Community and Democracy

10 Feb

A Year at Mission Hill, a ten part video series that was produced by Sam Chaltain, chronicles a year in the life of a successful Boston public  pilot school.  The school was started by Deborah Meier (of Central Park East Schools and McArthur “genius” award fame), and value community and democratic values on par with academic achievement.

Way back in my undergraduate days, I took a course called “The History of Education in America.”  The course was dry and dusty, with a professor who liked to talk in a slow and monotone cadence for three hours, but I found the material fascinating.

Education in America, originally, was about educating citizens.  It was about creating an electorate who could run this newly democratic society and make educated, informed, decisions.  Of course, that was when “electorate” meant “white, property owning males,” so it wasn’t exactly utopia, but it feels like we’ve lost much of those original values of schooling.

Along the way, education became about economics and stratification rather than citizenry.  As schooling became the pathway to higher wages and professional jobs, the upper middle class demanded more schooling to keep themselves in the “elite” category.  We think of education as the great equalizer–education is a pathway for success for all citizens, rich or poor, immigrant or native born.  The reality though, is that educational demands often keep everyone in exactly the same strata to which they were born.  The meaning of “well educated” has progressed from high school diploma, to college degree, to post-collegiate work.  America is educated for more of its citizenry than we did 100 years ago, but we also demand a much higher level of education to consider our children successful.  The carrot is moving ever farther away.

Which brings me back to Mission Hill.  Besides what seems to be a caring, and attentive school, what Mission Hill has brought back is the sense of education for democracy, education for citizenship.  The school is a community where teachers, parents, and students, have a say.  The curriculum is geared towards the idea of participation, in terms of thinking and doing.  It’s a nice change.


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