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Learning Democratic Citizenship: An Experiment in Teaching Deliberation
Unformatted Document Text:  The Role of Context Because previous research had looked at deliberation in various contexts—classroom, campus, and community—we considered it important to compare those contexts in terms of appeal and utility as a learning venue. In each there was both good news and bad. The Classroom Offers Knowledge and Directed Practice, but Fails to Simulate an Authentic Democratic Environment. The classroom offers the most familiar, comfortable environment in which to learn to deliberate. Both teachers and students know the rules, which includes who has the power of the grade and who wants a “good one”—the variable which too often trumps all others. Based on that power differential, it is the role of teachers to determine what essential knowledge about politics and deliberation is foundational for a solid citizen to know (Benhabib, 1996); to select some issue of keen interest which puts political and deliberative theory into action (Loeb, 1994, p. 97); and to oversee students as they “practice” democratic participation, safely and with minimal consequences. Students experience deliberation in a familiar venue, one in which they can even dare to fail (Ervin, 1997). There are drawbacks, however. The classroom does not “practice what it preaches” about democracy in that teachers are clearly “in charge” and are the final arbiters of that all-important grade. Given its cocoon-like quality, the classroom may be the farthest thing from the “real world” of political life where deliberation is most needed. The disconnect was most apparent at the points of deliberation where participants sought to move from talk to action (see Ryfe, 2006, p. 84). While students had little trouble identifying common ground between them, because they possessed no 14

Authors: Harriger, Katy. and McMillan, Jill.
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The Role of Context
Because previous research had looked at deliberation in various contexts—classroom,
campus, and community—we considered it important to compare those contexts in terms
of appeal and utility as a learning venue. In each there was both good news and bad.
The Classroom Offers Knowledge and Directed Practice, but Fails to Simulate an
Authentic Democratic Environment.
The classroom offers the most familiar, comfortable environment in which to
learn to deliberate. Both teachers and students know the rules, which includes who has
the power of the grade and who wants a “good one”—the variable which too often
trumps all others. Based on that power differential, it is the role of teachers to determine
what essential knowledge about politics and deliberation is foundational for a solid
citizen to know (Benhabib, 1996); to select some issue of keen interest which puts
political and deliberative theory into action (Loeb, 1994, p. 97); and to oversee students
as they “practice” democratic participation, safely and with minimal consequences.
Students experience deliberation in a familiar venue, one in which they can even dare to
fail (Ervin, 1997).
There are drawbacks, however. The classroom does not “practice what it
preaches” about democracy in that teachers are clearly “in charge” and are the final
arbiters of that all-important grade. Given its cocoon-like quality, the classroom may be
the farthest thing from the “real world” of political life where deliberation is most
needed. The disconnect was most apparent at the points of deliberation where
participants sought to move from talk to action (see Ryfe, 2006, p. 84). While students
had little trouble identifying common ground between them, because they possessed no
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