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More than 60 years ago, 48 countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With this act, the United Nations took a stand to declare that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," and "all peoples and all nations . . . shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms." Educators in a modern democratic society keep this spirit alive by ensuring that their students become active, well-informed, and caring citizens. In order to do so, schools must commit to the essentials of a democratic education: freedom, discussion, involvement, and equality (see below for more information).
An education which prepares young people for active participation in democratic society is a critical element of any whole child approach to education, and reflects best practices in curriculum and instruction across all content areas. It fulfills the civic mission of schools and reflects a deep understanding of the global economy and society in which young people from all walks of life participate.
Learn about the American model of democratic education.
Learn more about the four essentials of a democratic education: freedom, discussion, involvement, and equality.
To prepare for democratic citizenship, students must learn to exercise their rights and understand their responsibilities. Democratic education supports that process through policies, curriculum, organizational structures, and instructional practices that both teach relevant content and provide opportunities for students to safely practice newly developed skills.
Students are provided opportunities to express personal opinions, make meaningful choices, and solve problems together in ways that reflect democratic processes inherent to society. In the American system, for example, democratic schools support Supreme Court guidelines for student rights.
Civil and constructive discourse is the language of democracy. Students learn to communicate as thoughtful citizens by discussing school and community issues, as well as political topics, including current events and controversies.
Democracy requires free and thoughtful exchange; a democratic education provides a forum for all its stakeholders—students, parents, faculty, staff, and administrators—to think critically, listen actively, and express personal convictions.
Democratic education is not limited to a class lecture, an extracurricular activity, or even to the school grounds. It requires students to learn civic participation skills in critical thinking, constructive debate, problem solving, collaboration, and working in groups.
These skills must be reinforced through meaningful practice: community service projects, integrated service learning, participation in student government and student courts, and involvement in school and community decision making.
We live in an increasingly global society, one in which a nation's progress depends on understanding the world beyond its borders. Democratic education provides opportunities for students to learn about and understand other cultures and to develop a commitment to protecting the inalienable rights of all. It extends students' perspectives on rights and responsibilities to consider those of others as well as their own.
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