(slightly edited transcriptions)
Participants: Nirmala Rao, Andrew Wilkins, Bob Lingard, Poonam Batra, Meenakshi Gopinath, Christoph Wulf, Scott Webster, Geshe Lhakdor, John A. Weaver, Krassimir Stoyanov, Renato Huarte , Margarita Kozhevnikova, Walter Kohan, Randall Curren, Meenakshi Thapan, Timo Airaksinen
There are pragmatical questions how the operationalize some of the concepts, and theories, and ideas that we've already talked about together with thoughts on democracy and making democratic education much more accessible. So this theme is going to focus on key questions as to how to bring education matters to a wider non-technical group of stakeholders so that citizens can fully participate in matters of public interest? How do we empower young people and adults to be critically engaged citizens? And how do we maintain the autonomy of institutions, academic institutions, and to what degree that autonomy is actually necessary?
Questions posed by Bob Lingard in terms of the role of education in producing global citizens policy leads there and who are involved in developing and who's benefiting developing human capacity.
And in terms of what Poonam raised as to how education systems worldwide are addressing issues of marginalized communities as social becomes more excluded, how can education facilitate our relationship w1ith nature and reduce inequality and so on?
Thus, our starting point is education for democracy rests upon certain principles of access and equity and above all, developing values concerning what it means to be human and to incorporate different viewpoints, particularly those that disrupt their own ways of thinking and their ideas of the world. And we see a clear divide between societies that are founded on knowledge and those whose access to education is denied.
We know there are huge disparities between groups in terms of their access and opportunities that are available to them and in accessing education.
The future is looking very volatile. And that volatility actually places educators in a challenging position to prepare students for a future which is unknown. I take that as a starting point and I want to actually examine some of the.. us to examine some of the challenges open to vulnerable communities. Here I would like to identify women, refugee groups or very rural rather than poor, even in terms of the difficulties that they face in accessing education.
I think it is not just my thinking to put a liberal arts paradigm… to see if liberal arts education, with its focus on critical thinking, reasoning, questioning, actually solve some of the problems in terms of giving access to, say, for example, women who can then express, become more participating in both the political spheres and social spheres and give them an opportunity to express in that space their voice and their dissent or their consent, whatever. And, of course, the stateless, the refugees who are politically disenfranchised.
In terms of the practicalities, my own experience for the first time has been to in a UW, which is the first all women liberal arts institution in the region, which recruits young women from 17, 18 different countries who are refugees. We have about twelve percent of our students from Myanmar, the Rohingya communities. And here we have a direct relationship or, if you'd say, quite antagonistic relationship with the government of Bangladesh who is supporting the refugees. Just one example where they support. Recently, about a year, two years ago, a million refugees came from Myanmar. I'm sure you all know that. We're not allowed to recruit from the camps, so we recruit from outside of the camps those who've settled, who came in the waves of 1970s and 90s migration. So we recruit from them. But this for the first year, this time with the help of international government and deals like “Save the Children”, UNHCR “World Food Program”, we've recruited about 13 Rohingya girls from within the camps. I see this as firsthand experience in terms of how we make education, for example, accessible not only to women, but also going beyond their gender, beyond race, looking at ability, looking at need.
So we have these young people from across the spectrum and they are given liberal arts education, which is a foundation, very strong foundation and critical thinking in leadership development, because the idea is to produce leaders for the region who will be a change agents and then change the communities when they go back.
I can only compare my experience of different institutions 30 years in the UK and now Bangladesh, just putting the two in comparison regarding the issue of democratizing education, and all I want to say is that there are two very important aspects outreach and access
as a private international institution, we enjoy the luxury and the freedom because we are far removed from the government in all aspects. We have complete autonomy, it is written in the charter. So that gives us a lot of freedom to recruit who we want to make it as diverse as we want and to have a curriculum that suits both US students and what we want to build in the way we want to build that capacity.
An outreach is very important. So we have students from the wide zone, those who are settlers on the mountain ranges from Laos to Cambodia, which ranges right through Pakistan and Afghanistan. So we have students from all that region. And from northern land tribals. We have Jharkhand. We have from Sri Lanka and Nippon in Afghanistan and Syria. So we use anthropologists who know the local communities. We use them to recruit our own teams, go out to Bhutan and use foundations and we recruit them. So outreach is very important in terms of, again, addressing issues of well-being, addressing issues of need and diversification.
We have 39 ethnicities represented. Because these are students who are coming from very displaced areas, and to give them that extra support in terms of welfare, pastoral, academic support, we have a whole range of senior tutor systems, personal advisers, much more than a normal university in order to support them. But most important is: in a small space we have such a diverse community. How do we get them to interact with one another, develop mutual tolerance and respect for one another? we do this both from the institutional point of view and students themselves. From the institution point of view we try not to keep them on in groups, of course, they want to be in groups because at least initially when they don't have the language. They want to be with their own nationalities and be allowed to some extent, but allocating in dorms, allocating in classrooms we make sure that they're mixing with others and we deliberately get them to mix. Students themselves have debating and cultural activities which bring them together. Most of the students learn the language by the time they graduate, but it's about how do we provide for that as a way of life within the institution to bring them together.
Another important thing is that we give them scholarships. And that's very important because these are students from very, very poor backgrounds who can't afford it. So resources are key to how to make it distinct.
We get nothing from the government. And it was set up on a model that … they thought they were going to continuously try and use the foundations and governments to actually fund, but after the first decade it's becoming aware that this kind of funding model is unsustainable. I joined the university in 2017, and it was established in 2008,
Big foundations, based mostly in US, gave us plenty of money, which was enough to sustain. But in the second decade, we are seeing it's a different stage in the evolution of the university. It's established to some extent, but funders out there don't see this anymore as a new institution that needs to be sustained. So we're in a different era of looking at diversifying income sources. So when I joined in 2017, we had about two thousand only, which was collected in small revenue fees. And today I have one point five million coming out of fees. So we've started taking private students, who are wealthy who can pay the fees. They can’t pay 15000 thousand in Bangladesh, but they're willing to pay twelve thousand per year.
So slowly, we hope that the funding model will skew more towards fee paying. We still have 50 percent scholarships allocated to poor students. So the funding is quite a challenge. But I think these two factors make it possible for us to reach out to those vulnerable communities that we can actually provide, you know, access to education and democratize it.
here are the girls we bring from Myanmar, from the Rohingya, is all from Syria, will come from extremely vulnerable situations. We are transporting them on to a system in the country which is so different to where they have experienced. The question is: we’ll give them this education, and then what happens? Whether their own nations are able to open up spaces for them to actually use that education to express? Freedom of expression is still doesn't exist. Students don't want to go back to Afghanistan.
So what does democracy mean in terms of when you look at education or take a particular kind of education that's equipping students with the skills, whether there is an inherent tension that which is not really addressing that problem? In so doing, I just thought about a few questions, which I think are circulated. We can ask ourselves whether the state and education institutions align themselves to produce free thinking, creative and innovative citizens, or whether education should be redesigned to produce not just graduates, but also a particular kind of graduate who are critically engaged and they are able to think for themselves? who understand tradition and understand the significance of another person's viewpoint or achievements or sufferings.
