Sunday, September 22, 2013

Democratic Classrooms: Promises and Challenges of Student Voice and Choice, Part One

Morrison, K. A. (2008). Democratic Classrooms: Promises and Challenges of Student Voice and Choice, Part One. Educational Horizons, 87(1), 50-60.


Educational theorists state that the democratic values of our society like truth and personal meaning, justice, equality, and respect for the thoughts and humanity from others, should essentially be the guiding principles of our educational systems, if we hope to see these values continue to show in society. In relation, it is argued that if students do not experience autonomy, freedom, and choice in their studies, then students cannot truly value and engage in their learning. 

This article stood out to me as particularly relevant to the model of education that the High Tech High, and other constructivist schools, found their philosophical approach to learning on. As this article discussed the theoretical framework of democratic freedom-based education, I found myself considering the reasons why education as a whole struggles to adopt and implement more voice and choice into their educational structures, and to also closely consider the reasons why it is that our school's (HTH) philosophy is so successful with this "freedom-based" approach.

The author describes freedom-based education being a time where "children are actively engaged in the life of a given society; they learn skills and knowledge by means of imitation, apprenticeship, modeling, and conversation rather than in any formal school setting." This educational ideal is "grounded in the premise that people are naturally curious and have an innate desire to learn and grow." (p. 3)


"If people have choice and freedom to student what interests them, then they become more deeply engaged in, and thus less alienated from, their learning. More engagement leads to better retention and better critical reflection and analysis." (p. 4)

"people who are given freedom and choice will ultimately become better democratic citizens because they have learned how to negotiate with others, to name obstacles, and to know themselves." (p. 5)

[Teachers] "They must be willing to abandon plans and adjust to the process of dialogue; they must learn to listen more than talk, not apply one lesson plan to all sections of the same class, and surrender their authoritarian supports (Shor, 1996). They must learn to trust students' innate curiosity, and if this curiosity had been crushed in the past, they must work to bring it back to life" (p. 7)

"Teachers who attempt more-democratic educational practices thus embrace education for the world that might be rather than for the world that is." (p. 8)


I appreciate how this article analyzes this democratic, freedom-based ideal of learning. The author was careful to define what exactly this framework looks, sounds, and feels like. I was able to imagine the work that I do in my HTH classroom, and outside of it, and relate to these ideals. However, this article did not just lay out the details of what this framework would and could look like. The author also considers the risk, value, and pitfalls of holding such an ideal framework to the realistic expectations and trajectory of what education actually looks like to most teachers and students. It makes me wonder, at what point, did educational practices stop progressing with the needs and expectations of our learners and work forces? How is it, that in the year 2013, we still have schools where students are uninterested, unmotivated, and worst of all hopeless that their educational experience is or will prepare and excite them to create and do wonderful things in their lifetime? Maybe it is the case, as this article explores, that true "freedom-based" education may not be a seamless and quick transition for schools where education is untrusted and luster-lost. However, I would argue that every student deserves to feel invested, intrigued, and a part of their own learning. Whatever case it may be, just knowing that there are schools that are able to successfully foster voice and choice in their classrooms, I believe that so much more must be done to help progress the learning of students where such an ideal is not the norm.  

1 comment:

Lou Barrios said...

Georgia, I love the idea of voice and choice. It is necessary to get students invested in their education and I'm often wondering what the best frameworks are for fostering that voice to maximize learning.

Post a Comment