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Learning Democratic Citizenship: An Experiment in Teaching Deliberation
Unformatted Document Text:  choose the latter, are we willing to accept the consequences of these philosophical positions – in particular, students who are more critical of institutional power structures and who are expecting inclusion in the decision making process? Programmatically, we think there are many ways one might make use of the lessons we learned from this experience, from having a full-fledged four year program such as the Democracy Fellows to smaller efforts at curricular development or student affairs programming. It is always important to develop a program that is organic to the institution where it will be implemented, and only the people on that campus know what will work best in their setting. Schools need not adopt exactly the program that we developed. We do believe, nonetheless, that there are several critical components of a program of this type that contributed to its success. We will say again that a very strong finding in our work was how much knowledge matters to the ability of students to imagine alternative views of politics and to be motivated to act politically. Presentation, early in a program, of substantive information about deliberative dialogue and the democratic theory that supports and challenges it was important to providing the base for students to assess what they were doing, when it was and was not working, and why. The Democracy Fellows’ critical thinking about these topics was well ahead of their class cohorts’ by the second year and it persisted throughout the study. It is also essential, though perhaps self-evident, that students must have the opportunity to practice the skills of deliberation, and to do so first in safe spaces before “going public.” In addition to practice, it is important that there be time for reflection about the practice. We believe that the Democracy Fellows’ critical thinking about democracy and deliberation was enhanced by the opportunities to “debrief” after each of 19

Authors: Harriger, Katy. and McMillan, Jill.
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choose the latter, are we willing to accept the consequences of these philosophical
positions – in particular, students who are more critical of institutional power structures
and who are expecting inclusion in the decision making process?
Programmatically, we think there are many ways one might make use of the
lessons we learned from this experience, from having a full-fledged four year program
such as the Democracy Fellows to smaller efforts at curricular development or student
affairs programming. It is always important to develop a program that is organic to the
institution where it will be implemented, and only the people on that campus know what
will work best in their setting. Schools need not adopt exactly the program that we
developed. We do believe, nonetheless, that there are several critical components of a
program of this type that contributed to its success. We will say again that a very strong
finding in our work was how much knowledge matters to the ability of students to
imagine alternative views of politics and to be motivated to act politically. Presentation,
early in a program, of substantive information about deliberative dialogue and the
democratic theory that supports and challenges it was important to providing the base for
students to assess what they were doing, when it was and was not working, and why. The
Democracy Fellows’ critical thinking about these topics was well ahead of their class
cohorts’ by the second year and it persisted throughout the study.
It is also essential, though perhaps self-evident, that students must have the
opportunity to practice the skills of deliberation, and to do so first in safe spaces before
“going public.” In addition to practice, it is important that there be time for reflection
about the practice. We believe that the Democracy Fellows’ critical thinking about
democracy and deliberation was enhanced by the opportunities to “debrief” after each of
19


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