And bigger question: should these marginalized communities believe and why should they believe that it's in their interest to participate in state sanctioned educational institutions, while their communities are being destroyed? as a devil's advocate, knowing full well that we are actually giving them the skills to go and address these issues…
But I'm also equally frustrated because it's not just the globally states who are not allowing them that space. But also we find the parents coming and taking the girls away to get them married off. And, do you know, how do you reconcile the social political conflicts?
I suppose one way to approach democracy in schools might be to think of it in several ways, fairly multifaceted concept. So we can imagine in terms of school culture, subversives of the student population, we could imagine in terms of curriculum design, ensuring you provide an education which sometimes called citizenship, education, which enables young people to be civic minded and navigate different social worlds without prejudice. Also, imagine signs of access and equity.
We can also imagine in terms of governance, which would have been a focus of my own research. So the extent to which it's feasible, operational or even desirable to open up those spaces to non professionals, to non experts and enable citizens to participate directly in the kinds decisions which can affect schools. And I just want to add a few things to that.
I'm going offer some challenging positions. But certainly, you know, just how desirable is democracy in schools? We think about school. How desirable is democracy in schools? I don't think it's enough to tell someone: “Democracy is great. We should have it”. Well, that's not going to guarantee anyone's gonna buy it and do it. We have to really understand just how feasible it is. And this goes back to your pragmatic approach to democracy and education.
when you consider how many people lead very busy lives that they're their parents, their careers, their workers, their time pool, their money pool, they simply don't have time to do the kinds of work which we would like to do sometimes.
So some people would happily want to refuse that responsibility to participate in very important decisions that affect schools. And they have the right to refuse that responsibility. And someone would prefer to defer to the judgment of others as a kind of custodians and arbiters of those important decisions, and that the right to do that say, saying - I pay my taxes, I should ensure that there is a trustworthy, efficient group of people in place. You can do that on my behalf because I don't have the time to it. Closely link to some of the conversations I've already had, it's just epistemic injustice. Justice came up. So, you know, how do we interrupt and reclaim those spaces in which the meaning and the purpose of education has become increasingly vulnerable to capture and dominated by the managerial, technical middle class? You know, people claiming certain expertise, lots of people from business and philanthropy, but also the notion of disagreement came up and conflict, which is an important foundation for democracy. So to what extent is this disagreement, conflict and impermanence, again, feasible to running a school when you consider overwhelmingly the managerial economist trend to create schools in images of businesses, efficient, performance driven, high reliability?
So I'm very much keen on having notions of stakeholder participation and citizen participation at the core of what schools do. But increasingly over the years I've been doing this research, it's not enough for me to say and demonstrate why is in of itself valuable. I have to convince those why they should do it. And that's why I'm more and more coming from a pragmatic standpoint because I want to see these things operationalize. Increasingly, I'm asking about - to what extent it's desirable to four different people.
there is a question for curriculum in terms of what kind of curriculum we should be impacting, and the content of it, and the style, of course. But there is a bigger question as to not just the states incursions, but also the whole idea of academic freedom and institution autonomy in any democratic set up. How feasible should there be one? And, as you know, that area is also very contentious. We need to reflect on what are the challenges and should the state be protecting academic freedom of institutions. We know that it's becoming an increasingly contested area in all parts of the world.
there may be a certain diversity of possibilities. I'm reminded of when the four years I taught a course on Democratic education and I didn't realize that there were three different concepts potentially in play… means that one, it would pertain to democratic governance of education. One another would be the role of education in promoting democratic values, preparing students to be good citizens of a democracy. But then the third is about the possibility of, in some sense, schools themselves being democratic institutions. There is a model of the last of those which were student life and the decision making about practices within the school were largely through student councils. Something like a student legislature, student disciplinary boards that would adjudicate… Lawrence Kohlberg found that models like this is really … in the 60s and brought it back, experimented with it. And Americans, we still talk about just school communities, where that, at least to some extent, is the idea of involving students in democratic governance within the school. So I'm just making distinctions that we that we might have in mind in going forward in the discussion.
The relationship between educators, people and policy as such reminds me of Plato's distinction why democracy was looked down as a derogatory term in ancient Greece. Because you had the aristocracy who had the born right to rule versus the experts, who were qualified to rule, and then the only alternative of course was the demos, the public, the masses, who were not qualified to rule but had the majority on their side. And this is why I really think education is so important because it enables the demos to participate as equals to the policy makers in a sense, but that's where the big pressure of education is not to be elitist but is to centralize education back into schooling policy, universities, etc.
I think that, as at other concepts, we have been dealing with, it is important as to take democracy as a contested concept - not just to assume an unproblematic positive meaning of it.
It is important what Scott said about the Greeks. Democracy is about self-ruling of the demos, not ruling by an elite. But to be a part of the demos, you should be able to act a free agent, and for this you need education. On the other hand, the education itself should be democratic and not elitist – in the sense in which Nietzsche endorsed an elitist education.
I think we have to be aware of the fact that school is not only a democratic institution, it just also a very violent institution because it selects people, qualifies them also with discipline power. It is also doing a lot of legitimization work, which is not always acceptable and not democratic, but you saw the ambivalence of the institution itself. I think it's important to see and also to communicate to students.
Second point, I think participation is a very important point that students learn to participate in the governance of the school and the possibilities and also practices that they also learn to participate in the planning of the instruction. That means not only this, that means also a group, a group work, an individual work where they can decide on the way they want to go and that implies that they need time.
We have to get rid of this tremendous tight time pressure, which we often experience in the school because that is a way of disciplining people and of not having them did decide their own way of going. So I would think that this has to be really controlled that we get more time and that means what we call in the German ‘exemplary learning’ that means we have to learn less but in a deeper way. It means we have to concentrate more on fewer and fewer things, but in a deeper way where the students can really explore things and learn to learn.
And that brings me in another perspective of learning in the schools as social learning and so you learn also democracy by learning in the classroom by coping with your fellow kids I think that is quite an endpoint. So in that sense school which is not only a democratic institution can be used also for more participation, for more independence of students, for more self-determination. But this depends very much on the teacher and on her or his subversive way of teaching.
I really like the way that has been flagged the whole school culture.
And if we were to look at what might democracy be, I'm thinking of John Dewey’s notion that democracy can be a way of life. It doesn't necessarily need to be structure. So it is possible then to live in a totalitarian governed regime but to live one's life in a democratic fashion. And what he meant by that is it's a moral way of being where as a community we're very cognizant that we share the same space resources etc. So as we consider our activities or our intention to enact particular activities we must take the views of others into consideration. And this is what he meant by a moral way of life, because before one enacts what one wants to do or desires to do one must necessarily be negotiating with others and taking on board their diversity of views if they are different desires et cetera. And therefore one learns to negotiate as a community member. And that sort of established through a habitual way of life.
