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Doing Democracy: A Comparative Analysis of Pre-Service Teacher Educators in Canada and the US Dr. Paul R. Carr (NOTE: Participating in the Canadian study were : Drs. Jules Duchastel , Maryse Potvin and Gina Thésée, Université du Québec à Montréal). Context.

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Doing democracy a comparative analysis of pre service teacher educators in

DoingDemocracy: A Comparative Analysis of

Pre-Service Teacher Educators in

Canada and the US

Dr. Paul R. Carr

(NOTE: Participating in the Canadian studywere: Drs. Jules Duchastel, Maryse Potvin and Gina Thésée, Université du Québec à Montréal)


  • Neo-liberal reforms in education

  • Signs of uncritical engagement in formal education

  • Conflation of democracy and citizenship with generic educational achievement

  • Globalization

  • Social justice

  • The quest for a more meaningful and critical educational experience

     education as a public good

     the challenge to local, regional, national and international issues/problems (war, environment, poverty, oppression, famine, AIDS, trade and employment, migration, etc.)

Guiding principles
Guiding principles

  • How future educators understand, experience and perceive democracy may have an effect on how they will teach for and about democracy;

  • Ascertaining the comprehension of democracy among education students may lead to insight and reforms re: teacher education, educational policymaking, student engagement, the politics of education, etc.

  • How future educators perceive the connection between social justice and democracy may lead to a re-conceptualization of pedagogical approaches as well as the importance of identity in relation to educational achievement

Comparative analysis
Comparative analysis

  • 1) jurisdictional analysis: US-Canada; English-French; Quebec-Canada;

  • 2) disciplinary analysis: education (curriculum, pedagogy, teaching and learning)/socio-political (context, impact and implications); and

  • 3) educational policymaking (the particular approaches in diverse jurisdictions, the influence of these policies, and the relationship between policy and democratic education).

Description of samples
Description of samples

  • Both samples (US n=114; Canada n=251) are formed of largely White, 18-22 age-range, predominantly female individuals (roughly 12% in each are racial minorities)

  • Important considerations:

    • the national cultures and education-systems differ;

    • the Canadian sample is made up of French-speaking participants who form a linguistic minority in North America,

    • there are more immigrants in the Canadian sample; and

    • the US sample has unique features, such as the number of African-American participants as well as the socio-economic class of the majority of the students whereas the Montreal sample is more reflective of a large, cosmopolitan society.

Themes from the us sample
Themes from the US Sample should)0

  • Four themes emerged:

    • the particular conceptualization of democracy, with an over-riding focus on elections, seems to be narrow and weakly supported;

    • the democratic educational experience of teachers is limited, and even contrary to what could be considered a meaningful foundation to engage in debate and action;

    • the concern about teaching controversial issues, combined with the fear of being labeled doctrinaire, is a serious concern for the majority of participants; and

    • the understanding of, and linkage to, social justice is considered nebulous and problematic.

  • Concern with how education systems and teachers conceptualize the citizenship-based, lived experience of democratic education, as opposed to standardized testing and the quest for high academic achievement (--­> neoliberalism)

  • Lack of critical appreciation among participants of democracy as a philosophy, ethos, political system and cultural phenomenon, as they often associate democracy exclusively with the electoral process.

  • Limited focus on critical thinking, politics as a way of life, power-sharing, the decision-making process, the role of the media, alternative systems, and social responsibility as part of what could be considered thick democracy.

Themes from the us sample1
Themes from the US sample should)0

  • The nebulous linkage between democracy and social justice (overriding fear of bias, values-dissemination and indoctrination)

  • The meaning of political literacy within the context of democracy in education, is therefore, a fundamental concern.

  • Civic engagement is understood in relatively narrow terms, concentrated within a specific class/course or associated with elections.

  • The critical area of social justice, especially in relation to race and poverty, is not fully supported as an integral part of the teaching about/for democracy.

  • Some significant differences between African-American and White participants re: place and significance of social justice.

  • Almost all of the participants focus on elections as the pivotal underpinning to democracy.

  • Almost all participants-- although extremely supportive of democracy in the US-- are dissatisfied with a number of aspects associated with US democracy (i.e., elections, issues raised, elected officials).

