- January 2006
- Academic Exchange Quarterly 10(2)
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Democracy is a highly desirable but contested concept in education. However, little is known about how current and future educators perceive, experience and relate to democracy, which could have a significant impact on how students learn about, and become involved in, civic engagement and democracy. This paper reports on a study of 129 College of Education students, finding that they generally have a narrow conceptualization of democracy, primarily focused on electoral politics, only weakly connecting it to education. Social justice, in particular, was highlighted as requiring more attention. Introduction Educational systems and governments have become increasingly concerned with standards, accountability and high academic achievement, as evidenced by the No Child Left Behind legislation (Essex, 2006), but it is unclear how the concept, experience and reality of democracy is to be interwoven into the educational experience (Westheimer and Kahne, 2004). In the debate on the purpose of education, some research has focused on the “decline of civic education and the willingness of young people to assume active citizenship roles” (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2005:1), or the disengagement from the formal political and voting process (Patterson, 2003). If there is agreement that democracy should somehow be cultivated and infused in education (Alexander, 1999), the evidence on how educators should do so is not abundant (Westheimer and Kahne, 2004). This study explores the perspectives, experiences and perceptions of current and future educators, who are students at a university in Northeast Ohio, in relation to democracy in education. This research attempts to further our understanding of how educators conceptualize, experience and approach democracy, and, moreover, how this might frame how they teach about, influence, and engage in democracy, which will undoubtedly have an effect on students, inside and outside of the classroom.