The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Designing Democratic Schools and Learning Environments: A Look Backwards

Linda Nathan, Harvard Graduate School of Education, United States Barefoot Education Foundation, India Mexicanos Primeros, Mexico (United States)

Jonathan Mendonca, Harvard Graduate School of Education, United States Barefoot Education Foundation, India Mexicanos Primeros, Mexico (United States)

Gustavo Rojas-Ayala, Harvard Graduate School of Education, United States Barefoot Education Foundation, India Mexicanos Primeros, Mexico (United States)


Building Democratic Schools and Learning Environments: A Global Perspective (Palgrave MacMillan) is an edited open access book that developed a framework based on the experiences and writing of 38 global co-authors who studied and practiced democratic education . The framework groups democratic learning into four categories 1) the open flow of ideas, choices, and perspectives, 2) high expectations while respecting students’ intersectional identities and varied cultural values and beliefs, 3) supporting the “common good'' through critical and compassionate dialogue,  and active listening, and 4) collective decision-making structures with students, families, and community members in order to solve theirs and society’s most urgent challenges. The process of developing the framework and working with the co-authors spanned a two year period. Now, in the midst of a world that is convulsing with how to embrace democracy in political systems, we have returned to four of our authors to inquire how the editors' framework has influenced the implementation, survival and the evolution of their attempts to create democratic learning environments between two years ago and this new reality. From extensive interviews and self-reporting, we examine the challenges and hopes for democratic education in Israel, Chile, India and the United States. The section on Chile examines the interplay between educational practices and the rapidly evolving socio-political landscape that the country has faced over the past two years. With the backdrop of two consecutive failed attempts to draft a new national constitution, the schools (both private and public) explore how the book’s framework serves as a tool to navigate and interpret the challenges of sustaining democratic education. The section on India explores how a school designed to help students think critically about the social and political structures and norms that frame their lives can continue to promote ways to embrace democracy. The section on Israel follows the journey of a school leader as he and his colleagues attempt to continue to build a more humanistic and democratic future while embracing empathy and differences in the midst of a polarized society almost paralyzed by war. The section on the United States examines how one teacher and his principal embrace democratic classroom practices and institutionalize them for an entire school community.  These narratives, ranging from scaling up to survival struggles, aim to provide direction to educators worldwide in enacting democratic principles in diverse contexts.


Democracy, education, purpose of education, global education



[1] …Designing Democratic Schools and Learning Environments, forthcoming Palgrave MacMillan, Feb. 2024

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