In No Child Left Thinking, Democracy At-Risk in American Schools, Joel Westheimer asks readers a simple question: if they had stepped into a school and observed a classroom lesson related to [a] country's political ideals, would they be able to tell whether they were in a totalitarian nation or a democratic one? (32) He believes that most readers cannot because in the U.S. teaching and learning do not always conform to democratic goals and ideals, and education is at odds with democracy (34). Westheimer explains that curricula have restricted independent thinking and critical analysis and thus restricted democracy (34). He disagrees with some federal government laws like the No Child Left Behind Act that have eliminated efforts that challenge students (34).
[...] He argues that lessons in schools cannot replace hands-on practice and thus schools need to introduce manual training to teach child in relation to the physical realities of life” (299). Furthermore, he claims that the current education system does not show any reasons for learning. Dewey reports that “there is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain (301). And that motive makes up society. Dewey finally encourages the schools to be like an “embryonic society” (303). [...]
[...] Furthermore, when workers see their motives, they have better reasons for “free and active participation in modern social the exact democratic values held by Westheimer (307). Dewey suggests this motive would be the “development of social power” and a “spirit of social cooperation and community life” (303,302). In order to learn the importance of insights and motives behind activities and lessons, Dewey maintains that people need to be trained at an early age. Hence, education would be the key. In his argument about locating the purpose behind every occupation, Dewey proposes that the “instincts of construction and production are systematically laid hold of in the years of childhood and youth” (307). [...]
[...] The former involves acting responsibly in the community. These citizens would “build good character and personal responsibility by emphasizing honesty, integrity, self-discipline, and hard work” (38). A sample action would include donations to a food drive. Other teachers would underline the second type of citizenship. The participatory citizens would be active members of community organizations. School programs would teach these citizens importance of planning and participating in organized efforts” (38). A sample action would be organizing a food drive. The latter citizenship would question and challenge the established systems in order to improve the community. [...]
[...] Westheimer reports that No Child Left Behind has reduced the teaching of history and government and increasing number of students are getting little to no education about how government works” (35). The situation is not promising for private schools either. Westheimer cites Tony Hubbard, a former director of the United Kingdom's Independent Schools Inspectorate. Since private schools have “immense pressure to achieve high academic results on exams,” Hubbard argues that they are “over-directed” and students do not have “sufficient opportunity or incentive to think for themselves” (35). [...]
[...] Westheimer never even attempts to tackle these issues and blames educational policies for the lack of democracy in society. With Dewey's paper in mind, it is easier to perceive how Westheimer's claim of critical analysis and action can result in an improved democracy. Dewey slowly connects the dots between the insights and democracy by introducing “social motives” (301). He believes that when students only passively absorb the lessons taught in schools, these children do not attach any social meanings. He asserts that mere absorption of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness (301). [...]
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