I would like to discuss the distinction between democracy as institution and democracy as a way of life. And then, what does it mean to have a school as democratic way of life? It means that educational community should be inclusive and diverse. So, inclusion and diversity are the main features of democratic education. And I won’t agree that such form of democratic education is possible under totalitarian conditions since it needs an correspondingly inclusive and diverse environment.
And then there is a question, whether the state is in a position to provide a democratic education, or could other institutions be more suitable to provide it? Could charter schools as a mid-ground between public and private schools the most promising model for democratic education? This could be the case, because charter schools arise out of grassroots, so to say, but they are institutionalized and controlled by the state.
I think the charter movement is an interesting experiment. Many states are corrupt but if they're well-intentioned they should be trying to make sure what is the way the private entities have, at least exercise some oversight over private schools. And so if each school really was built from the ground and by people who were acting in the public interest then it might be fine. But what happened is it's now dominated heavily by networks of corporate providers that are simply mechanically replicating a model across the country. And if you want to find the most singular way totalitarian oppressive schools for children, look in the charter schools, that are absolutely astonishingly rigid systems of behavioral control which leave absolutely no room for anything like civic education or any resemblance of democracy.
Then, what I have to say regarding references to the Greeks. It's very important to understand that what we mean and what we have meant in the West in recent decades or roughly century by democracy is not what the Greeks meant by democracy for the Greeks.
The democracy which was ruled by the poor who were numerous was considered a terrible idea and through most of history that was considered a terrible idea. And the model that came out of Greek and Roman political theory was the theory of mixed constitutions. Aristotle mixed and … middle constitutions. The mixed part is a set of different institutional structures that protect everyone's interests, at least trying to create a voice for everyone. And so you have a variety of different institutional places where to try to ensure that everyone has some political voice.
The middle part is social. And it goes to what Scott said and what Randall said. The social part is the idea, based on Aristotle school and on study of countless different societies in the world, which is a finding that if you want to save societies from dysfunctional polarization and have anything like a desirable form of public life, you need to have a large middle class. So it's a mixed and middle institutional part, social part. The main lesson, Aristotle draws, is ‘do everything you can to prevent socio economic polarization’, because you'll have neither a democracy socially nor will you have a governor build society. And so I think this is really important to think about what we mean by democracy and how it's related.
We all know that Socrates’ preferred path was really to shake people out of thoughtlessness not to give people a comfortable map of the world as if identities don't matter. So, the Dissenting Tradition what bell hooks has contemporaneously called teaching to transgress is also an integral part of the democratic process. Schools and universities have the obligation to question the status quo especially if it legitimizes discrimination, exclusion and injustice.
Having said that, I don't think we should look at democracy as something static or a place that we have arrived at. It is always the ideal of democracy- in- the- making --a constant negotiation for space. Our favorite metaphor of Indian democracy is really the Road where you have the auto rickshaw, the cycle, the bullock cart, the Mercedes Benz, the pedestrian… - all vying for space on the firmament of access and rights. And, very often, disrupting and interrogating the rules…. rules or the “codes of behavior” which in a neoliberal context are usually about law and order. So, our contemporary experience of democracy is not about a just order, whereas our theorization is about an illusory consensus that creates order in the interests of the People, the Common Good. In actual fact it is an order that favors stasis rather than flows, where the slippage between legality and Justice is palpable for large sections of the population. Populist states continue to mobilize around divisive politics creating the illusion that they represent the “masses”. This is increasingly true of “democracies” across the world today. So has the Liberal Democratic paradigm failed us or have the new inequalities of globalization, struck at the very roots of the Liberal idea of democracy? How do we develop adequate intellectual tools to come to grips with the fact that all that is solid is melting into air”?
Another important aspect is about how do we get young people and ourselves as academics and teachers to accept difference? While we are all open to this idea in principle how do we reconcile the need for structure in the Academy with democratic space? How can that happen?
Also, how do we give credence to different identities in our classrooms while being sensitive to intersectionality, and about how identities coexist, coalesce , collide even collude. Are our policies for affirmative action within the academy about substantive justice? Are we still hamstrung by conventional notions of “meritocracy” that tend to flatten our understandings of how truly constructivist classrooms offer space for experiments in democracy ESPECIALLY on the construction and dissemination of knowledge? Do we address issues of epistemic justice adequately ? Are we open to different knowledge systems, different ways of reasoning ? Have we rid ourselves of ethnocentric anthropocentric and androcentric bias?
I think all of these are important questions.. We must equally address this fear of failure that is exacerbated by the imperative of output and performance in the Academy.is the need to outdo, to perform competitively is contra democracy. Our learning spaces need to be imbued with the joys, the wonder and anchor of exploration. Can we begin to think of schools , for instance, as a safe place, school as a healing space where you have the space to ‘fail’, to fail according to the conventional norms of success. So, it is also about turning the conventional norms of “success” on its head, flipping it in some ways. Then, do we also need to go back and revisit and revive the UNESCO goals: learning to be, learning to do learning to live together, learning to know, through a new lens, because democracy is always democracy in the making. It is noisy, it is not comfortable, it is about negotiation, it is neither smug nor complacent. It is a constant process of recovering human dignity and voice and being open to both the challenges and possibilities of change and flux. It is an imperative to put our certitudes to continuous scrutiny.. Education is its indispensable co traveler.
I think one of the few things that we have mentioned really clearly, is that we need to problematize democracy itself.
I mean what it means, for example in today's context we find that people are looking at political democracy alone, and that is a majority view. So that's very problematic. In the India we've always had this tension between what is called political democracy and social democracy, something that was talked about years ago and we haven't been able to resolve that.
I think there are some structural aspects of education, schooling, which can be very tangibly addressed in terms of achieving some resemblance of democracy. In India, we have not only shapes and shapes of private schools, but we have shapes and shapes of state schools. So we have a caste system within the state system of schooling. Now these are very tangible things, that can actually lead to resource allocations to schools and things like that./ We can actually enable that if there is obviously a political will and all of that. But what I'm saying is that that's possible. The more difficult challenges are inside the classrooms, inside the schools which people have talked about.
But in that context I would say that sociologists have all along told us that it's all about social reproduction, cultural reproduction, but resistance is also very much part of looking at schools as contested spaces. I would say that we cannot just simply look at schools. We will have to look at teachers. We would have to look at teacher preparation and what I find at least in some of the countries which I have looked at is that teachers are always trained to just take things as given and not to challenge things. The entire system is built in such a way at the moment that there is no space for agency for the teacher. Agency itself can be, of course, debated and discussed in whatever contexts. But I think that's where a lot of the softer areas can be addressed in terms of curriculum selection, in terms of teachers having a say in teaching, whatever, this chapter, that chapter, this book, that book, whatever, discussions, cultures, whatever.
And not only with regard to school curriculum, but also higher education curriculum, and we have examples in India of that. For example in Puna university Sharmarariga’s work completely challenges the canons of knowledge in sociology saying that if there are marginalized populations that have come into your classroom, it's not only about that demeaning experiences, but it's they cannot relate to those canons of knowledge because they don't relate to their experiences of life. So can we look at experiences of life also as a major curriculum defining points and anchoring? Those are the kind of things which will enable democracy.
