The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

The Urgencies of Democratic Education: Public Spheres and Moral Compasses

Martin Laba, Simon Fraser University - School of Communication (Canada)


An informed, compassionate, civically active, and ethical public is the irrefutable and enormously powerful progeny of education. This educational project is critical and urgent in a world where autocracies, kleptocracies, and thugocracies abound; where in an age of instantaneous access to universes of data and information, we are diminished and at times, corrupted daily by the deleteriousness and malaise of disinformation and “organised lying” (Arendt, 2006)[1]; where the erosion of democratic norms and values is ubiquitous and palpable. This paper proceeds from the premise that education should be antidote to authoritarianism and serve as a forceful and sustained agent and custodian for the flourishment and progress of democratic society. Educators need to engage ongoingly and dedicatedly to the values and practices of democratic pedagogies and learning, and to understand the abiding principles and responsibilities to design and practice teaching approaches that develop and elaborate the democratic capacities of students. Such principles and responsibilities are founded on a recognition that learning for democratic participation is a fact of the unbounded classroom; that is, a classroom conceptualized as constituted by equal measures of inside and outside the physical site of institutionalized education. The Deweyan principle of democracy and education (Dewey, 1966)[2] has resonance in the complexities and directions of democratic education in contemporary terms; in particular, educational practices are more than definitional instruction on what democracy is and how it works; rather, democratic education is expansively and critically a sociocultural character and foundation, an individual and collective intelligence of openness, critical engagement, and deliberative decision-making. Indeed, the university’s core mission is citizenship where knowledge is not only forged and transferred, but also activated and mobilized as an instigator of social change. It is a site where students learn of their capacities to “influence the public sphere and enhance public discourse.” (Ashworth, 2020;10)[3], or stated simply, where students learn that their studies have consequence in the world. This paper offers a critical exploration of practices toward democratic education and the necessity of the embeddedness of a democratic ethos in the design, development, and practices of university teaching and learning.


Keywords: Democratic education, unbounded classroom, citizenship, public discourse

[1] Arendt, Hannah. “Truth and Politics”, in Between Past and Future, Ed. H. Arendt. New York: Penguin, 223-259.
[2] Dewey, John. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: The Free Press, 1966.
[3] Ashworth, Joanna, et al. “Democratic Teaching and Learning: A Study of Practice at Simon Fraser University”, Discussion Paper. Burnaby: Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Environment, 2020.

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