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Effective learning of civic skills: democratic schools succeed in nurturing the critical capacities of students

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In this paper, I discuss some research findings regarding the characteristics that democratic schools appear to have in common. These commonalities seem to have contributed to their status as being seen as reputable democratic schools. For the purposes of the reported study, schools that were diverse in their philosophical approaches to education and socio-economic composition were selected as case-study schools. A specific selection criterion was that these schools had a reputation for nurturing the critical capabilities of students with an explicit 'citizenship framework'. Students were not seen as 'objects to be acted upon', but rather were trusted to be subjects of rights and responsibilities within the school community in some form or other. The research included analysis of interview, observation and document data. Three major corresponding features were identified: (a) the principals perceived their schools to be 'out of the ordinary', (b) all four case-study sites had carefully developed school rules as statements of principles rather than an extensive list of dos and don'ts and (c) three of the four schools seemed to employ differential treatment practices rather than a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to the discipline of students. The findings suggest that it is possible for schools to educate effectively in and for democracy by way of day-to-day educational practices that inspire some aspects of political and moral student empowerment.
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Keywords: Behaviour management; Child-image; Citizenship; Civic learning; Generic skills development; Human rights; Problem-solving

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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