Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. 80
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Teaching for Democratic Action in a Deliberative Democracy

Lynden J. Leppard
National Issues Forums represents politics in action. The belief underlying public politics is that the public has the responsibility to make choices about policy direction. This is not a new position; rather, it is the basic perspective of democracy in the United States. Current research (Harwood Group 1991) and political phenomena such as Ross Perot's presidential campaign support NIF's position that citizens want the opportunity to make those choices. Their lack of involvement is not the result of apathy or lack of wisdom, but a result of lack of opportunity in the current business-as-usual climate.
Citizens want to work toward a common ground and they are prepared to make judgments about difficult choices and to work on refining the skills and mind-sets necessary to move from egocentric opinion through public deliberation to a sense of public will (McAfee et al. 1991). The methodology and core concepts of NIF spring from particular beliefs about the nature of politics in a democracy. These democratic processes and principles are based on particular views about how people learn, the characteristics of effective teaching, and the nature of knowledge.

A healthy democracy made up of capable and committed citizens depends on a particular type of teaching and learning relationship. These characteristics are based on the following generalizations.

Student citizens learn a great deal about the how of democratic action through their daily life in the classroom. Through the interactions that take place in the classroom, students as citizens learn by experiencing a realistic decision-making process. Although learning may not come from what we deliberately plan to teach, we cannot underestimate the significance of the symbols and messages of everyday classroom life-they are far more powerful than the content of textbooks. It is those symbols and messages that form the foundations on which our students base their adult actions and beliefs.
Building Deliberative, Choice-Making Classrooms
Classrooms must model for students attitudes and dispositions essential for deliberative democracy, for example: What Are the Characteristics of Teaching and Learning through NIF?
Learners in NIF are actively engaged in the process of learning because they are involved in a process of making difficult choices for which they can find no expert, textbook answers. They must have deliberate conversations with other people and the group must deliberate on the consequences and values of conflicting opinion. Learners must move from their private opinions to an informed public judgment.

The learning environment described above is realistic and achievable if the teacher acts on certain principles and beliefs including the following.

"What would you find if you dug a hole in the earth?" Getting no response, he repeated the question. Again he obtained nothing but silence. The teacher chided Dr. Dewey, "You're asking the wrong question." Turning to the class, she asked, "What is the site of the center of the earth?" The class replied in unison, "Igneous fusion." (Paul 430)
What Does This Mean in the Classroom? What Happens in a Deliberate Classroom?
If students do not value these things and they do not behave in these ways, it is because they have been expected to behave in other ways and value other things.

As teachers, we must ask ourselves how we demonstrate what we value. Teachers, of course, cannot take responsibility for the values and social environments of their students. Teachers must realistically reflect on their actions and refine them to fit closely with what they believe to be important. Some serious questions from which refinement can develop include: If we are battling with students to get them to learn, how do our behaviors contribute to that problem? Why do some students feel no ownership and personal responsibility for their learning? If students want the right answer where there is none, where did that unrealistic expectation come from? People do not enjoy failure and destructive conflict. People do mind feeling stupid and powerless. They do care if their experience-their world-is irrelevant in the workplace and the classroom.

When businesses, managers, politicians, and teachers work consciously from the truth that everyone wants to be valued, respected, successful, and effective, they can consider what actions can be taken to build on those needs.

Business and corporate management principles now have a firm basis in beliefs similar to those presented here as important to democracy and effective learning. Profit and quality service and products, effective learning environments, and deliberative public politics share a foundation of beliefs about human motivation and the necessary conditions of a healthy society.

We will explore these elements in detail in three subsequent articles, one of which, "Classrooms: The Confluence of Essential Social Streams," follows directly.

"Designing Our Futures by Choice" will appear in the March 1993 Social Education and "Common Ground for Business and Social Studies" will appear in April/May 1993.

Harwood Group. Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street America. Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation, 1991.McAfee, Noelle, Robert McKenzie, David Mathews, and E. Peterson. Hard Choices. Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation, 1991.Paul, Richard W. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Rohnert Park, Calif.: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, Sonoma State University, 1990.Additional Sources
Boyett, Joseph, and Henry Conn. Workplace 2000: The Revolution Reshaping American Business. New York: Penguin, 1992.Byham, William C. Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.Harrington, H. James. The Improvement Process: How America's Leading Companies Improve Quality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987.Kanter, Rosabeth M. When Giants Learn to Dance. New York: Touchstone Books, 1990.Leppard, Lynden J. "Assessment: A Window on Democracy." National Issues Forums in the Classroom (February 1992): 6-8._____. "Classrooms as Democracies." National Issues Forums in the Classroom (September 1991): 3-4, 7.Mathews, David. What Is Politics and Who Owns It? Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation, 1992.Townsend, Patrick L. Commit to Quality. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1990.Yankelovich, Daniel. Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1991.Lynden J. Leppard was a visiting Australian scholar at the Kettering Foundation during the summer of 1992. He has been a teacher of social studies and humanities and his current position is Principal Curriculum Officer for Social Education in the Tasmanian Department of Education and the Arts at 71 Letitia Street, North Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 7000.