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Course Syllabi

Practicing Democratic Education

James Farr, Professor of Political Science
University of Minnesota

This course and practicum is designed for advanced undergraduate students (juniors and seniors). The course is structured around one 10 week quarter, with class meeting once a week for 2 hours. The practicum is designed to extend over 2 quarters.

Course Description

This course will address some long-standing debates about democracy, politics, and the education of citizens. It arises out of the conviction that any particular theory of democracy, or of politics more generally, can and should be evaluated in terms of what it says theoretically about citizen education and by what it does practically to educate citizens.

In order to address the debates in question in a theoretical way, our course will investigate critically some major texts in the history of Western political thought that address the question of citizen or political education, broadly speaking. The texts include Plato's Republic, John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John Dewey's Democracy and Education, and Myles Horton and Paolo Freire's We Make the Road by Walking. These texts should be understood as being about political education, as well as actually attempting to politically educate their audiences. In reading and collectively discussing these texts, we will be concerned to trace changing conceptions of education and politics over time, as well as to articulate the various relationships between the practice of theorizing about politics and the practice of educating citizens.

As the title hopes to indicate, this course will also address questions of democracy, politics, and citizen education practically, in the form of an educationa1 practicum. Students will put their education and democratic citizenship into practice by serving as ''coaches" for middle-school students (at St. Bernard's Grade School in St. Paul) who will be researching and debating their own questions about democracy and social issues (in and around their school). The fundamental premise of the seminar is that we learn theoretically about citizenship and education in large part by being engaged practically as citizens and educators. Or to put it differently: to learn what must be learned about democratic education just is to be engaged in the practice of educating democrats.

Given the mix and the demands of the various theoretica1 and practical activities that make up the course, an additional 2 credit practicum course in the political science department (Pol 3070) has been Attached to supplement Pol 3090 (of 4 credits, bringing the total to 6 credits). The practicum course will continue through Winter quarter (for another additional 2 crodits). It is hoped that students will continue with the practicum through winter, in order for us collectively to live up to our obligations to St. Bernard's School.

Course Requirements

The requirements of the course reflect its diverse goals.

1) The course will meet once a week (at class time on Tuesdays) to discuss assigned readings. Students are expected to read the materials closely and carefully, and to come to class prepared to engage in discussion and debate.

2) The required practicum component will be satisfied by students' coaching activities at St. Bernard's (during class time on Thursdays, to be followed by a discussion period integrating the week's readings and the practica1 experiences at the middle school). The model of student coaching that we will follow has been developed by Public Achievement (sponsored by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University) some of the students at St. Bernard's have previously been involved in investigating civic issues in and around their school with the assistance of Public Achievement coaches. The seminar, therefore, will build upon that experience.

3) There will be a required day-long training session and Issues Convention (scheduled for the second Thureday of class, September 28) to introduce students to the St. Bernard's environment and to the practice of being a coach, This occurs during regular class time, although we may have to start a little earlier than usual.

4) In terms of writing, students will keep an ongoing notebook/journal that records reflections on their course readings, their coaching experiences, and more generally on the relationship between democracy, politics, and citizen education. The notebook/journal will be submitted for commentary and evaluation at the time of midterm and final examinations.

5) As a final entry into the notebook/journal, students will be asked to evaluate the coaching practicum in terms of what you thought worked or didn't work, and what could be done to improve the overall experiment in practical democratic education.

6) Finally, there will be a take-home final examination (of about 8 typed pages). The exam will principally cover the course readings. Like the notebook/journal, however, the final examination will allow and call for integration of the theoretical literature on political education and the practical educational experiences involved in the course.


Letter grades for the course will be assigned on the basis of the final examination (50%), the notebook/journal (30%), and class discusaion and participation (20%). Faithful attendance and committed involvement in the practicum is essential in order to receive the additional 2 credits of the political science courss, as well as to successfully complete the seminer as a whole and to receive an overall grade for it.

Required Books

The following books are available for purchase at the University Bookstore (on the East Bank), with the exception of Locke, which is available in photocopy form at Smith Bookstore on the West Bank).

    Plato: The Republic
    John Locke: Some Thoughts Concerning Education
    John Dewey: Democracy and Education
    Myles Horton and Paolo Freire: We Make the Road by Walking

Some additional readings will be provided or placed on reserve.

Readings and Assignments

Week 1: Introductory

Week 2: Justice, the Ideal City, and the Education of Guardians

      Read: Plato, The Republic, Books 1-4.

Week 3: Myths, Forms, and Philosopher Kings

Read: Plato, The Republic, Books 5-10.

Week 4: Education of Youth in the Family

Read: Locke, Some Thouqhts Concerning Education, sections 1-132.

Week 5: Virtue and the Englightened Gentleman

Read: Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, sections 133-217. Submission of notebook/journal

Week 6: Educating a Democratic Public

Read: Dewey, Democracy and Education, pp. 1-163.

Week 7: Method and Curriculum

Read: Dewey, Democracy and Education, pp. 164-360.

Week 8: Populism and Citizen Action

      Read: Horton and Freire, We Make the Road by Walking,
      pp. 1-143.

Week 9: Citizen Education and Social Change

Read: Horton and Freire, We Make the Road by Walking,
pp. 144-248.

Week 10: Democracy, Politics, and Citizen Education: Final Reflections

      Submission of notebook/journal. Take-home final examination.