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Democratic education


Democratic education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction. It brings democratic values to education and can include self-determination within a community of equals, as well as such values as justice, respect and trust. Democratic education is often specifically emancipatory, with the students' voices being equal to the teacher's.

The history of democratic education spans from at least the 1600s. While it is associated with a number of individuals, there has been no central figure, establishment, or nation that advocated democratic education.

In 1693, John Locke published Some Thoughts Concerning Education. In describing the teaching of children, he declares,

None of the things they are to learn, should ever be made a burthen to them, or impos'd on them as a task. Whatever is so propos'd, presently becomes irksome; the mind takes an aversion to it, though before it were a thing of delight or indifferency. Let a child but be order'd to whip his top at a certain time every day, whether he has or has not a mind to it; let this be but requir'd of him as a duty, wherein he must spend so many hours morning and afternoon, and see whether he will not soon be weary of any play at this rate.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book of advice on education, Émile, was first published in 1762. Émile, the imaginary pupil he uses for illustration, was only to learn what he could appreciate as useful. He was to enjoy his lessons, and learn to rely on his own judgement and experience. “The tutor must not lay down precepts, he must let them be discovered,” wrote Rousseau, and urged him not make Émile learn science, but let him discover it. He also said that we should not substitute books for personal experience because this does not teach us to reason; it teaches us to use other people’s reasoning; it teaches us to believe a great deal but never to know anything.

While Locke and Rousseau were concerned only with the education of the children of the wealthy, in the 19th century Leo Tolstoy set up a school for peasant children. This was on his own estate at Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, in the late 19th century. He tells us that the school evolved freely from principles introduced by teachers and pupils; that in spite of the preponderating influence of the teacher, the pupil had always had the right not to come to school, or, having come, not to listen to the teacher, and that the teacher had the right not to admit a pupil, and was able to use all the influence he could muster to win over the community, where the children were always in the majority.



  • Joseph Agassi - Israeli philosopher and proponent of democracy
  • Titus Alexander - Founder Democracy Matters UK and author of Citizenship Schools: A practical guide to education for citizenship
  • Michael Apple - Social scientist, democratic education scholar, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Matthew Arnold - Wrote about education in an age of democracy
  • Pierre Bourdieu - Anthropologist, social theorist, College de France
  • George Dennison - American writer, author
  • John Dewey - Social scientist, progressive education theorist, University of Chicago
  • Émile Durkheim - Sociologist, functionalist education theorist
  • Michel Foucault - Post-modern philosopher, University of California, Berkeley
  • Peter Gray - Psychologist, democratic education scholar, Boston College
  • Daniel Greenberg - One of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School
  • Amy Gutmann - Political scientist, democratic education scholar, President of the University of Pennsylvania
  • John Holt - Critic of conventional education and proponent of un-schooling, which can be also done at home
  • Ivan Illich - Philosopher, priest, author of "Deschooling Society"
  • Lawrence Kohlberg - Professor, pioneer in moral and democratic education
  • Homer Lane - Democratic education pioneer, founder of the Ford Republic (1907–12) and the Little Commonwealth (1913–17)
  • Deborah Meier - Founder of democratic schools in New York and Boston, writer
  • A.S. Neill - Democratic education pioneer, founder of the Summerhill School
  • Claus Offe - Political Scientist, theorist of deliberative democratic culture, Hertie School of Governance
  • Karl Popper - Philosopher at the London School of Economics
  • Bertrand Russell - Philosopher, author of On Education and founder of Beacon House School
  • Apple, M. (1993) Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age. Routledge.
  • Blume Judy. (2013) https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/09/judy-blume-banned-books/
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. London: Routledge.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Theory, Culture and Society Series. Sage.
  • Carlson, D. and Apple, M.W. (1998) Power, Knowledge, Pedagogy: The Meaning of Democratic Education in Unsettling Times. Westview Press.
  • Carr, W. and Hartnett, A. (1996) Education and the Struggle for Democracy: The politics of educational ideas. Open University Press.
  • Dennison, George. (1999) The Lives of Children: The Story of the First Street School. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
  • Dewey, John. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Dewey, John. (1997) Experience and Education. New York: Touchstone.
  • Durkheim, Émile. (2002) Moral Education. Mineola, NY: Dover.
  • Foucault, Michel. (1991) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House.
  • Gatto, John Taylor. (1992) Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education. Philadelphia, PA: New Society.
  • Giroux, H. A. (1989) 'Schooling for Democracy: Critical pedagogy in the modern age. Routledge.
  • Gutmann, A. (1999) Democratic Education. Princeton University Press.
  • Habermas, Jürgen. (1997) "Popular Sovereignty as Procedure’ “Deliberative Democracy". Bohman, James and William Rehg, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Held, David. (2006) Models of Democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Jensen, Knud and Walker, Stephen eds. (1989) "Towards Democratic Schooling: European Experiences". Open University Press
  • Kahn, Robert L. and Daniel Katz. (1978) The Social Psychology of Organizations. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Kelly, A. V. (1995) Education and Democracy: Principles and practices. Paul Chapman Publishers.
  • Knoester, M. (2012) Democratic Education in Practice: Inside the Mission Hill School. Teachers College Press.
  • Koshewa, Allen (1999). Discipline and Democracy: Teachers on Trial. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Krashen, Stephen. (2014). The Common Core: A Disaster for Libraries, A Disaster for Language Arts, a Disaster for American Education. "Knowledge Quest" 42(3): 37-45.
  • Manin, Bernard. "On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation" Elly Stein and Jane Mansbridge, trans. Political Theory. Vol. 15, No. 3, Aug. 1987: 338-368.
  • Miller, Ron. (2002) "Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s". SUNY Press
  • Neill, A. S. (1995) Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood. Ed. Albert Lamb. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
  • Sadofsky, Mimsy and Daniel Greenberg. (1994) Kingdom of Childhood: Growing up at Sudbury Valley School. Hanna Greenberg, interviewer. Framingham, MA: Sudbury Valley School Press.
  • Schutz, Aaron. (2010). Social Class, Social Action, and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. introduction
  • Short, Kathy, Jerome Harste, and Carolyn Burke. (1996) Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers, 2nd Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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