Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The democratic classroom: mistake or misnomer

Raywid, Mary. (1976). The Democratic classroom: mistake or misnomer. Theory into Practice , 15(1), 37-46.

Mary Raywid criticizes John Dewey’s interpretation of the “democratic classroom” by analyzing the language Dewey uses to define the principles of a democracy. Raywid begins by summarizing the history of democratic classrooms with a discussion of its advocates that includes Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick and a study conducted by Ralph K. White and Ronald Lippitt. Raywid then writes about elements of the democratic classroom and challenges many of the ideas that Dewey assumes would be present. For example, Raywid writes about the idea of teacher leadership in the classroom. She asks the worthwhile question of “Could the democratic teacher properly assume any leadership role in direct relation to learning? (Raywid, 41). Although Raywid agrees with certain concepts associated with democratic classroom (incorporating student interest, etc.), she questions the political rhetoric connected with the term “democracy”. In addition, she discusses whether a democratic immersion will truly make students better citizens? While Raywid is taking an unpopular stance against an idea has valuable roots in our country, she is primarily asking for more proof, rather than a disruption in it’s teaching.

From the Text:

“Dewey himself had said repeatedly that the teacher must not be ‘autocratic’ or ‘dictatorial’. What the democratic teacher should be, however, remained much less precise than what she or he should not” (Raywid, 40).

“If classrooms really did become genuine democracies, there is no assurance that those persons Dewey wanted so carefully prepared for the role would be elected to the post of “teacher” at all” (Raywid, 41).

”In consequence, the scope and thrust of the question facing a polity is ‘What shall we do and be?’; in contrast, the narrower question defining a classroom is ‘What shall we learn?’ The citizen retains the ultimate right of withdrawal from a democratic community; compulsory education laws deny this right to young people in the classroom” (Raywid, 41).

“It may be that democracy, like driving, involves both skills and understandings which can perhaps best be acquired separately, and apart from a setting requiring either their full exercise or their exercise in concert” (Raywid, 45).

“To hold otherwise… is analogous to arguing that it takes a chair to make a chair- that chairs, that is, provide the appropriate tool for the creation of chairs. But obviously that is not the case- and if we seek to build a chair, the tools we need for the job are not other chairs, but saws, hammers, glue, etc.” (Raywid, 46).

Other Sources:

White, R., & Lippitt, R. (1972). Autocracy and democracy: an experimental inquiry. London: Greenwood Press.

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