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* Re: speaking voices

Posted By: Jerilyn Kelle on February 12, 2006
Jason Schnoll, you bring up an essential point that strikes at the heart of Mr. Douglas’s mission to help American youth assume the distinction of respect, dignity and efficacy to which all democratic citizens have a right. Currently, much attention is given to children learning character traits such as respect and responsibility, which are too often taught in passive instead of active and experiential ways. What this discussion sparked by Joe Douglas’s wonderful article highlights is that in order to inspire and motivate children to become respectful and responsible citizens, they must first be shown that they will be respected for who they are, what they have to say, and for the unique contribution they can make when taught the knowledge, attitude, and skills to do so. As your insight points out, learning respect begins with the adult giving respect to their young wards.

I’ve seen Mr. Douglas interact with his middle school students and with the adult students we taught together in a Master of Arts in Teaching program in Richmond, VA. His story is being included in a book I am now writing (Pedagogy of Power). In both his middle school classroom and in our graduate course, he treated everyone with equal respect; naturally, everyone responded with the same respect and appreciation. We also raised the bar on the state’s standardized knowledge-based curriculum by letting our students (pre- and in-service teachers) know that we expected them to think critically about what they were being taught and apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills, such as critical thinking and writing, to their worlds outside the classroom. Almost everyone rose to our higher expectations by showing more interest and enthusiasm for what they were learning. In this way, they learned experientially—which is probably the most effective way to teach it—that it is important for them to expand their awareness and horizons and engage others in a civil dialogue about things that concern them. As such, they learned that they always had the right and now they have the skills to participate in creating solutions that help make their society and world a better place for everyone to live and pursue their dreams, which, of course, is the ultimate goal of democratic citizenship.

Your insight is critical, Mr. Schnoll, that teaching engaged democratic citizens—as opposed to easily dismissed and forcefully ruled subjects of an authoritarian regime—begins with giving and expecting mutual respect from everyone, adults and children alike. Even though we live in a democratic society and often speak about training citizens to become stewards of democracy, the need for universal respect is often overlooked not only in schools, but homes, places of work and worship, and in society in general. So, I appreciate your unadorned illustration and take your point seriously; I hope everyone else who reads Mr. Douglas’s excellent article does, too.

Jerilyn Fay Kelle, Ph.D. (Social Foundations of Education)
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 speaking voices by Jason Schnoll on February 8, 2006  * 
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