Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Listening to Strangers: Classroom Discussion in Democratic Education

by Walter C. Parker - 2010

Background/Context: The literature on classroom discussion often undercuts itself by treating discussion only as an instructional method, confining its role to the instrumental. Although discussion does serve as an effective means to other curricular ends (teaching with discussion), the capable practice of discussion can also be considered a curriculum objective in its own right (teaching for discussion). The latter is justified on the grounds that listening and speaking to what Danielle Allen called "strangers" about powerful ideas and public problems is crucial to democratic citizen formation; indeed, it defines democracy, signaling a citizen's coming of age while at the same time creating the public sphere that democracy requires--a space where political argument and action flourish.

Purpose /Focus of Study: The author outlines a discursive approach to the cultivation of enlightened political engagement in schools. He argues that schools are the best available sites for this project because they have the key assets: diverse schoolmates (more or less), problems (both academic and social), "strangers" (schoolmates who are not friends or family), and curriculum and instruction (schools are intentionally educative places). Ambitious classroom discussion models--for example, seminars and deliberations--can mobilize these assets; but new habits, especially those that build equity and trust, are needed.

Setting: Two empirical cases of classroom discussion ground the argument in classroom practice. In one, high school students deliberate whether physician-assisted suicide should be legalized in their state. In the other, suburban middle school students conduct a seminar on Howard Fast's novel of the American revolution, April Morning.

Research Design: This is an analytic essay/argument.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Schools in societies with democratic ideals are obligated to cultivate enlightened and engaged citizens. Helping young people form the habits of listening to strangers, at that very public place called school, should advance this work.

To view the full-text for this article you must be signed-in with the appropriate membership. Please review your options below:

Store a cookie on my computer that will allow me to skip this sign-in in the future.
Send me my password -- I can't remember it
Purchase this Article
Purchase Listening to Strangers: Classroom Discussion in Democratic Education
Individual-Resource passes allow you to purchase access to resources one resource at a time. There are no recurring fees.
Become a Member
Online Access
With this membership you receive online access to all of TCRecord's content. The introductory rate of $25 is available for a limited time.
Print and Online Access
With this membership you receive the print journal and free online access to all of TCRecord's content.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 11, 2010, p. 2815-2832
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15794, Date Accessed: 7/5/2020 8:35:46 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools

Related Media

Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Walter Parker
    University of Washington, Seattle
    E-mail Author
    WALTER PARKER is professor and chair of Social Studies Education, University of Washington, Seattle. He studies social studies education broadly and civic education and global education in particular. His publications include Social Studies Today: Research and Practice (Routledge, 2010) and “Cognitive Praxis in Today’s ‘International Education’ Movement,” Theory and Research in Social Education, 37(1), 2009.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue