Thanks for your insightful and thought-provoking account of the “three competing goals” underpinning the purpose of education (Saichaie & Morphew, 2014). Saichaie and Morphew (2014) draw upon Labaree’s categorisation of educational purposes as “democratic equality, social efficiency and social mobility” (1997, p. 41). There is a tiny but crucial weakness in Labaree’s argument which is overlooked by Saichaie and Morphew about the uni-directional nature of goal setting. Yet this weakness runs through much of the discussion this week about quality assurance, so I will highlight it.
Firstly though, we need to recap on Labaree’s position. He equates a democratic society with one that “prepares all of its young with equal care to take on the full responsibilities of citizenship in a competent manner” (Labaree, 1997, p. 42). This is echoed by Saichaie and Morphew as “the production of engaged citizens” (p. 501). It is, however, difficult to envisage a pedagogy that serves to accomplish these aims. In other words, the uni-directional nature of the mission is unsupported by any effective teaching strategy that results in a true democratic citizenship. These are strong words, so I need to defend my position in regard to the notion of “democratic equality”.
Labaree describes citizen training in the U.S.; “[c]urriculum in American schools expresses this concern [of a free, democratic society], both through specific courses … that are designed to instil in students a commitment to the American political system” (1997, p. 44). This is an ideology: pointing to a doctrinal statement supporting a potentially dogmatic vision of Americanism. Axtmann defines democracy as “a regime type in which citizens, who are united for giving law, rule themselves” (2007, p. v), underpinned by the simple rule: one person, one vote. Missing from this are normative statements of value, position and attitude, yet both Labaree and Saichaie and Morphew assume engagement. For this assumption to be valid, non-democratic values need to be present, e.g. normative values that do not rely on democracy such as honouring human life. For example, technically Japan is a democracy; so are Canada and many other countries around the world. Yet the expectations regarding how to be a citizen differ widely. It may be argued that the notion of “democratic equality” is a relativist expression relying on many assumptions, that once investigated, reveal themselves to be undemocratic. The critical example in this case is the unelected and aspirational desire by the university leaders to have democratic students.
It can be seen from this brief analysis that the mission to create a democratic individual is ironically not democratic but a representation of the desire for social reproduction along democratic lines, and in the U.S.’s case, a singular version of what democracy means. A counter-example may help my argument. A truly democratic society would condone violence if the majority agreed.
Of course, the notion of democracy goes far wider than my simplistic and unnuanced characterisation presented here. But I feel that the separation of, for example, human rights issues, from democracy is necessary, especially when much of the world see the term democracy tainted with associations of U.S. capitalism and imperialism (Katzenstein & Keohane, 2006).
The “tiny but crucial” problem as I see it is that it’s so easy to point out what should be done better. It’s far, far more difficult to show how that can be done.
Axtmann, R. (2007). Democracy: Problems and Perspectives. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Katzenstein, P. J., & Keohane, R. O. (2006). Anti-Americanisms in World Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Labaree, D. F. (1997). Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals. American Educational Research Journal, 34(1), 39–81.
Saichaie, K., & Morphew, C. C. (2014). What College and University Websites Reveal About the Purposes of Higher Education. Journal of Higher Education, 85(4), 499–530. doi:10.1353/jhe.2014.0024