Translating democracy into practice: A case for demarchy

Gilbert Burgh
University of Queensland
In this paper I will focus on the role of the community of inquiry and its commitment to democracy. I suggest that if we are serious about this commitment we need to do more than merely utter the word democracy as if we have communicated a concept that is both precise and worthy of commendation. The word democracy is, in fact, laden with ambiguity. Claims for democracy have been used to support civil rights, freedom of speech and universal franchise. On the other hand, it has aided and abetted the free market society and defended the dominance of the two-party political system. It seems that some democrats can support the very same programs that other democrats oppose, all in the name of democracy. I will look at some of the ambiguities surrounding the term democracy and offer a model which captures the spirit of the community of inquiry. I conclude that while it is true that the community of inquiry method goes beyond the hidden curriculum and actively encourages pupils to be critical and reflective thinkers, children from an early age also need to learn how to govern themselves. How can this be achieved? By actively involving pupils in the process of decision-making in the classroom on issues that affect their daily lives, and by finding practical ways to increase the participation of everyone involved through the creation of learning opportunities within schools and between the schools and the wider community. It is important, therefore, that pupils acquire the skills needed to become active decision-makers in a participatory democracy. This requires that teachers and educators question the existing democratic structures and processes while taking into account the social realities that have shaped children's consciousness of themselves.
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