Assistant teacher course/Teachers' handbook/Democracy

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  An active citizen…is someone who not only believes in the concept of a democratic society but who is willing and able to translate that belief into action.  

—Education for Active Citizenship in Australian Schools and Youth Organisations, Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia

Democracy[edit | edit source]

  It suffices to say that in general the school has been the institution which exhibited with greatest clearness the assumed antithesis between purely individualistic methods of learning and social action, and between freedom and social control. The antithesis is reflected in the absence of a social atmosphere and motive for learning, and the consequent separation, in the conduct of the school, between method of instruction and methods of government; and in the slight opportunity afforded individual variations. When learning is a phase of active undertakings which involve mutual exchange, social control enters into the very process of learning. When the social factor is absent, learning becomes a carrying over of some presented material into a purely individual consciousness, and there is no inherent reason why it should give a more socialized direction to mental and emotional disposition. There is tendency on the part of both the upholders and the opponents of freedom in school to identify it with absence of social direction, or, sometimes, with merely physical unconstraint of movement. But the essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.  

Democracy and Education, John Dewey

School democracies often have little authority and are of little use to the pupils who are meant to operate them and are therefore unsuitable to motivate pupils to see democratic participation as challenging and relevant to their lives. An assistant teacher effort, which challenges both assistant teachers and pupils to take control of their own educational policies, can be a significant contribution to citizenship education. [1]

School policy should define the borders and potentialities in which pupils can develop their assistant teacher effort and their own form of grade council. An example is that to initiate a grade council all class councils could have to agree on the initial charter of a grade council and could have to make the decision to begin an election campaign. The election could be required to be made in voluntary work outside regular hours, which is meant to promote the insight that the pupils have to take care of their own affairs as a part of citizenship education.

Class teachers can play devil's advocate here and suggest contradictory courses of action to the different class councils. The pupils are meant to learn to overcome the additional difficulty this may present and can practice their democratic skills. Pupils can also found political parties as a result.

School policy can distinguish a junior high school and a high school student council to separate the concerns of junior high school and high school and to allow the younger pupils to develop their own approaches. Once a grade council was established it could be free to apply to the junior high school student council for affiliation. A school policy that assigned different competencies to student council and grade council would allow both to exist in parallel, allowing a richer political landscape to exist at the school.

Provoking pupils to take action[edit | edit source]

In order to provoke pupils to take action the intended motivation should be well-considered and allow the pupils freedom of choice but leave little or no opportunity to ignore the issue. Pupils who believe they can ignore an issue are very good at choosing to ignore a problem, because they are too shy, too lazy, too disinterested or just inexperienced in taking collective action. An intended motivation should also be in some way defendable; just expecting pupils to solve arbitrary problems that have no reason to exist can cause alienation between teachers and pupils.

An assistant teacher effort meets the above criteria and can motivate assistant teachers and pupils alike to take action. Similar issues can arise for the same pupils during the qualification of tutors and mentors.

Other motivations can be undesirable situations, school procedures designed to irritate (but which can be superseded by the pupils) and questionable decisions.

An automatic reassignment of the least proficient pupil(s) in a class every year can be a questionable decision. Initially there are bound to be pupils who may benefit from reassignment to a different track or school. In Germany there is an official orientation stage (fifth grade and sixth grade, the first two years of secondary education), during which the assignment of a pupil to a school type is reevaluated and, if necessary or advisable, corrected. A similar reevaluation can be made for pupils assigned to tracks within the same school and is bound to be beneficial for some pupils.

In a later phase, however, the class community can protest against the reassignment of pupils who would be reassigned just to satisfy a requirement, even if the requirement has proven to be beneficial in the past. The reassignment requirement can be made even more inacceptable if the teachers are free to choose pupils from among the less good pupils, but can ignore a strict order of grade averages. The resulting psychological effects should be support for less good pupils in the class community (which can become a formally accepted, self-imposed obligation of the class) and a stronger sense of community in the class. Another effect is that pupils may be more likely to become politically active in a grade or school council to prevent similar problems in future. It may appear impossible to risk the reassignment of a pupil if the class fails to protest but there are at least three different cases to distinguish: A pupil may actually appear to benefit from reassignment to a track with lesser academic challenge, a pupil may be likely to benefit from experiencing reassignment (with the potential to return) but may equally benefit from greater support by the class community or a pupil may be likely to benefit most from the threat of reassignment. Only in the last case the teachers would have to make sure that the class actually did prevent the reassignment. The teacher presenting reassignment plans to the class can be an unknown teacher, who is not teaching the class, which makes it easier for younger pupils to distinguish between the abstract bureaucratic decision and the aim of the class teacher, who may help the class to plan counter measures.

Another undesirable situation is a teacher who appears to be unqualified to hold lessons. The teacher could be a new teacher or a teacher unknown to the class and try to provoke the class into taking counter measures. A possible counter measure is that the class could hold coaching lessons for teachers. The class may not have had prior experience with coaching lessons for teachers but the offer that pupils can decide to hold coaching lessons should be a well-known fact, otherwise the pupils are unlikely to arrive at the idea. The coaching lessons could be organized under the supervision of high-school pupils. Pupils who failed to disqualify an unqualified teacher after several lessons should receive a reprimand and any assistant teachers who attended the lessons as pupils could be disqualified, because they should not have tolerated an inacceptable teaching style.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. citizenship education
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