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Kick Socrates Out of the Classroom! Developing A More Deliberative Classroom Discourse

A new theory of democratic education and a rethinking of its philosophical foundations are needed. This need derives from the inadequacies of the deferred model of education, which suspends deliberation from the classroom, treating students as not yet qualified for and the learning process as not requiring their serious input. This false and destructive notion is rooted in guardianship theory, a popular alternative to democracy that rejects the fact that democracy is itself a developmental and educational process, one ideally suited to the purposes of the classroom. Classroom talk in this model is rooted in the Socratic method, that prevents students from thoughtfully examining a range of issues for and between themselves.

Of course, learning need not be deliberative to be meaningful. However, when the educational balance is skewed so heavily in favor of monological (presentational) over dialogical (deliberative) reasoning processes, the young are more likely to leave serious and thoughtful collective dialogue, particularly on complex, public matters, to experts or political elites.

Recent research on deliberative democracy can help concerned educators create discursive conditions that promote and encourage responsible collective student inquiry. The deliberative model of education is based on this idea of deliberative democracy; it is rooted in Dewey’s view of experience as inherently social. Everyone directly involved in its reasoning processes–students as well as teachers–contributes to and helps shape the discourse right from the start. Teachers can facilitate discourse more effectively–especially on issues that generate multiple and contending viewpoints–by using the Deliberative Cycle. This inquiry-based approach to discussion is particularly useful when students reflect a variety of experiences, backgrounds, and viewpoints.

This paper was presented as part of a panel session at NCDD’s 2004 conference. The session was called “The Contexts of Dialogue: Three Perspectives.” Panelists were John G. Bell, Antioch University Seattle; Robin R. Fenske and Patrick J. Hill, The Evergreen State College; Jolanda Westerhof-Shultz, Grand Valley State University/ College of Education.

Jolanda Westerhof-Shultz – Grand Valley State University/College of Education

This paper was submitted to and presented at NCDD’s 2004 conference in Denver, Colorado.

Resource Link: www.ncdd.org/exchange/files/docs/kick_socrates.doc

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