unlocking research series

Democratic Education

Professor David Runciman, Professor of Politics at Cambridge University, argues that democracy is stuck. In 2018, he controversially argued that to provide the necessary ‘jolt of energy’ needed in democracies, six year old children should be given the vote:

“When democracies get stuck, historically the way out has been enfranchising people who haven’t got the vote, whether it’s the poor … minorities [or] women. There is a significant section of the population who don’t have the vote, who just about potentially could. I don’t think it is a particularly dangerous idea …The more I’ve thought about it the more I’m comfortable with defending it, even though it was clearly an idea that is somewhere on the fringes of what people think makes political sense.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/13/cambridge-academic-defends-idea-of-giving-children-the-vote

His view, and from an educational field, the view of Jean Rudduck, Julia Flutter, David McIntyre, Michael Fielding and many others, is that children already have voices: they have ideas, they make sense of their world as they live it, they can contribute to changes, they can make decisions, they can think about the futures they want to create and they can disagree/agree/argue/resolve the matters that arise in their local and global world – Greta Thunberg is their heroine of the day. She did not need to find her voice. She just needed to be heard.

And yet, the system doesn’t quite silence but does mute the full chorus of children’s voices: limiting their opportunities to be heard, listened to and enacted upon. There is a nod to creating the semblance of democracy in schools – school councils, school ambassadors, school assemblies, children on recruitment panels to list a few – but in this book we journey back into the vast ocean of literature to find forgotten gems, new nuggets of ‘voice projecting’ opportunities and undiscovered lost cities and return to build firmer foundations for democracy in education, and unleashing the huge potential of hearing children’s voices.

John Dewey, the arguable godfather of Democratic Education, commended to educators the vital responsibility to provide spaces and opportunities for children of all ages to engage in their worlds through democratic ethic, processes, and relationships. And the world that will soon return from the battle of the 2020 pandemic, Covid-19, will require of us a new approach to finding opportunities for children to author their experiences and speak their ideas. This book contributes examples from across the globe, to evidence how schools have created the conditions for democracy and empowered children’s voice and agency as central tenets of their work. The books will also include children writing about their schools, experiences and learning lives – so that we do not fall into the trap of adults who write about ‘children’s voices’ without hearing their voices or including their voices explicitly in the text; these parts of the chapters will be engaging vignettes demonstrating the diversities in the chorus.