Basic Course 5
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Cleaning
Office Takeover
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Methods

Basic Course 5: Democracy at School


Political Education as a Principle of School

Whereas we have presented the didactic principles (Basic Course 2) and methods (Basic Course 3 , Basic Course 4) as the main tools for the politics lesson, this section deals with giving examples of not just how democracy can be communicated in school, but it can actually be practiced. Learning democracy pales if this practical dimension is ignored.

"The school and teaching culture should allow democracy to be learnt, by pupils practicing, experiencing, and understanding the meaning of politics and democracy through their own experiences and activity at school, so as to then be able to develop this experience in democracy into political responsibility and skills in democracy. Learning democracy cannot be supported alone by lessons, information, analysis, explanation or verbal argumentation (...). Political education is (...) is not only a teaching and lesson principle, it is also a principle of school.

[source: Peter Henkenborg, "Politische Bildung als Schulprinzip: Demokratie-Lernen im Schulalltag" (Political Education as a Principle of School: Learning Democracy in Everyday School Life); in: Wolfgang Sander (Ed.), "Handbuch politische Bildung" (Manual of Political Education), "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" (Federal Centre for Political Education), Volume 476, Bonn 2005, pp. 265-266]
 


The Gap between Claim and Reality

Irrespective of the degree of controversy around the significance of practicing democracy at school for the aims of political education (see Basic Course 4), it cannot be ignored that this is where the largest deficits are to be made.

"The contradiction between the claim and reality of learning democracy in everyday school life particularly effects the idea of participation. The experience of participation is the basic requirement for learning democracy through cognitive recognition. In everyday school life, however, (...) a limitation in the potential for participation dominates, particularly in the core area of school and lessons."

[source: Peter Henkenborg, "Politische Bildung als Schulprinzip: Demokratie-Lernen im Schulalltag" (Political Education as a Principle of School: Learning Democracy in Everyday School Life); in: Wolfgang Sander (Ed.), "Handbuch politische Bildung" (Manual of Political Education), "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" (Federal Centre for Political Education), Volume 476, Bonn 2005, pp. 272]


Criticism:
School as Democratic Space

Criticism continually flares up concerning missing opportunities to participate and other deficits. "Some critics of our education system consider our schools to be democratic space, and point to them first when identifying scapegoats for the adaptation mentality and civil cowardice of most contemporaries.

At school teaching mainly takes place in an authoritarian, lecturing and discussion-steering mode. Appraisal, censure and marks are continually used to put the pupils under pressure. As a part of this criticism, school is more an institution set in a social-Darwinistic competitive society as a place of learning personal and moral strengths, and a democratic life form."

What is required is a different perception and an opening up of school...

Against this background of criticism the following text extract names two ways of (also) turning school into democratic space:

"On the one hand it needs to be perceived, that school is not only a "teaching institution", but a social form in itself, a micro-society, and a place where children and adults live, in which nearly all the problems that can be found in political and social reality are also found.

Comprehending school itself as 'polis', in which social reality is understood and formed, and citizens' virtues are challenged - this is the first opportunity for those who take democracy and citizens' ethics at school seriously (...).

On the other hand there is also the chance to build a bridge, to enable the school to cross its boundaries into social reality by taking on 'practical learning' in learning and information gathering projects, in local initiatives and research tasks, in which they consciously cross over from school as a place of learning and experience the serious political contribution and social consequences of their learning."

[both quotations from: Andreas Flitner, "Kinder müssen nachdenken - Lehrer müssen das anerkennen. Was kann die Schule für demokratisches Denken und Handeln tun?" (Children Need to Think - Teachers Need to Reward it. What Can the School Do for Democratic Thinking and Action) ; in: Das Parlament (The Parliament) 27/2004, p. 16]

Good Reasons for Practicing Democracy at School

"Civil or social courage is one of the most important elements of a living democracy. Elected parliaments and legal governments, independent courts, freedom of speech and other democratic institutions only make up half of democracy.

The other half is made up of forms of life and behaviour. that there is a sufficient number of citizens who uphold and maintain the community. that the human rights of each individual are awarded to each individual.

Democracy can only be considered to apply in situations when conditions of threat and enforcement do not rule, and where there are enough citizens who feel responsible for integrity, fairness and free speech, which means that these virtues are also applied in situations where they are not a matter of course and where it would be easier to look in the opposite direction and keep your mouth; which are situations where courage is needed more than anything else, and where disadvantages could result for the courageous."

[source: Andreas Flitner, "Kinder müssen nachdenken - Lehrer müssen das anerkennen. Was kann die Schule für demokratisches Denken und Handeln tun?" (Children Need to Think - Teachers Need to Reward it. What Can the School Do for Democratic Thinking and Action) ; in: "Das Parlament" (The Parliament) 27/2004, p. 16]


Examples in Practice

Examples in practice from the Helene-Lange School in Wiesbaden (Germany) are presented on other pages within the framework of this section. The unusual approach of these methods has found great support amongst the international community in the meantime. The examples relate to the interior of school. They have been selected because their implementation and testing is relatively simple, and because "democracy at school" needs to begin at school itself. This should not represent the status quo however, but be enriched by opening up the school to initiatives at different levels (local - global).

bullet Adopting responsibility: pupils clear up and clean the school themselves...
 
bullet Contributing: Pupils take over offices...
 
bullet Cooperating: Pupils solve their problems in the class council...

[Author: Ragnar Müller]

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This online service on the subject of political education was developed by agora-wissen, the Stuttgart-based Gesellschaft für Wissensvermittlung über neue Medien und politische Bildung (GbR) (Partnership for the Exchange of Information Using New Media and Political Education). Please contact us with your questions or comments. Translation from German into English by twigg's Übersetzung deutsch-englisch.