The Brookings Institution on Educating Students for Democratic Renewal

The Brookings Institution on Educating Students for Democratic Renewal


From the May 2, 2018 issue of Brookings, from the Brooking Institution.

Public schools were invented to prepare people for self-governance, and to work with others towards the improvement of their communities and for the betterment of society. These were the arguments Horace Mann used, in the 1830s, when he led a successful advocacy campaign to launch public education in Massachusetts. Since then, schools in America have in many ways provided students the capacities necessary to engage civically, to collaborate with others, across lines of difference, in making society better.

As American democracy has evolved, so have the ways in which schools embrace their civic mission. For much of their history, our public schools did not hold women and men to similar expectations, nor did they adequately educate African Americans and other ethnic minorities. It was only when social movements, such as the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, broadened our collective understanding of who should be included in the opportunity to participate in this democratic experiment of self-rule, that scMhools, in turn, broadened their focus to prepare women and minorities for civic engagement and leadership. Of course, schools have not only reacted to the development of our democracy, they have also anticipated such development, at times creating opportunities for students to learn to imagine a society which is more inclusive than the one they experience in their communities.

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