What is a democracy and why is it so important for schools that are committed to inquiry? Pat Shannon defines democracy as "a system in which people participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect their lives" and that it involves "a participation and negotiation among equals". In our school we started a student council last year as a way of promoting student leadership. Last year I mostly helped another teacher to run these meetings. This year we have started with students running the meetings themselves. It's important that the students are not just given "a choice among options determined by others behind the scenes", but that they are part of this thinking and that they come up with the options themselves.
Kathy and Carolyn refer to "valuing and seeking diversity so that difference is seen not as a problem to be solved, but as offering new potentials for a group of learners." They write about the fact that it is difference not sameness that makes a democracy strong:
Through building on the different ways of thinking and living in the world that students bring to the classroom, schools can open new possibilities for those students' lives .... The focus should be on attending to and acting on differences in order to build a true democracy that values everyone's contribution and supports each student in developing his or her own potential.What I have found as a teacher is that it's not possible to be involved in inquiry and not be fundamentally and profoundly changed by it. As teachers we need to pay attention to the little voice inside us and to the uncomfortable feelings of tension we have that prods us down the path of greater understanding. Kathy and Carolyn remind us that we have to be aware of where we are in our thinking and we need to continue to push our thinking as by adopting inquiry as a stance we are putting ourselves in a position of continual learning and growth. They tell us that:
Curriculum as inquiry fundamentally questions how schooling is done. It changes our relationships with students, colleagues, families, the community, other educators, and society. It changes how we view knowledge and the role of knowledge .... in schools.
Photo Credit: When You're Little and the World's So Big by Thomas Hawk