Institutional Scholarship

Educating for Radical Power: Rethinking Notions of Democracy and Citizenship

Show simple item record

dc.contributor.advisor Shumer, Sara Mayhew Rind, Zoë N. 2012-02-23T16:58:35Z 2012-02-23T16:58:35Z 1999
dc.description.abstract What is a democratic education and what are its implications for citizenship? This question requires a "critical discussion of the true nature of democracy (or of the nature of a true democracy, of the right choice among rival conceptions of democracy), and then ... to derive conceptions of the nature and requirements of democratic citizenshipfrom which could be derived, in tum, a formulation of what schooling should contribute to the formation of robustly qualified citizens within such democratic societies" (Whitson and Stanley in Parker 310). If this discussion yields a desire for the United States to achieve a more involved citizenry, education must be pursued with this aim in mind since the requirements for such political participation will necessarily shape what is required of its citizens. Learning how to live in this democracy, therefore, must take place at all stages of life; the time of adolescence, however, is particularly crucial in constructing situations of formal instruction in which democratic values can be developed. The current democratic self-conception of the United States differs from its earliest beginnings. The Declaration of Independence, conceived as the document which announced the break from colonial rule and the constituting of the United State.s by the community bonds formed by public discourse, can be understood as a formalized statement on what is called the radical tradition of democracy. Radical has the connotation, and its secondary definition is in fact, "change from traditional form" (*), which implies yxtremism. Yet in fact this radical tradition of democracy properly refers to its primary definition, "going to the origin" (*). The earliest tradition of American politics was in fact radical in its return to the roots of politics at its most fundamental level, the coming together of people. This simple, yet powerful concept, can indeed lead to drastic change thus the connotation of radical. The Constitution is the founding document that more accurately reflects the current mainstream conception of politics more than it did at the time of its authorship in 1787. At that time it was the Declaration of Independence with its language of a public discourse that resonated with 18th century Americans, not the system of institutions at the national level engineered by the Federalists. These men created a strong central government that avoided monarchy through a system of checks and balances and, fearing the radical power of people, the Constitution failed to institutionalize the locations of citizen action that made the document possible. Without the institutions to foster such citizen interaction, the Constitution and the legacy of its focus on representative government is reflected in the way most citizens and much of political science has come to understand democracy. Joseph Schumpeter justified and applauded this lack of an active citizenry. From this understanding of democracy as good governance by a small group of individuals, Ronald Dahl has been a major contributor to the development of a growing literature that seeks to strengthen institutions rather than promoting citizen action. By virtue of Constitutional design and theoretical justification by those such as Schumpeter and Dahl, the citizen need be little more than one who votes and abides by laws. Following from the radical tradition, democracy can and should have more active citizens. The original spirit of American democracy lies in associating as noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1830s visit to the United States. Face to face deliberation, as explained by Douglas Lummis and Hannah Arendt, can be something that enriches human life and enables a unique kind of happiness. This kind of shared life requires a rethinking of one's individual interests and the creation of common interests. Such a democratic theory requires education. Although many locations could be reformed to facilitate the kind of citizenship needed for such a democracy, secondary public schools have a unique potential to serve in this capacity (Civitas xix).1 Civics, now more commonly referred to as social studies, has been the traditional location for "training" citizens. This part of the curriculum is the most self-conscious way that citizenship is taught. Yet these classes and the very structures of schools often, both intentionally and implicitly, teach children lessons about authoritarianism. Democratizing the school structure could be an important way for students to be educated democratically. Through the process of educating future citizens to be deliberative members of political communities, the problems and promise of such a radical understanding of a democracy emerges.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of Political Science
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Citizenship -- Study and teaching -- United States
dc.subject.lcsh Education -- Aims and objectives -- United States
dc.subject.lcsh Democracy -- Study and teaching -- United States
dc.subject.lcsh Civics -- Study and teaching -- United States
dc.title Educating for Radical Power: Rethinking Notions of Democracy and Citizenship
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Haverford users only
dc.description.award The Herman M. Somers Prize in Political Science

Files in this item

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show simple item record Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as



My Account