Sarah Kunz and Dr. Randall Davies, Department of Educational Psychology and Technology
Democracy is a political orientation that is struggling to survive in certain aspects of the current educational society. This project was developed to answer the question, “What are some current educational qualities that are either supporting or undermining the public good for our future democracy?” The identification of supporting and undermining democratic educational qualities is critical. Democratic educational qualities require further qualitative and quantitative research for effective adjustment of educational goals and curriculum for preparing students to enter and contribute to a democratic society. Shaker and Heilmen (2008) compiled a summary of educational qualities that support the public good in a democracy and those that undermine the public good in a democracy. The seven educational qualities identified include: aims, orientation to power, orientation to knowledge, social orientation, orientation to diversity, measure of success, and orientation to change. This project sought to identify a few of these democratic educational qualities and explore to what degree students in a public schooling setting are perceived to be learning the skills critical to enter and contribute to a democratic society. This project asked the parents of 28 4th grade students questions that targeted student development towards the qualities of orientation to knowledge, social orientation, measure of success and orientation to power.
Results of this survey were interesting. Parents were asked to what degree they felt their child had access to resources and then the follow up question was in regards to their child’s ability to rank the value and quality of that resource. While 94% of parents felt their child had access to the resource and only 6% neither agreeing nor disagreeing with that statement, when asked if their child knew how to evaluate the value of the resource 29% didn’t really have an opinion. This showed the orientation to knowledge needed some more depth. Shaker and Heilmen (2008) made it clear that one of the undermining qualities to a democratic society comes when students don’t know how to evaluate the good of a resource. While 53% agreed and 18% strongly agreed that their child knew how to evaluate the quality and value of a resource it is still concerning that 29% do not know if their child knows this or has this skill.
It seems that there is a strong consensus of the resources available yet children aren’t taught or learning how to evaluate the value and quality of the resources. Additional teaching may be necessary to ensure this crucial skill is learned making it possible for people to understand the motivating reasons behind a resource as well as the quality of the resources. This will allow them to make decisions with the knowledge necessary to support and facilitate the continuation of democracy.
Orientation to power suggests a willingness to question practices, authority, and power in regards to democratic principles. The question to parents was in regard to their child’s ability to participate in a discourse typically found in a fourth grade classroom. Specifically examples were given of a child being willing to discuss perspectives that may not be the majority viewpoint. For students to be able to participate in the discussion the first requirement is to have knowledge of the theory and practice of democracy.
Parents were more reserved in their answers for this question with 24% of parents responding that they disagreed that their child would be able to participate in this discussion. Another 24% responded that they neither agreed nor disagreed with statement yet 24% also responded that they strongly agreed that their child would participate. The last 41% simply agreed. While the spread on this was interesting, it was rather refreshing that 65% of parents thought their child had learned the necessary quality of orientation to power to be successful in a democratic society. Although, the results do indicate that further teaching is necessary in order to ensure students have the quality that allows them to participate in a valuable way to discussions regarding democratic principles.
Orientation to diversity allows people to see a wide range of ideas, cultures, and an expression of these ideas. Often times fourth graders are faced with situations where diversity, not morality are the question. For a democratic society to function well recognition and celebration of this diversity is necessary. It is also essential for students to feel a measure of success that they can individually or collectively solve complex problems in real world situations in regards to this diversity or any other situation. Parents were asked to rate their child’s problem solving abilities relating to diverse situations. The results reveal a variety and range that gives hope as well as a call to action. Parents had a spread with 12% strongly in agreement with their child’s abilities and 53% somewhat in agreement. 18% neither agreed nor disagreed and another 18% were in disagreement for their child’s abilities.
Wasatch County School District is committed to seeing democratic principles in the classroom as their purpose statement includes the phrase that students be taught to, “think independently and clearly, and educate them in a sound body of knowledge which will help prepare them for the responsibilities of living in a democracy.” While there is most likely a correlation between the curriculum focus and nature of the district in regards to the positive aspects of these qualities, it is also evident that further research is needed to see what leads to the development of these qualities.
To continue to expand this research a larger data pool would be needed covering multiple elementary schools, not just the school where I am an intern. Different contextual factors from the students’ homes would also need to be taken into consideration such as how long they had been residents of the United States and their affiliation and support of democracy in the home. While this survey was translated into Spanish, the data of how many responded to this in Spanish was not considered due to the confidentiality agreement of anonymity of responses. In performing this again, I would be sure that could be taken into consideration as well as gaining a larger demographic pool making the results even more reliable. Expansion of the questions could also allow for further research with identifiable information rather than anonymous contribution of answers.
- Shaker, P. (2008). Reclaiming education for democracy thinking beyond no child left behind. New York:
- Wasatch County School District. Statement of Purpose. Retrieved May 15, 2010 from,