Thursday, September 9, 2010

Working hard and being nice are not enough

Honesty, kindness, integrity, volunteerism, responsibility and respectfulness are all necessary attributes of a good person, but they are not sufficient in developing a democratic citizen.

Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Genghis Khan would have all relished the opportunity to rule good people with such qualities.

Working hard and being nice are not enough to engage and maintain democratic citizenry. If we wish to truly maintain the democracy that we've fought so hard to create, then we have to empower our children - our future - with the opportunity to engage in a democratic learning environment.

Autonomy must be an aim of education.

If we don't instill social justice in children when they are young and in school how can we possibly hope to perpetuate the democratic ideals we have come to cherish?


  1. "Work Hard" for no apparent reason than hard work is essentially asking for compliant slavery.

    "Be nice" is the antithesis of "think critically" and it is the false synonym of "kindness, goodness, humility." Nice guys don't get crucified. Nice guys aren't asked to drink hemlock.

    Our class motto is "learn to serve." When students serve, they challenge injustice, think critically and engage in a truly democratic process.

    I'm not saying I have it all figured out. Sometimes I strip away autonomy because I am scared or I feel the need for power. But it is still one of my aims.

  2. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog and approach to teaching. I read often, but don't comment, but I wanted to start building a more substantial relationship seeing that I think we share a relatively similar world view, which can be rare these days.

    I think teaching students social justice, a clear understanding of what make an effective Democratic citizen, and a sense of powerful activism, should be the primary goals of any educational system designed to empower its citizens.

    The problem that many of us are starting to realize is that these are not the goals of many educational systems world wide, especially in the US.

  3. @John: serving your fellow man is important. But as you know it's also a dangerous proposition. Serving as a peer and serving as a slave are two very different goals.

    @Intrepid Flame: thank you for your comment. I look forward to having more discussions with you. I too think that democracy and social justice are at the heart of why school exists.

  4. The last freaking thing people in power want is for students to think critically. Are you out of your mind? How would a madman like Stephen Harper be in power if Canadians had a thinking brain in their head?

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  5. One of the few things that children cannot learn on their own, schooled at home, is to socialize. It is perhaps, as you write Joe, the most important thing to teach; to function together and to take part in a democracy

  6. Absolutely. Like I've said before, if teachers (or anyone in public service) aren't working to make themselves redundant, they're not truly serving.

  7. You must have read Joel Westheimer on citizenship, democracy, social activism/justice, and education? I completely agree with you. Such a difficult thing to achieve in schools. So hierarchical. Kids who do think critically are a problem because they are seen to challenge, criticize and the current system can't cope with that - it is seen as disrespect or "attitude" from the kids. How to find to find the balance between anarchy and democracy?

  8. Sorry, meant to add this link

  9. @ Joe
    One of the dilemmas in public education is deciding whose version of social justice we are teaching? As human beings we can all probably agree on the biggies of the dignity of the person, good stewardship of the environment, freedom. But when it comes to splitting hairs on abortion, marriage, immigration and all we have more issues. It becomes difficult. I work in a Catholic school and even within a defined world-view it is interesting to see what happens. The Catholic Bishops are very clear about the rights of the human person and the need for dignity. Funny how some of our students just don't want to agree. In the end our beliefs about fundamental realities influence everything we do. The pluralism of view that resides in democracy always makes public education a very exciting and important place to be.

  10. You make a great point Charlie, but I think it is equally important to not shy away from these issues. We so often say those topics do not belong in school, but then they go largely unchecked for years. So when do we talk about those issues? When are students taught to think about those issues?

    A good teacher regardless of their own views should be a facilitator of ideas and let the students wrestle with the ideas.

    A good starting place (although I am not a huge fan of the UN) is the UN declaration of human rights:

    Then we can compare our own ideas, religions, politics to those inherent rights. How do they hold up?

    Just a thought.


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