So can we look at experiences of life also as a major curriculum defining points and anchoring? Those are the kind of things which will enable democracy. I think, regarding democracy in terms of education we have to look at it in so many different ways apart from, of course, looking at the pedagogic processes and how we look at knowledge, and knowledge communication, what kind of knowledge is a given legitimacy. For example, in the Puna university they did some wonderful things like actually develop books on the cuisines of Dalit communities, something that everybody would scorn at, what kind of food they eat. So you bring legitimacy to that.
It's a host of issues I think that democracy should address. But there are softer and there are more tangible areas which we can identify in time, you know, work towards.
Quite recently one Tibetan woman working in an organization promoting democracy in America, asked me what do you do in this institution to promote democracy. I was dumbfounded by the question. We don't do anything specifically to promote democracy. But then on a second reflection I found that although we may not know all the technical terms related to democracy, but we are more or less living the spirit of democracy.
So you study all the norms of democracy and differentiated from pseudo democracy, as somebody mentioned, then give proper training. That's very important. And the second thing is even more important than that is whether you know anything like democracy or not. But if you really have the feeling of compassion for everybody, then the equality will be there, respect for others will be there. And when as an individual you don't have these good qualities in your mind, you can just talk about democracy like all the leaders in the world are talking about democracy. Are they practicing democracy? Just the other way around.
And then because of this wrong signal given by the leaders, what we have is not democracy but mobocracy. So there's the problem. Yes, for democracy equality is very important. But how would you achieve that equality? Just by distributing the wealth equally? Even that would not function so long as you don't have the equality in education. And when you don't have that education, the purpose for which we are here, however much you try, you will always be behind and people will manipulate you. So if you look at the situation of all the political leaders, many of them are like, forgive me to say, like gundas, hooligans. So what we expect from them?
When I think like this it is really a very bleak picture. But then, on the other hand, you see, still the world, the people are talking about democracy, people talking about value, people are talking about education because the concerns of the people are not dead. You see still there many people who wonder good things. So this is what we need to do.
And, for example there are many things that are aspects of democracy. In the political science, they say what touches all must be affected by all. It is very important point that everybody has the responsibility. So we can teach some small things like this. Two points. One is that which His Holiness the Dalai Lama always repeats: whenever there is a problem we should think about solving it not by using force or violence. But how can we solve the difference through dialogue, negotiation. That we can teach. Here in in the Tibetan Children's Village they have started this practice. When there's a fight or disagreement within two young kids they will send them in the garden which they call ‘a peace garden’. Somebody will be watching them from a distance but the two children who had disagreement need to talk and solve their problem. Then after they get out, the problem is over. If we teach these things to the younger generation when they grow up they'll do fine. This is the process of solving misunderstanding.
There is another thing that I learnt by participating in a program of social emotional and ethical learning. This is regarding teaching democracy and other values in the classroom. You have all the students in the classroom and ask them a few questions. “This is your classroom. Do you want this classroom dirty or beautiful?” Interestingly, everybody says beautiful. Ok. If you want this classroom beautiful then you need to do this and this. So the list of questions is asked and then, when everybody agrees, everybody has to sign it to make sure that this promise or commitment is followed. It seems very easy and also very effective because everybody is playing the role, everybody is involved in that. So there are many processes that can be there.
A couple of things that come to mind. Deliberation is certainly the ideal in Australia. We recently had as students take time out of school and go marching because they wanted to protest the government that from their perspective, the government's not paying enough attention for climate change issues. And our Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he says “Oh, they shouldn't be on the streets, they should be in the schools, they should be in schools learning, not on the streets doing these kind of activities”. And it's very interesting because Australian education is governed by two very broad goals called the Melbourne Declaration of schooling, and one of them is for students to learn active citizenship. And so you know the Prime Minister's thinking all that's should be reduced to simply learning and a non activist environment. And it's interesting when we look at democracy, you mentioned about the spirit of democracy. John Dewey also talks about the democratic spirit in the sense that democracy should be a moving force within us. And so fascinating sort of the idea of how you're enacting people's aspirations that we don't just sit back and say that's just a nice idea, but we actually uses a moving force and say – well, we need to become a part of this. And this is why I'm really excited with the notion that we're focusing on the school culture and then the important role that teachers must play in this, because if they're an active part of an acting democracy and students invited into that, we can talk more about the pedagogy, of course, later, and then there's less likelihood of activism in protests, but there's much more likelihood of deliberation because the culture is one of accepting difference. And that's just seen as normal way of life.
I find whenever I talk about these issues of democracy and schooling, it's like having an external discussion of internal conflicts. For instance, I'm a child of Liberal Arts and I don't know where I would be, if I were not liberally educated. I had difficult childhood, I did the wrong things, like not attend school or study. Higher Education saved me from a life of dispair. But at the same time it is not a coincidence that we see the decline of Liberal Arts as the “wrong” people like myself, women, working class young adults, non-privileged people throughout the world, get access to higher education, because a hundred years ago, 200 years ago we know the Liberal Arts were only open to those white males from Europe and then those elites from the United States, like Thomas Jefferson. But now we have more access to the Liberal Arts and now we're debating: well, is there any more value in the Liberal Arts? There will always be “value” in the liberal arts as long as we are human beings. I want to submit to you that we are less of human beings if we reduce higher education and primary and secondary education to utility or getting a job.
Then there is another side to it for me as a white male from the United States. As a child of the Liberal Arts I also see that where it has freed me it has also provided me with my privilege that I walk around with, that other people don't have whether they have access to a Liberal Arts education or not. So I have these internal conflicts that I benefit from, but at the same time I have to realize that they are undermining my own principles of what I want for a democracy in our world. Can we create a liberal arts education that values all people and a thriving democracy that addresses all our inequalities in the world? I think, without any melodrama, the good life as we might dream it depends on answering this question.
And to me this is the most important question that we're raising today because to me democracy is at the heart of everything that I think is important. But I also see democracy as being under attack because the “wrong” people are getting access to an education throughout the word and it deeply concerns me that we have to defend something that is of most value. But we do have to defend it, we have no other choice.
Well, I want to share with you a different story and to relate with what Walter Kohan wrote about Simon Bolivar, because I think that Latin American countries in general, would simply say “Yes, of course, we're democratic” to the whole wide world, but we're not democratic really. Like the history of how the different Latin American peoples governed themselves is a very broad and interesting idea. But I think that the discussion not only around what Simon Bolivar said about the Latin American people, but also his teacher Simon Rodriguez which about Walter wrote couple of books of Simon Rodriguez And of course Jose Martin have in Cuba and the United States and knowing what's happening in the 19th century. It's very interesting to hear John talking about democracy being at the center. And coming from where I come democracy has not that connotation. I think that to hear different experiences and what's the role of the government, what is citizenship all about, how can we be more fair or how can we enable justice in our different societies, those are the questions that could shed light to whatever we understand as education, if we looked into different narratives. In this case I bring the Latin American narrative.
