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Chapter Eight: Middle Childhood

Section 7: Democratic Education


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Filipina Dance by the Baranga Dance Company at the Filipino Heritage Festival, Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose, CA, on Sunday, August 2, 1998.


After rejecting humanistic anarchy and traditional autocracy, it appears that some form of classroom democracy is called for. A famous experiment, reported in Autocracy and Democracy by Ralph White and Ronald Lippitt, suggests what "classroom democracy" might mean in practice. The experiment was conducted to explore the effects of different leadership styles on fifth grade boys' "clubs." Adults led the groups, varying the leadership styles from autocratic to laissez-faire to democratic.



The results correspond well with other studies and theories upon which this paper is based. The laissez-faire leadership style resulted in less work accomplished; it also resulted in more play and more general discontent. A greater quantity of work was completed under the authoritarian leadership style -- but there was also more hostility and aggression --including destruction of property and scape-goating; there was also a greater demand for attention. The authoritarian "clubs"' evinced a covert discontent indicated by physical and psychological withdrawal , and "release" behavior when the transition was made to a freer environment. There was more dependent and submissive behavior, and less individuality under autocratic leadership.



Although the quantity of work done was greater in the autocratic setting, the motivation and originality were greater in the democratic setting. There was also more group-mindedness and friendliness in the democracies, as indicated by the frequency of mutual praise and playfulness of the students.



The experiment itself was a valuable educational experience for the students, and would be adapted more generally to classroom use. Students would learn first-hand that autocracies are often more efficient, and yet are costly in terms of the discontent generated. Students will learn to operate within democracies, which, as they can then understand, are more satisfying and more effective in changing environments where originality is at a premium. Such experiences serve as a base for the kind of wisdom required by sophisticated social forms.



The democratic curriculum must be responsive to the developmental level of the students. Competency with sophisticated political forms is a long-term educational objective. The child will need more structure provided by the teacher; later on, the students can create a greater portion of their own learning and social environment. The challenge is to find the appropriate balance of order and freedom for each level of development. Enough order is provided so that the students feel secure enough to explore and to master their environment. Enough freedom must be provided so that the more essential decision-making and creative faculties can be exercised. The democratic teacher should promote the highest level of constructive participation on the part of the students in classroom decision making.



Even then teaching traditional subject matters, the methods would allow students to select from viable options. This would take into account individual differences and promote intrinsic interest in the lessons. Not only would the students learn the subjects better, but also they would be learning democratic skills concurrently.







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Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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