“Participation in deliberative forums can be one of the most effective ways that we have of teaching students about democracy through experience. Through actual involvement in the deliberative process, students learn the fundamental skills necessary for being effective citizens: reflecting together on the merits of different policy choices, listening well to other voices, understanding the underlying values that animate a particular view, and finding common ground with those who disagree with us. For many students, the experience of deliberation is the discovery of a whole different way of doing politics.”
Chair, Deliberative Democracy and Citizenship Education Special Interest Group, National Society for Experiential Education
Welcome to TeachingDemocracy.org, the web home of the Pennsylvania Center for Civic Life. We are an online meeting place and resource center for people interested in sharing what they know about deliberative democracy in a creative setting that promotes and values experimentation.
Teaching Democracy is designed to provide a fertile setting that encourages innovation and collaboration. It is a website that will grow and become richer with your use. The more it is seeded with diverse ideas, stories, plans and resources, the richer our harvest will be. Teachers, students and citizens will find collaborative possibilities, encouragement and support here. .
The name, TeachingDemocracy, may raise questions in some minds. Can democracy really be taught? Certainly not, if teaching means lectures and instructions. Can teachers construct courses and other learning experiences in which the capacities and interests of active, deliberative citizenship are cultivated? Absolutely! Can citizens, students and teachers learn together? Much better than separately! So TeachingDemocracy should be read as learning, exploring, doing, and even, re-inventing democracy.
Our main focus within the broader topic of civic education is on the teaching and practice of deliberative talk. We are particularly interested in helping people and institutions share what they have learned—through formal research or practical experience—about how public deliberation affects learning and doing in various settings; in classrooms and meeting rooms, in local communities and in virtual communities on the internet. A current priority is to study ways in which online deliberation can link and enhance the work of multiple face-to-face groups in classrooms and communities.
Across the country and around the world, teachers and others have experimented with non-biased, non-partisan National Issues Forums discussion guides that frame public issues in a way that promotes deliberative discussion about the issue rather than debate or argument. They have found this special kind of talking to be uniquely valuable for teaching and learning. Some teachers have taken their students into the exciting and empowering territory of issue framing where a unique issue discussion guide can become the fruit of their labor. Specific to academic courses or local issues, the issue discussion guides then become a compelling way for others to engage in the practice of democracy. And everyone learns. Public deliberation and issue framing have been used to explore campus and community issues and have helped build deeper and more widely shared understandings of divisive issues. Some issue frameworks have become the basis for entire courses that use the pedagogy of dialogic inquiry
We invite you to explore this site and the links provided. If you have experience with public deliberation and issue framing in educational settings, we hope you’ll share it, either by providing material for us to post on this site or by establishing mutual links with material elsewhere on the web. If you have material you would be willing to share or if you have comments, questions or suggestions, please contact us directly through the email link at the bottom of this page.
Check out our Network Directory to make contact with others who share your interests. Join our network to receive occasional e-letters and, if you choose, to have your contact information added to the network directory.
Pennsylvania Center for Civic Life Mission Statement
The Center for Civic Life advances the understanding and practice of deliberative democracy through teaching and learning. It sponsors collaborative projects, often based in high school and college classrooms. It undertakes and reports research that explores the power of deliberative talk to strengthen engagement in learning and in democracy. While these activities often begin at universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, they link schools, universities and communities across the country and around the world. Teachers, students, staff and other concerned citizens are all encouraged to become a part of these efforts. The Center promotes creation of a wider network of educators, students, citizens, schools, and communities as essential parts of the web necessary for support of a dynamic and vital democracy.
Public universities in a democracy have a special responsibility for education and research that contribute to the public’s work. Foremost among these is helping students become effective citizens on the campus and in the larger community. Responsibility for enhancing civic engagement cuts across academic and institutional boundaries and requires collaborative efforts. Success requires faculty, administrators, and staff to teach, learn, and get involved in public scholarship and public affairs.
One of the best ways to learn how to “do democracy” – how to reason together and respond to specific issues – is through deliberative discussion. The concept is elegantly simple: issues are framed in a non-partisan way, facts and values behind various positions are presented, and participants discuss the merits and drawbacks of differing views as they seek common ground for understanding and action. Individuals benefit as they gain new insights into issues and the community benefits, as its members learn how to work together on important problems. The use and abuse of alcohol, and dealing with racial and ethnic tensions are two such issues that confront campuses and communities across the country and around the world. As a teaching tool, deliberative dialogue enhances student involvement in learning, encourages intellectual development and fosters civic engagement. Deliberative forums can serve as a powerful catalyst in a democracy, combining professional expertise and citizen judgment to produce public scholarship – scholarship shaped by public concerns and presented in public terms.
Cleandro Carrasco Castro
Lock Haven University
Lock Haven, PA 17745