relationship between public schooling and democracy is best understood and fulfilled when it is not just a unidirectional one, where public schools support democracy, but rather when it moves in both directions, with the formal and cultural elements of democracy shaping the governance, content, and practices of schools. In this way, democracy is not just the end of public schooling, but also the means by which we achieve it.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
World-systems theorizing has its roots in dependency theorizing and the critique of modernization theory, rejecting its claimed linear process of economic development for all nation-states. A founding premise of this work, established well before the advent of globalization studies, has been the need to take the world-system as the primary unit of analysis for understanding social reality and social change. As an approach for understanding systems of mass education, world-systems theorizing has taken on two broad trajectories. One of these, world-culture theory or neo-institutional analysis, has centered on identifying examples of global convergence at the level of education policy, explaining these in terms of a world culture of education that has spread across nation-states through their participation in international agencies and organizations. An alternative approach, world-systems analysis, takes the historical development and operation of the capitalist world-economy, across core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral zones of the world-economy, as the starting point for understanding the nature and function of mass education systems. This work includes the particular construction of knowledge structures and subject disciplines, and their function within the operation of the capitalist world-system. Where world-culture theory downplays the causal power of economic structures, world-systems analysis highlights the interaction between economics and an accompanying world cultural framework under historical capitalism, whose core features can account for the nature and purpose of education. Educational applications of contemporary world-systems analysis extend to work within the broader field of critical education to transform society. Specifically, these applications examine the potential for systems of mass education to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to understand existing social reality, to imagine more equal, just, democratic, and peaceful, alternative world-systems, and to take action toward their realization.