Two Steps on the Way to Democratic Culture


Now school is by no means the world and must not pretend to be; it is rather the institution that we interpose between the private domain of home and the world, in order to make the transition from the family to the world possible at all.      Hannah Arendt

A serious challenge to current and future education is the need to cultivate the competencies that people use as competent citizens of a democratic country. One solution is education oriented towards improving thinking and knowledge in the context of civic life – for the sake of the quality of life of current and future adults, for the sake of the quality of public administration and, ultimately, for the sake of the sustainability of democracy. It is not only that European educational tools are not used conceptually in Slovak schools, such as the one that is supposed to lead pupils and students to a developed democratic awareness and to an interest in democratic processes and initiatives. An essential part of the answer to the challenge of education must be seen in equipping teachers as quickly as possible with teaching tools and methods. Without proper help and support, they will be unable to influence either the development of children and young people's competences or the development of their democratic awareness. This assistance should be comprehensive and based on existing, still valid European documents.

To the point: democratic culture has two dimensions – the individual and the social. For the individual, it represents the extent of knowledge, the quality of thinking and decision-making in the public sphere. Socially seen – it is the actual level of quality of the public sphere, or the idea of an ideal democratic community. When we talk about leading children and youth to a developed democratic culture, we mean both dimensions – the development of the individual and the development of the democratic community. After all, who else in Slovakia in a few years' time will ensure the course of democracy, if not the current first-graders in Čadca, second-graders in Rožňava or third-graders in Trebišov?

The sustainability of democracy depends to a large extent on the extent and quality of the competences to be used in the public sphere, such as using dialogue as a way of solving problems, understanding written sources and using the information obtained, speaking in public and persuading the audience of the rightness of one's intentions, preparing an official complaint and participating in a public debate on the subject of the complaint, understanding political debate, dealing democratically with issues affecting the public sphere, taking reasoned positions on public sphere issues, handling a job interview as both a job applicant and an employer, and so on. In the cultivated activity of people there is to be found a whole set of sub-sets of "skills and smarts" to be exercised by these people in the public sphere as competent citizens and knowledgeable citizens. The journey to a developed democratic culture is long, winding and does not end with a school certificate – it is a lifelong process.

Let us pause, therefore, at two preparatory situations – two sections of the path that leads pupils to a developed democratic culture. These are two steps designed for secondary school youth, with Situation I representing the initiation step and Situation II describing the subsequent entry step. Situations I and II precede the actual learning, in this particular case the production and presentation of an independent oral speech (a solemn speech by a person in a public function).

Situation I

Discuss why some pupils are not doing well at school. Is it just because they do not want to learn? Name the common reasons for failure in school.

Do you agree with the statement that the special needs of pupils are not respected in Slovak schools? Draw on your own experience.

Methodological commentary on Situation I

Situation I represents the start of a learning journey and it begins with the communication about something that is familiar to the learners, something they have experienced or they may have already formed a preliminary opinion on. The communication can be done in a frontal way, it is preferable to keep the pupils in a lively communicative exchange for about ten minutes. Suggestions from the situation can also be offered as written homework.

The essence of the first situation is to arouse the pupils' interest, and to prevent the emergence of communication fears, for example, the fear of an embarrassing moment when they do not know what to say. Continued communication can be dialogically encouraged: if a This is when someone can't cannot learn to write well is heard, can be responded to with a probing counter-question: Write well?

The situation represents a real conversation in which the child's experientially formed and anchored consciousness of the world and of the self (self-consciousness) – in this case, consciousness of social perspectives – is thematized. The first task is directed towards the perspective of the individual, the second task towards the perspective of society. During situational communication it is necessary to be sensitive and to make sure that the communication does not slip into a debate about one of the pupils who has bad grades. The activity can also be done by brainstorming: What can stop a person from learning?

Situation II

Is this or a similar phrase in your school regulations? How can it be found out without comparing it with the content of the school regulations?

A pupil with special educational needs does not have the right to education and training using specific forms and methods appropriate to his/her needs and to the creation of the necessary conditions that make this education and training possible.

Why is this sentence an example of discrimination? Give reasons for your answer.

Read the text and find out three pieces of information: What problem are the authors of the initiative referring to in the text? What solution do they propose? What changes do they expect to see by adopting the proposal?

(Beginning of text)

European Citizens' Initiative – Online collection system

Focus on Specific Learning Disabilities on EU Level

This Initiative aims to facilitate the access to education of people with specific learning disabilities (i.e. dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia). Students with such disabilities face struggles in pursuing their education due to lack of knowledge about the topic, absence of adequate study materials, and unfair exam conditions.

Although the Member States have addressed the issue individually, the discrepancies in the definitions of learning disabilities, the distinct methods of detection and assistance opens a gap between the countries. Hence, students may be treated differently in other Member States which could hinder their right of free movement as granted by the Treaties, resulting in Negative impact on their education and integration into society.

Hereby, we request the Commission to present a proposal for a Council recommendation pursuant to under Article 165(4), second indent, TFEU with common guidelines to the national governments on how to detect and address learning disabilities. A better integration of people with learning disabilities within the educational system would be an important step for ensuring fair opportunities for all EU citizens.

(European Citizens' Initiative, ECI(2022)000008)

Explanatory notes:

dyslexia - reading disorder

dyscalculia - a counting disorder

dysgraphia - writing disorder

integration - inclusion of disadvantaged people into a community

(End of text)

Methodological commentary on Situation II

Situation II builds on the previous step – regarding theme and context.

There is no such or similar sentence in the school regulations; every set of school regulations covers the care of pupils with special educational needs and describes more precisely what such pupils are entitled to. There is no need to search the school regulations; the meaning of the sentence is contrary to the principles of equality.

Discrimination as a violation of the principle of equality is based on a distinction which humanly harms and legally disadvantages the position of individuals or social groups – in this case, the principle of equality is limited on the basis of a developmental disability.

Simply read the text silently and selectively – purposefully seeking information that answers pre-known questions (cursory reading).

The actual learning takes place only in the next step, through working with the text, explaining relationships, finding and formulating relevant reasons, written preparation for public communication, independent speaking to the public, evaluating the speech.

The two situations outlined provide an opportunity, already in the preparation for learning, to produce a result that is worthy of being recorded and preserved. Whereas the first situation can help in the creation of new short or more coherent texts (How Jan did at school – a narrative, The school helps – a small reflection on support in our school), the second situation allows for the creation of a reading record with a diagram and answers to questions related to it.

The expected outcome of the complete learning journey is the development of a democratic citizen who, quoting from a European document, can describe other peoples' unique concerns and argue that all public institutions should respect, protect and apply human rights.

The philosopher John Dewey would certainly disagree with her younger colleague Hannah Arendt. Dewey perceived school not as preparing the little man for the big world, but as the embodiment of a life to be led by the child as it is led at home or in the immediate surroundings. Dewey literally wrote: Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.

So how is it?

Karel Dvořák PhD. – DaCoSiDe expert tasked with the creation of A2/B1-level methodological guidelines and certification tools

All of the cited dispositions were defined and described by a team of authors led by Darina De Jaegher and are part of the Database of Cognition and Social Interaction Descriptors (DaCoSiDe).

All rights reserved EDUAWEN EUROPE, Ltd.


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