I wouldn't say that our countries are particularly democratic in that sense, not in any of the three senses Randall explained. I think that there are other ways in which the individual and the society have been related towards the government, towards colonialism, post colonialism and the way in which we participate as a whole. I think it could be much more interesting, for example, not to put like the ‘Democratic’ label onto all those experiences, but rather to see how, like in Bangladesh or in specific programs in other parts of the world things work differently. And maybe the ‘Democratic’ label could work for certain societies like the US or Australia, but not for other parts. But we are all looking for justice, for ways of understanding of solving problems, as it was said with reference to the Dalai Lama. But of course the specific problems are been solved in different ways. Regarding this I strongly suggest that you approach these incredible people like Simon Rodriguez, Simon Bolivar, osé de San Martín who had great ideas on how to organize different kinds of societies.
I don't know what is the Latin Latin American narrative, and I suspect that there is not only one Latin American narrative, just as there is not only one European, or just one American narrative, or just one Indian narrative. Last year I attended a conference in Brazil, it was just before the elections, and a dominant theme there was democracy and how to defend it. It was not justice, not alternative modes of relating to each other, but democracy. And defending democracy is also a big issue in the United States, in Germany, in Eastern Europe, and so on. I don’t think that it is useful to construct geographical differences or to endorse cultural relativism with regard to democracy. I do believe like John that it is the most important global task to defend democracy now. To defend the basic features of democracy, like, for example, human rights, the principle of pluralism, or in educational terms, the principle of diversity, the principle of open society.
But I have another story about justice, another personal experience. I am working for several years on the concept of justice in the both fields - political philosophy and philosophy of education. Two years ago I was invited to give lectures in Iran, in Teheran, on educational justice. There was a lot of resistance against this topic by the students, and I asked some of them why. They told me, that the regime of the Islamic Republic, the entire movement of so-called Islamic Revolution, was actually very much focused on the topic of justice. That's why the students avoided this term now; for them it is just an ideological construct.. And instead of justice these guys are referring rather to democracy.
I would like to remind you of Ronald Barnett's paper on the role of universities, where he discussed the populist movement that attacks universities. So, if democracy is attacked even in Europe, then the main question is where does this attack come from and how does it happen, what is the process? Or what is the nature of the processes that attack democracy? Since this attack also comes from within society and is not something else, we can explain this as a “common sense mind,” a robust selfish mind of people as the source from which these populist tendencies spread. So, this is one thing to think about what we are dealing with and what our findings should be for education.
But when we say “attack”, what do we mean? We mean that we are somewhere here, in a safe location, but everything happens from somewhere. Where do all these attacks on democracy come from? If these attacks occur in the native lands of democracy, where democracy has actually developed, then Ronald’s vision of the responsibility and mission of universities is of paramount importance. Then it is our responsibility for what is happening and what is splitting society.
And one more point, which I shared with you in my paper. If we are discussing democratic education at school in the sense of developing children in a democratic spirit, then obviously we need samples, context, entire democratic culture around them. And this means that education as such, as a special field with its implementation in this very school and in this entire educational district and the educational system in the country, should be this context.
Then, education is aimed at an open future, but all these attacks of “common sense” come from narrow interests limited only by the short term, they are concerned with that which is a given at the moment, not even taking into account own future of oneself, not to mention the wider prospects, which include others and the future of others. Because of this a mission of education is to play a critical role, hold a critical position, simply based on the fact that it is about the future, therefore education should look at the current moment at a distance, and not be completely embedded in this situation as a given. We should recognize the critical role of education as such. I think that this critical position of the field of education is embodied in the example of Castalia as a kind of separate state proposed by Hermann Hesse in his “Glass Bead Game”. This may seem like a fantastic example, but I am convinced that it embodies an idea that needs to be considered and discussed. So, I invite you to start thinking about the autonomy of education as a field. (don't mix it with the famous ideal of autonomy in education).
There are other possible examples of such autonomy to demonstrate its nature and reality. These are examples of jurisdictional and academic areas. Both are needed by society, so they are funded by society, the state. And yet they maintain their autonomy for everything that happens inside. The jurisdictional field simply cannot function without its autonomy. And we see the same thing in the case of the Academy of Sciences. In Germany there was the first Academy of Sciences few centuries ago, and then at the time of Peter the Great, that is, at the beginning of the XVIII century we in Russia also founded the Academy of Sciences on the German model. Typically, these academies existed as autonomous entities, making their own decisions about all professional content, as well as about their organizational issues, without following any external directions, even if it was the government or anyone else.
In this sense again we arrive at the point of an antinomy of democracy and aristocracy. I would argue that interestingly such professional institutions or communities, in general, normally existed aristocratically regarding the outside society, but this aristocracy extends to the boundaries of their sphere of professional activities. They were at the top of society, holding extraordinary privileges for the decisions related to the scope of their professional issues. And they entered democratic relations inside the society as a whole entity, reacting to the demands or criticism from society or coordinating with it on the basis of their collective decisions. This aristocracy of professional institutions or communities is linked also with their adherence to the higher values and meanings, that is ideas, which accords with the Plato’s concept of Aristocracy of an Academy of science normally meant that its members were those selected ‘truth carriers’ in their respected areas of knowledge and also they were responsible for knowledge and truth. The aristocracy of a jurisdictional institution implies similar in relation to law.
Currently, we are dealing with many problems caused by the phenomenon of mass society. And the loss of professional autonomy may also be a consequence of this.
But we really need autonomy for an educational institution so that it can fulfill its critical function for the whole society, and educators, who traditionally should be carriers of human best ideals, could see this current situation from the point of view of these ideals (cognitive, social, emotional, ethical, cultural), that is, critically. Of course, to develop an understanding of these ideals, educators must be open, connected and receptive to society and also rely on the work of scholars. But in order to fulfill their mission, educators as professional individuals, as well as schools and universities, should not be limited and distracted in their professional work by any directives on other sides, whether it be some party or group of society or government. This is the meaning of this autonomy, which I wanted to problematize.
I take it, any kind of democracy, we would favor, is going to be predicated on free and equal citizenship and some principle of equal opportunity.
And my personal backstory on this is that I grew up under a system of racial apartheid in the southern United States, and the era when the courts in the US were finally beginning to do something about it. And you have to understand the background of this to grasp what's happening now in US politics. My former colleague Danielle Allen who is now at Harvard, very distinguished political theorist and political sociologist, I mean, has written that the world has yet to see a truly multicultural multiracial democracy, which is just in this sense. And it's in the balance in the US. We have a very large part of the US that is fully embracing this ideal and we have a furious pushback against it.
And there are parallel populist movements. I agree that this is really important to recognize these populist movements and that they are exclusionary, are presenting themselves as favoring democracy and the way they are presenting the idea of democracy is by arguing that there are all these enemies of the people. A free press, impartial courts, all of the what we sometimes call liberal institutions, all of the institutions that are crucial to protecting universal individual rights and so, those institutions that are crucial to adjust democracy are being attacked in the name of democracy. So I think the clarity about what we mean by democracy is really important to understanding what's happening.
I would say that democracy is a fair system. People have been talking about democracy are justice here. The better to say that it's a fair system in the sense that every qualified citizen gets his chance to say what's his opinion is and he is listened to. That's a fair system.
