A Deliberative Theory of Education and Democracy
According to Aristotle, to “deliberate” means to “reflect on the pros and cons of ‘things that are in our control and are attainable by action (Kock and Villadsen).’” What this means is that, most simply, deliberation is argument. But as we’ve seen in our classroom discussions, nothing regarding deliberation is “simple.”
To understand “deliberation,” you must first understand why it is important. Keith argues that in this modern age, participatory democracy is coming back into style. People are starting to realize that the ideals of democracy- liberty, freedom, equality, etc. are not stacking up to the reality (Brown). Bare democracy, where people rule people and nothing else matters, is gone (Brown). Instead, democracy has become a system of government where the wealthy, the powerful, and the rich have more of a say than anyone else. An example of this is campaigning for a presidential election. The people with the most money are the ones who travel the country for speeches, pay for better advertising, and get the most media attention.
In order to become participative in the government, we people need one thing. Communication. If communication is good, decisions regarding Aristotle’s “things that are in our control and are attainable by action (Kock and Villadsen)” can be “reasonable and democratic (Keith).” But communication has to be good. That is where “deliberation” comes in. Deliberation is discussing all the reasons for and against a subject. Keith says that in order for a government to work, its citizens must deliberate with each other about political actions. He says that representatives of the people should not only be negotiators, but deliberators as well. But talking to others is not the only deliberation that should take place. In order to be participating, rhetorical citizens, people have to deliberate within themselves about political policy as well.
Public deliberation can only happen in a “public sphere (Keith).” Habermas describes a public sphere as a place where someone can have a discussion with another person that isn’t in his private sphere (his home, personal space, etc). His example is a coffee shop, in which face-to-face deliberation can happen easily. But according to Warner, deliberation isn’t just face-to-face, it can also be computer-screen-to-computer screen (Keith). Thanks to the internet, a person’s public sphere is expanded. Their sphere can now reach all over the world. This is where I’ll focus my example of a deliberation.
Let’s focus on the comments section of an online stream of a presidential debate. Assume two American citizens are arguing a point. Deliberation comes into play when they discuss something they can have an effect on, like whether or not to elect this candidate. If the two are knowledgeable on the candidate’s proposals, they can effectively argue the pros and the cons of his election. A deliberation is only a deliberation when both sides have solid evidence and good points. It becomes a childish, fight if they start picking on each other or other nonsense. After the online argument, the two citizens (and whomever was listening, another important part of communication [Keith]) can retreat into their private spheres and deliberate themselves on whether or not the candidate is worth the presidency.
While our representatives cast the vote that really matters in the presidential election, it is important that people let them know what it is they want. It is important to deliberate with these representatives to decide what is most important for the people. To effectively communicate their needs, a citizen must be well versed in deliberative theory and has to “know enough to speak on the important issues of the day (Keith). That is where a deliberative theory of education and democracy comes into play.
A deliberative theory of education and democracy is workable in the United States, but it is limited. No matter how much our citizens deliberate, we still will not be able to influence the government directly. Governing takes steps. Step one is the people, step two the representatives, step three the government itself. However, by teaching students how to deliberate and how to speak persuasively and effectively, we make sure the next generation of policy makers knows how to listen to the people. We can teach them how to think for the good of the many versus the good of the one. We can groom them into participating citizens of the great democracy that is America. Maybe we can’t influence the government directly from way down here, but we can make sure that the next people up there know to listen to us.
Our democracy will always be off-balance. But given the right skills and knowledge, we can go after those ideals it promises (Brown). By learning to deliberate, we can decide the good and the bad things that need to change to better our citizens’ lives.