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Symposium Explores Education's Role In Modern Democratic Society

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

“We are here so that students, faculty, community members, teachers, and education leaders will have the chance to exchange ideas in a way that is true to our democratic spirit,” said Maureen Kenny, professor in the Lynch School of Education (LSOE) to her audience last Friday at the symposium on “Education and its Role in Democratic Societies.” The daylong event kicked off the first Boston College Sesquicentennial and LSOE public lecture series. Kenny teaches a graduate class that focuses on the same topic.

The conference came in the wake of the heated presidential debate, where both candidates discussed the importance of education while also criticizing the other candidate’s approach. Unlike the presidential candidates, however, the leaders at the symposium all agreed upon one fact: the current education system is not sufficient enough.

Kenneth Howe, professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, argued that the current federal education policy “is an obstacle to citizenship education and is pushing us away from citizenship education.” He went on to criticize the standardized tests and federal education reform that the “No Child Left Behind Act” put into law in 2002 during the Bush Administration.

Angela Valenzuela, associate vice president for Education Equity at the University of Texas, reemphasized that standardized tests are counterproductive and take away from the spirit of democratic education. “At its best, citizenship education is not something that you do, but the way you live,” she said. Valenzuela spoke of her hard work in Texas to halt the STAR initiative that would devote approximately 45 days to testing each year.

Both Howe and Valenzuela highlighted the importance of racial diversity in education. “Blacks and Latinos in American schools are more segregated than ever,” Howe said. He emphasized how imperative racial integration is in our nation’s schools to create dialogues of diversity that will foster understanding and acceptance in young children.

Joel Westheimer, a university chair in democracy and education at the University of Ottawa, followed by asking the symposium, “What exactly would be different about education in a democratic nation than in an authoritarian nation?” He went on to discuss the significance of children asking questions and thinking critically. “In a democracy, asking questions is far more important than getting answers,” he said.

Westheimer also spoke of the challenges standardized tests have brought to education in the United States. In his opinion, a democratic education is one in which the students engage in dialogue and participate in the community. “We want kids to learn to read, but also to learn what is worth reading,” he said. “We want them to know what the numbers add up to.”
At the end of the first panel, Kenny emerged to congratulate the speakers and invite audience members to ask more questions. As excited hands flew up and the microphone passed around the room, one thing was certain: answers from the panel members would not be found on a scantron sheet.

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