But the democracy is really only a problem. I mean it's very strange idea originally, actually, maybe because it's kind of an omnipotent system. You can imagine an empty social space and then people enter it and then they decide what they want this society look like. They just come in and then they sit around a fire and they say - what should we have here, how should we organize our life? And every had this fair system, everyone contributes and then they decide that they have this kind of system, that they call it justice, because it's created in that way.
But this is not how human societies work really. We always have a history and background. And the problem is that there are traditions, there are belief systems. There are religious. There are higher ideals, and noble traditions, and privileged people, and so on. And there's an eternal struggle between this omnipotence of democracy and so sort of the ‘track’ of all - of tradition and history and populism, for instance, populism is the way to go.
In Finland, for instance, the populist body is now the largest political party. So here we are. We were so proud of us that we don't have these bloody populists anywhere. Now it's the largest party, and they look back, they want the world to be as it used to be. That's their point.
And then there are liberal individualists, enlightenment oriented people who still think in terms of this omnipotence theory of our democracy that they can create a better world, if we so decide, and the other budget. No one of them says: “We have everything we need. It used to be better earlier”.
Then the question is: “Is education conservative, or radical, or is it future oriented, or backwards oriented?” And it is both really, because education implies we must reproduce the culture somehow, at least the best parts of the culture, we must teach children to read and write and count, need to teach them history and the myths, and the spiritual ideas of the culture. So that is a backwards oriented one. And we need to create new all the time, something new, because we don't want to be stagnated. That's the same as cultural death. Really.
And there's this abnormal tension, whole hopeless radical tension between the future and the past, how it used to be, what to reproduce, and then the omnipotence idea, omnipotent idea, that we can create, what we like, where do we get together and decide, and what can we expect… though unhappiness is that front. I find that the whole idea of democracy is very easy to talk about it as if it were a sort of “wow”: “Wow, that's great!” But there are large segments of society who don't, who don't really want democracy in that omnipotent sense.
And then I would answer to Randall. I used to grow in Finland in a segregated society too. Except that the group of people who were segregated was very small, an insignificant part of society namely the Roma. And that was unbelievable, what kind of prejudices, hatred and fear were directed against the Roma. In the early 1950-s they were still moving around, semi travelling people had we were all sure that they were all criminals and horrible people who kidnap children and steal whatever they can. Every society seems to have radically underprivileged people. They had the right to vote I suppose but what does it matter? I mean that kind of society, - I remember it vividly.
In my view there are few elements which are characteristic for populism. One is the refuse of authority. They want to be inclusive and exclude everything which in one way or the other threaten the people, and that is a very popular kind of attitude. They want this society to stay as they have imagined it. And it's usually in this the second point, nationalism. You know, in Europe in the 19th in the 20th century we had ninety million people killed in wars, and that is related to nationalism. The same happened in the 19th century already.
And I'm not able to accept that they did idealize the nation and think that they can live in an ideal kind of community, and that leads to the fact that they refuse the complexity of democracy, that they have been deficient to be made, and even in areas they don't understand. So everything that they are not familiar with, they refuse. And this is a simplification of what a life is today, but the political life is what the globalized world is.
And the only mean I can see is actually education, because it needs for democracy. We should realize that democracy needs educated people, who are willing and able to take responsibility for what they are doing and also for the community. And we have a pretty strong development which is just a few years old. But 10 percent of the population is in this direction, and maybe 3, 4, 5 percent are really radicals. The others are just want to be against the government, so they have that kind of attitude. But what is important is that we talk with these people, that we do not exclude them themselves only whether we have the really the right wing people we have 2, 3 percent I guess there. It's very difficult to talk with them because they go back to fascism, and these ideas. But apart from that I think it needs really that we talk to them and explain them what are the advantages of liberal democracy. And this is the only adequate form relating to globalization today.
We always imagined universities to be the crucibles of the Dissenting Tradition. And we have a situation in what is the largest democracy in the world a Discourse in which dissent is labeled as sedition.and a divisive warrior discourse has largely displaced the dialogic imagination especially. Pacifism is seen and labeled as weak and capitulating and contrary to National pride.c. There were even generals who suggested that alongside the national flag hoisted on University campusesthere should be an army tank, to instill National pride Such ideas gaining legitimacy and even approval in the land of Gandhi is reflective of how scripts on Power are being rewritten the world over in the 21st century
So when we talk about Autonomy, as was suggested earlier, we perhaps need to tweak that concept a little, because we are not outside of a societal context. In that sense do we seek autonomy from society, or we are we only looking at academic autonomy? And can academic autonomy exist outside society?
The other issue of looking at democracy as a series of inclusions and exclusions today, where the state itself is implicated in the process of exclusion and and uses its power and heft to prioritise the interests of certain sections of society. The awareness of intersectionality is, as we have pointed out, integral to our understanding of where we are on that time series of democracy. Clearly, the notion of the university as an ivory tower is outdated . An engaged university cannot afford anymore be solipsistic. Outreach programs are at the heart of University agendas the world over. .
And I do come back again to the idea of epistemic justice which is, I think, integral to this idea of the democratic functioning of universities. And here is it possible for us, in our curriculum, in our teacher training, to counter the scientism, the iconography of science by the iconoclasm of the world of craft, the world of alternative energy initiatives rather than large industrial units. Can we once again validate a Schumacharian ethic for Small still being Beautiful? Or has the buy in to gigantism so consumed us that the valorisation of Science in our curricula and the marginalization of the social sciences is the new normal that we unquestioningly accept? Do we attempt to link and interrogate our paradigms of progress and development as subserving or subverting democracy ?
I wanted to address the question originally raised by, I think, Margarita. I suppose, the question was how education contributes to widespread of non-democratic or antidemocratic attitudes and politics. We could address also in this – negative – way the question about the relationship between education and democracy. In order to approach this question first we should be aware how complex the democratic society is. Democracy is a very complex, very sophisticated form of social organization. There are several internal tensions and contradictions within a democratic order. The classic one is the tension between the majority rule and the equality of individual civic rights. Everyone would have the same rights, and in the same time the majority will should rule. So, there is a contradiction or tension between liberalism and democracy within the liberal democracy. There is also another complicated issue about the deliberative nature of every democratic society, since deliberation presupposes a quite high level of education an hence exclude many members of the society.
But then the point is, what could be the educational factors which lead to widespread of non-democratic attitudes? I just want to quote Theodor Adorno who stated that the source of non-democratic attitudes is the so-called half-education, and that a half-education is worse than non-education. And what is half-education about, half-education is about refusing to see differences, that is, a half-educated person is thinking all the time in clichés. I teach at my university teacher students, and I am really upset, to which extent they think in cultural clchés, hereby putting individuals in cultural boxes, ascribing to children essentialist cultural identities or essentialist talents of gifts. It is really a tragedy that half-education is so widespread precisely in the field of teacher education, at least in Europe.
