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.
Jennifer Hatten-Flisher and Rebecca A. Martusewicz
Ecofeminism is a theoretical, political, and educational movement that draws specific parallels between the domination of women and other marginalized groups, and the degradation of nature. While much of ecofeminist thought is focused on examining the interconnectivity between social and environmental injustices, ecofeminism is as vast and varied as its feminist and ecological roots. Yet, ecofeminism is not without its critics. After being widely accused of essentializing women’s relationship with nature, the term fell out of favor with a lot of scholars in the 1990s. Those who have remained loyal to the term have argued that this was an unfair mischaracterization of the larger foundational ideas within ecofeminist work.
Given the global environmental and social crises currently sweeping the planet, ecofeminism offers important, albeit diverse, theoretical, practical, and pedagogical perspectives for developing effective responses to such interrelated crises. As such, scholars across a variety of disciplines are revisiting (and reclaiming) ecofeminist thought. In the field of education, ecofeminism is influencing the ways that we approach questions of justice by offering an intersectional framework that insists on recognizing the interconnected roots of racism, sexism, poverty, ablism, and other social problems with ecological degradation. An ethics of care is woven throughout to form the basis of a pedagogy of responsibility whereby students learn to both critique these cultural foundations of violence and identify practices and relationships that help to create healthy sustainable communities.
Educational biopolitics is a growing field of study that explores the intersections of education, life, and power. A central question this literature has formed is a powerful, albeit familiar one: what types of life do schools validate, and what types of life do schools attempt to negate? Given this focus, the concept of educational life has emerged as one of the key units of analysis that informs inquiries in this field. There are two predominant modes of engagement that characterize studies in educational biopolitics: (a) analytical endeavors that seek to understand the operation of contemporary logics of biopower (a power over life) in schools and (b) affirmative educational endeavors that seek to highlight the potential of life to create power. Each approach begins with an understanding that schools do more than transmit knowledge; they are sites of struggle over the production, reproduction, and management of subjectivity. These approaches have led to unique inquiries that explore a number of tangentially related themes and make use of various concepts, including disposability, extractive schooling, and the common.
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? 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.
Marina Schwimmer and Kevin McDonough
Mindfulness meditation is a growing social phenomenon in Western countries and is now also becoming a common part of life in public schools. The concept of mindfulness originated in Buddhist thinking and meditation practices over 2,500 years ago. Its original purpose was mainly to alleviate people’s suffering by providing a path to inner wisdom and vitality, which implied the development of compassion, patience, and forgiveness, as well as other values conducive to inner peace. In the 1970s, this practice was popularized in the West as it was adapted to and integrated with secular intervention programs aimed at reducing stress and dealing with chronic pain.
Packages promoting mindfulness practices are disseminated commercially, backed by research in neuroscience and developmental psychology, for use in schools through programs like MindUp and Mindful Schools. In recent years, there has been a marked uptick of interest from educational researchers in mindfulness education. Several distinct research orientations or approaches can be discerned—mindfulness-based intervention (MBI), an instrumental approach that views mindfulness practices in clinical or therapeutic terms; a spiritualist approach, which emphasizes the rootedness of MBIs in ancient religious traditions and focuses on the benefits of mindfulness practices for individual spiritual growth; and a political approach, which highlights the potential benefits of MBIs to develop students’ capacities for democratic deliberation and participation.
Contemporary mindfulness education in schools also sometimes reflects the cultural influence of New Age values, an orientation distinct from the instrumental, spiritualist, and political approaches, and whose impact may raise troubling questions about the purported educational benefits of MBIs. Accordingly, the alliance between New Age values, neoliberal economic and cultural values, and mindfulness practices in contemporary democratic societies and schools should be given due consideration in assessing the relative educational costs and benefits of MBIs. In particular, cultural and educational values at the intersection of neoliberal values entrepreneurialism and New Age values of personal and spiritual growth may have corrosive rather than benevolent effects on the pursuit of democratic values in schools.
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.