education in a democracy

It’s reasonable to assume that education in a democracy is distinct from education under a dictatorship or a monarchy; surely school leaders in fascist Germany or Albania or Saudi Arabia or apartheid South Africa all agreed, for example, that students should behave well, stay away from drugs and crime, do their homework, study hard, and master the subject matters; they also graduated fine scientists and musicians and athletes, so none of those things differentiate a democratic education from any other.

What makes education in a democracy, at least theoretically, distinct is a commitment to a particularly precious and fragile ideal: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and creative force. Every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights; each is endowed with reason and conscience, and deserves, then, a sense of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect. Democracy is geared toward participation and engagement, and that points to an educational system in which the fullest development of all is seen as the necessary condition for the full development of each, and conversely, that the fullest development of each is necessary for the full development of all.

The above is an excerpt from Bill Ayres’ piece in yesterday’s Huffington Post

Ayres, now Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was the founder of the militant Weather Underground in the turbulent 1960s.

Many of my beliefs about government, politics, education, and learning were formed during those years of widespread controversy, disillusionment, and rebellion.

Ayres piece, written when two talks that he was scheduled to give at the University of Wyoming were canceled because of “security threats” and “controversy,” reinforces those beliefs I still hold today and is worth reading in full.