A second feature of half-education is what Adorno calls authoritarian personality, which is characterized by a refusal to think for yourselves, a refusal of self-autonomy and by the the wish just to become a part of a homogeneous collective. This is what populism is actually about. Populism is about a rejection of plurality and openness.
And the big question is how education could be the opposite of half-education, which means to foster a sensitivity for differences, for sophisticated issues, for sophisticated arguments, to counter a thinking in clichés, especially in cultural clichés.
I want to answer Timo in order to discuss whether we should accept this situation as it is, that this populist party is now the largest, etc., and also respond to comments that the autonomy of education from society is impossible. I want to share with you the understanding that this idea of the autonomy of education is based, in my opinion, on the concept of education as a special mission for society. Of course, education is society itself, and its separation from society is unthinkable. We, educators ourselves are a society, and all students and their parents are a society, and, obviously, our educational content comes from the whole society and all educational results, that is, graduates and developed knowledge, values, morality, culture, go to society. But at the same time, being this society, education and educators have their own special mission in relation to society itself.
And this also explains the attitude towards this populist party, which is becoming the largest. It is explainable that it can be so large and that a large part of society has a populist way of thinking. But children need education to realize their potential. If we leave them as they are, this is not what education should do. The same mission has education regarding this populist state of mind in society. This is the same problem of the mature state of humanity. So, education has its own mission, it cannot simply leave society as it is, because education is a development, not a fixed given state of things and a given state of mind, this is a development, and therefore it is certainly connected with ideals, which are the basis of pedagogy. I am sure that we need to reconsider the ideals of education and the ideals of democracy again, one hundred years after Dewey.
Thus, according to what was said in our discussion, we assert the main point being democracy must be realized as a condition of school organization and school culture, imagined as its life form and a structure. So in terms of school organization that would be the commitment to access and equity participation of community in school decisions; funding arrangements; provision allocation that reflect community need, whatever school culture level; commitment to sustaining democratic principles for design and delivery of the curriculum; empowering teachers as professionals to take risks outside performance requirements; the creation of students as innovative experimental critical thinkers who are civic minded global citizens and practice compassion and tolerance for others.
And set of subpoints, again with some practical import, so there needs to be equality for democracy to flourish. Without equality democracy is not sustainable. Piecemeal solutions to install democracy in schools are not sufficient. Democracy combined with hierarchal arrangements, for example, and this is pretty much the dominant paradigm across the globe at the moment, introduce models of accountability in which schools are made to answer to democratic values and principles of teaching, learning and governance in the same way they're made to want support, say, contract and corporate measures of accountability. And this isn't done anywhere in the world, I think.
Linking curriculum and learning to real life experiences so that students properly identify with the significance of what is being taught, can relate to it, and therefore integrate it into their own self formation. This might include linking learning to forms of public pegged pedagogy and informal learning. There was mention of activism in process. So in effect, you're not just democratizing learning what you're politicizing it too. And then lastly, teachers are so important to this process. Teachers should be empowered to again take risks in order to provide training ground for democratic life and values and therefore should not be handmaidens to a performance culture that undermines possibilities for error and failure.
The tension line is the fact that many schools are heavily regulated. Even those with some autonomy so enable to operationalize these things. You need to empower schools on their own terms to do what they want. So all those schools who have autonomy is often conditional autonomy. And you answer to these provisos, these directives, these requirements. So that's where the crucial tension lies, where again, as we've already discussed, when schools are made to answer to issues of market role in state control. That's probably perhaps the biggest tension.
You cannot just train people for the status quo. You need to cultivate persons who are capapble of innovative work, of critical thinking, of self-reflection. And the best way to cultivate these capabilities is democratic education. But this is an optimistic version of the story.
I would just say that perhaps maybe a democratic education and an economist tech model are not separate at all? In fact, they could be mutually complementary, if you like. Some of the things we highlighted, trying to enable empower young people to engage in risk taking, conflict resolution, bargaining. All of those things would be integral to developing entrepreneurs, if you like, people who are self-sustaining, self-determined. Not that I'm arguing for a vision of democratic education for entrepreneurs, but there are not sorry mutually, mutually exclusive.
Is that a perceived tension between giving institutions the space to develop democratic values while equally providing a direction to controlling certain aspects? I don't know what the tension is between how much freedom do you give them towards giving them some kind of uniformity and standardization. It's not the local vs. the global, but it's more towards practicalities of how you make it work.
Well, I just remember one of Levinas books, “Difficult freedom”. The tension is not like ‘I give you freedom. You know, I should be free. - Yeah, but it's very difficult and complex’. It's a tension within itself. It comes circumscribed.
It seems to me, that democracy might be a problem, not necessarily an end; that we are, in a sense, reducing the political dimension of education to democracy. And I don't feel satisfied with that. I'm saying that it seems that in all the questions raised and the issues that democracy seemed to be a goal in itself, and I don't think it should be put in that position.
I haven't seen the problem of justifying democratic education as particularly hard. I don't think that the employers see it as in any way opposed to what they want out of workers. They want people who are actually much more highly skilled including skilled and working together in teams than in the past. I'm tempted to say that the greater resistance is from authoritarian local cultures, controlling schools, better, you know, horrified by the thought of children actually thinking for themselves and feeling empowered to make decisions. But I think there are ways to argue that these things are fundamentally harmonious.
Perhaps one further question is connected to Christoph’s claim that the school is not a fully democratic institution. I think there is an important distinction between the school preparing for democratic participation, and the school, being a democratic institution itself. And the school could be such an institution only to limited extent.
This is just an observation about our main points and then our supporting ones. Something to think about is the idea of democratizing schools, including empowering teachers which for some people who will perceive it can look as in tension with democratic oversight of education.
Because from that larger perspective, there's a deep question about how you think about the role of expertise and professionalism in a democracy. And so from a point of view of allocating authority over education, I think part of what we've come to is recognizing that you have to give a working space to teachers to do their jobs properly where the society needs to rely on the abilities, the expertise, the goodwill of teachers in doing their job well. And so the point about managerialism and an accountability is partly understanding the role of professional judgment and expertise in a democratic society and the way democracy needs to make room for delegating some authority over functions like education.
when you look at the late the main four points you've laid out stepping back to think about democratic governance or democratic oversight over education, that's a very basic question that comes up. And it's probably mistaken view to think that managers can use the kind of metrics available to do that, to make to steer it, to make better judgments than professional teachers would make for themselves.
I would link this challenge to democratic spaces in education, with the recrudescence of authoritarian governance all over the world and the rise of all new authoritarian and populist regimes. The shrinking of democratic spaces within the education sphere impacts all of us as part of the global community and also as stakeholders in the global intellectual Commons. We need to address what antidotes we can inject in such a situation.
Isn’t there a paradox that the democracies are like destroying the world, and we are looking for other forms of knowledge: have mentioned here ‘First Nations’ knowledge, indigenous world views that are not democratic, but seems to be more harmonic in relation to the world. So, this is a paradox. Democracies are destroying the world and we are trying to look for forms of life that are not democratic. How can we answer this question?
Could it be that in the current context certain democracies of the world have actually thrown up authoritarian leaders? So that doesn't mean that democracy is failing the world or that democracies are destroying the world. But the question to ask will be, well, how has this happened? It's something for us to consider.
