Symposium: Dewey, Democracy and Education in the UK in 2016 (3) Why and how schools might live democracy ‘as an inclusive human order'
Michael Fielding
UCL Institute of Education, London, United Kingdom

This paper is inspired by Dewey’s insistence that democracy is ‘primarily a mode of associated living, a conjoint communicated experience’ he argues that if schools are to meet the aspirations and responsibilities of their democratic calling, they need to be more committed to putting it into practice. In particular he suggests that schools must attend more explicitly to two aspects of the lived realities of schools and their communities. The first concerns interaction and interpersonal engagement and he illustrates this with his ‘Patterns of Partnership’ typology to argue for the practical possibility of democracy schools. Next he outlines the preconditions for progress towards democratic goals in terms of Dewey’s often misunderstood concept of ‘fellowship’ and the cultural requirements for this. He ends the chapter in militant mood, advocating the necessity of more democratic forms of social life.

It will be argued that schools must attend more explicitly, energetically, interdependently and intergenerationally to two aspects of the lived realities of the daily experiences they offer all who make up their community.

One aspect of those realities has to do with the structural architecture of pedagogic, civic and interpersonal engagement which enables and extends organisational and communal contexts that instantiate a developing democratic praxis. Here the author’s Patterns of Partnership typology will be used to illustrate and argue for the grounded possibility of democracy as a sustainable, incremental reality in schools.

A companion, even more important dimension has to do with dispositions and presumptions about the realities and aspirations that precede democracy’s possibility, drive its daily making, and prefigure the eventuality of its more fulfilling enactment. In short, it has to do with the cultural requirements of democratic fellowship as both the end and the means of education in and for democracy as a way of life.

It is the lived synergy, depth and range of these two foundational dimensions of education in and for democracy that this chapter illustrates and invites us to emulate.

We live in difficult times: democracy has been swallowed by the gluttony of neo-liberal consumerism and regurgitated as an emetic scramble for easy and endless acquisition at the cost of a narrowing of vision, a corrosion of generosity and human sympathy, and an impoverishment of much that distinguishes democracy as an ennobling as well as an enabling way of life. Unsurprisingly, the consequences for education are as disastrous as they are for democracy. As the great US philosopher and admirer of Dewey, Martha Nussbaum, reminds us, ‘Education based mainly on profitability in the global market magnifies (democracy’s) deficiencies, producing greedy obtuseness that threatens the very life of democracy itself.’ (Nussbaum 2007, 40).

In honouring John Dewey‘s contribution to developing our understanding of the necessary link between democracy and education I want to explore one particular aspect of his rightly celebrated insistence in Democracy and Education that ‘democracy is more than a form of government: it is primarily a mode of associated living, a conjoint communicated experience’ (Dewey 1916 / 1944, 87).

Parallel Session A:4
Michael Fielding
Presentation type:
Full paper
MAB 104
Wednesday, 28 September
18:00 - 18:45