Education for Democracy vs. Anti-democratic Education

Based on the work of Wood (1990)

Values and Assumptions

Democratic Anti-Democratic (Corporate)
Questioning and critiquing authority Obedience
Individuality Conformity
Participation in the process of democracy Follow rules and processes

5 Principles for Empowering Students (and Teachers)

  • Believe in the individual's right and responsibility to participate publicly.
  • Have a sense of political efficacy, that is, the knowledge that one's contributions to community life are important.
  • Value the principles of democratic life – equality (equity), liberty, and community.
  • Know that alternative arrangements to the status quo exist and are worthwhile.
  • Gain the requisite intellectual skills to participate in public discourse

Student Empowerment

  • Students will come to believe in the individual's right and responsibility to participate publicly.
  • Students will develop a sense of political efficacy (that one's contributions to the community are important).
  • Students will value the principles of democratic life: equality, liberty, and community.
  • Students will know that alternatives to the status quo exist and are worthwhile.
  • Students will gain the intellectual skills to participate in public discourse.

Choice and Control

  • Students have choice and control over the curriculum.
  • Control over knowledge and information.
  • Students gain a sense of their own wisdom: ability to think, make judgments, and act.
  • Students have right to order their own world.


  • Students have right to equal access to curriculum (no class and political division).


  • Classroom community extends beyond the classroom into the surrounding community.


  • Teachers maintain a holistic perspective on situational problem solving.
  • Enjoy being with students.
  • Draw insights from student experiences outside school.
  • Hold a sense of mission about the importance of teaching.
  • Exhibit love and compassion for students.
  • Determine ways to build on student strengths.
  • Have a clear sense of meaning and direction and are in the process of revising the same.
  • Guide their work with a quest for that which is worthwhile and just.
  • Consider the issue of developmental appropriateness as problematic in each new situation.
  • Actively engage in self-education.

Barriers to Teacher Empowerment

  • State (Provincial) reform mandates
  • Standardized tests mandated by state (province) or district (board)
  • District curriculum guides
  • Required texts
  • Uniform instructional pacing
  • Absence of adequate staff development program (no long-term investment in development)
  • Organization of schools
  • Teacher evaluation models
  • Professional preparation of teachers which limits exposure to critical issues

Feminist Perspectives of Community vs. Male Domination

  • Teacher modeling of thinking as a fallible, but attainable activity.
  • Care of and for students.
  • Public view of teaching as women's work, but profession is dominated by men.
  • Language used by women is viewed as less credible in coed groups.
  • Men and boys have been socialized in more dominant and assertive forms of discourse.
  • Media reflect stereotypical views of woman teachers, who are either lazy and superficial, etc. or and inflexible "battle-ax."


  • How do you see these aspects manifesting in your school or education context?
  • What approaches can you think of to overcome these barriers?
  • How could these approaches be addressed within the framework of your school?


  • Wood, G. H. (1990). Teachers as curriculum workers. In J. T. Sears and J. D. Marshall, Teaching and thinking about curriculum: Critical inquiries (pp. 97-109). New York: Teachers College Press.

© 2006 Jeffrey W. Bloom

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