And how do we look at education in such a context where we have seen that so-called democracies? But these are political democracies! So we can't even say that they were democratic societies. I mean, there's a tension there. India, certainly, was never socially democratic, it was only politically. And we call ourselves the largest democracy, but, you know, there's that tension.
So how do we look at education in a context like this, which is so current and, you know, sort of facing us, staring us in the face?
I think a positive symptom, though, certainly in the Australian context, if you take every issue, climate change, recognition of indigenous rights and so on , the biggest defining feature of the population goal is level of education. What's happened to the Australian population is divided 50/50 on every issue, and what we would see is that the opinions, we would agree with, are those with the highest levels of education that support. So I think in the context of the negative rise of populist leaders, it seems that education has an impact around all the things that we talking about.
I think through our conversations we're in full agreement that democracy is very valuable on level of school culture where teachers are invested with the role of their professional judgment and making calls and inviting students to see the transparency of what they do, why they do, and the resources are made available where not just equality, but equity is made it a reality for many minority groups and vulnerable people. But the tensions that we've flagged this year, the paradox of the democracies of the world destroying the world at the same time and maybe it's those of Sheldon Wolin has described, they are actually envelop inverted totalitarian states under the guise of democracies. But as far as the populations are concerned, they're still democracies.
If you take the word democracy, I think it's more of a ground level discussion, because with words when they're used too much, they become like washed like the meaning gets like impoverished. And I think that if John Dewey would see what's happening in the U.S. right now, he would die. Because everybody thinks: “Oh, yeah, we're a democracy, we're a democracy”. But I completely understand what Walter says, because like the way in which I'm going to say indigenous people in Latin America, especially in Mexico, they had their way of understanding, their cultural and social organization, and they would never call that a democracy.
I think we all more or less agree on the different levels of what democracy is. And I completely understand what Randall said about almost a given coming from the U.S., but not coming from other parts of the world. So I think it's like going around with a label that has had various meanings and it's not helpful anymore.
So maybe there are a lot of other terms that we might use in order to make that like a broader perspective and to really have a bigger scope of what you told us about universities here and about what is happening in the schools in the US, in India and in different parts of the world.
I'm still very much in favor of a liberal democracy! And I would argue in favor of the values of liberal democracy against all the questions and all the problems we are facing. So I just want to make that statement very clear. I don't know any form of governance which is better. I know shortcomings in democracy, but still it's in the form of life, which I would fight for.
It's maybe difficult to explain, but it's common too actually a liberal, the values of liberal democracy and Enlightenment values. Actually you have three - liberalism, democracy and Enlightenment. The heritage of Enlightenment.
It may help if you think of atheism. Many religious people say that atheism is another religion. And the idea is that atheistm must compete against other religions as if it were a religious alternative, which is nonsense. And in the same way we can ask, if we have this competing political ideologies, like socialism, communism, conservatism, whatever they are, a large number of them, do you think that this liberalism is just one political ideology, among others? I mean, it's crucial question. Are this political liberalism and Enlightenment people, I don't say ‘Enlightened people’, but ‘Enlightenment people’ supposed to compete against these all kinds of ideologies?
I have been discussed this with my friends in Finland a lot, and so, my answer is that it's not really. The Liberalist alternative is not at the same level with these ideologies. It's not an ideology. It's something else. What is it? It is difficult to say, but I refuse to compete against, for instance, let's say Marxism or socialism or communitarianism or other this highly technical developments of political ideology when we have here this kind of very simple idea of liberalism, Enlightenment style liberal democracy. This is, I think, is pretty essential question in that debate and this agonistic context.
I completely agree with you. And the most important difference is that liberal democracy is about first of all freedom of speech. This is of a fundamental normative principle. In order to have a competition between different ideologies, you have to have first this possibility to speak freely. And that's why the principle of freedom of speech lies on a deeper level than any particular ideology.
When we are arguing against liberal democracy, understood in that fundamental way (I would prefer to to use the term “deliberative democracy” in that context), we are in a typical case of self-performative contradiction: You are arguing for something that rejects the conditions of arguing.
But so let me make another point here, which, I think, is even more important. And the point is that democracy is, of course, a so-called essentially contested concept. Also freedom is a essentially contested concept, as well as individualism. Actually soon as we you talking about any kind of ethical issues, including about education in an ethical way, you cannot avoid this kind of concepts. But at the same time, it is not possible to reach an agreement about the meaning of those concepts. This is the destiny of the essentially contested concepts.
From the educational point of view, it is especially important to discuss essentially contested concepts in the classroom. This an important way to foster a plurality of perspectives and arguments – and this plurality is at the heart of a democratic education.
I also relate liberal democracy to human rights. The dignity of the human being is, in my view, is one of the highest value we can really live with. And it applies to many other values of the human rights. It doesn't mean that we cannot reflect and even criticize certain aspects of human rights. But basically the possibility of having human rights and having them realized in a liberal democracy is, I think, a great achievement. And I'm personally at least engaged in that.
And I don't want with all the criticism just been announced, you know, I have also quite a few other ideas about critisizing this democracy, and also even the human rights and still I would say they are a very high achievement of human development. And in that sense, I think this is worthwile to get engaged for these values.
I think one way to think about the nature of liberal democracy is essentially involves liberal institutions. Liberal institutions are institutions that serve to enable people to function as free and equal citizens. And so a crucial aspect of this is that we're all massively epistemicly dependent. What do I mean by that? I mean, we would know next to nothing on our own. And we have an enormous collective interest in creating and preserving institutions that actually do a good job of discerning what's true and saving us an enormous amount of trouble by informing us should be making those truths available to us.
And without that, you can't have a co-operative society that can do much or anything. I'm talking about the whole idea of liberal democracy and the presuppositions, and this like the Western European way of thinking not just Lockean, but John Locke said in his marvelous passage, we can think that we have a free will because we can just act on our judgments. But if we are not able to discern what's true, then what use of our judgments? We only free insofar as we have some ability to discern truth from error. And we have very little ability to do that on our own. We depend on the goodwill, the support of other people and of institutions. Is this the work of figuring it all out for ourselves is impossibly immense? So this part of democracy is being attacked now, which is these liberal institutions. I think of them as institutions of public knowledge that are absolutely critical to us having meaningful freedom, included good educational institutions, of course.
It is just that somewhere along the line,Western liberal democracy presumes a compact of equal citizens who were able to enter into a social contract on the basis of relative equalityand understandings of the basis of State Sovereignty and obligation to its citizens.. This reality does not appear in post-colonial societies. And we taking into account that part of the population of the world which doesn't have that discourse, doesn't share the discourse of liberal democracy. That part of the world referred to as the Global South constitutes the majority of the world’s population. So what is the conceptual alphabet that can bring all to our table to a position of shared understandings and sensibilities
So, there is another possibility in other worlds, and I disagree, that the only possibility is understanding democracy as it was stated because it presupposes many things, that it's intelligent just to open up, broken up or perspectives, and many of those presuppositions.