  • US democracy is often considered to be a model, far preferable to what exists in other systems/countries; however, there does not appear to be a strong understanding of how democracy functions elsewhere.

Conceptualization of democracy
Conceptualization of democracy should)0

  • Conceptualization of democracy as "freedom" and the "right to choose," with a primary focus on elections, which many believed correlated with a high level of democracy. ____________________________________________________________

    "We live in a democratic society! We elect the officials we want and have a chance to make our opinions known" (22/U/M/O/1)

    "for the most part we are able to vote on all issues that affect our lives and others. We vote people into office that share our concerns and beliefs" (38/U/F/W/1).

    "It's (Democracy) what the US was founded on, and is still active this way today" (64/U/F/W/1)

    "Democracy is the basis from which our country runs. It is the structure that allows and guarantees freedom" (31/U/F/W/1)

    "We hold elections and trials in this country which remain for the most part un-biased and geared towards upholding our nation's specific beliefs" (35/U/M/W/1)

Conceptualization of democracy1
Conceptualization of democracy should)0

  • A primary consideration for participants in relation to their engagement in democracy is the centrality of voting


    "I vote but do not actively participate" (11/U/F/W/1)

    "I vote and do some stuff like that but I'm not very engaged" (31/U/F/W/1)

    "Sometimes I vote, but I pay very little attention to politics" (86/U/M/W/3)

    "The only time I am engaged in democracy is when I vote on Election Day. Other than that day, I don't pay much attention to politics" (74/U/M/W/1)

Conceptualization of democracy2
Conceptualization of democracy should)0

  • The conflation of the concept of democracy raises concerns about how people participate in society in the plethora of activities, decisions and manifestations that define the socio-economic, cultural and political fiber of the nation.

  • Many respondents openly admitted that they were apathetic about "politics", and that they were neither interested in nor invited into democracy participation.


    "I don't really know what being actively engaged would include" (12/G/F/W/2)

    "I am not involved with any public issues for or against" (13/G/F/A/5)

    "I could be more active by voicing my concerns, but I don't have time for that" (17/U/F/W/1) `

    "I watch news but never really pay attention" (37/U/F/W/1)

    "Got my own problems out here, work, school, bills, etc." (68/U/M/A/2)

Conceptualization of democracy3
Conceptualization of democracy should)0

  • While respondents were often critical of the level and texture of American democracy, a small number pointed to the perceived lack of democracy elsewhere as proof that the US is decidedly more democratic and even superior than other nation-states.


    "There are many opportunities provided to people (in the US) because of our rights and freedoms, whereas other countries do not have such opportunities" (33/U/F/W/1)

    "We vote, not a dictatorship" (102/U/F/W/1)

    "Democracy is what made this country so great and outlast our former fellow super power the USSR. Let's keep promoting it" (18/U/M/W/1)

    "Most democratic and free country in the world. If you don't break the law then you are free to do just about anything you wanted" (70/U/M/W/1)

Democratic educational experience
Democratic educational experience should)0

  • Some participants admitted to not seeing a link between education and democracy, often referring to their discipline as being disconnected from teaching democracy


    "I am a math (science) major" (46/U/F/W/1)

    "I'm going into gym" (51/U/M/W/1)

    "Truthfully, I would be more concerned w/ teaching standards" (5/G/M/W/4)

    "As a music education major, citizenship is not a subject in my curriculum" (42/U/F/W/1)

Democratic educational experience1
Democratic educational experience should)0

  • A decidedly negative experience in school for many participants, some ridiculing the notion that democracy was part of the mandate of the institutions in which they were educated


    "I remember high school 'government' and history classes as being somewhat of a joke. the teachers 'taught', the students 'learned' and dialogue was pretty much non-existent" (124/U/F/W/5)

    "I went to 2 high schools that never talked about the government and even in my social studies classes" (114/U/F/W/1)

    "Hell no, went to a city school; football there had an impact on democracy for me" (68/U/M/A/2)

    "I didn't fall into the crowd" (16/U/M/W/1)

Democratic educational experience2
Democratic educational experience should)0

  • Another prevalent comment about democracy in education was that the teacher is not democratic


    "There is no fairness in the classroom; with the teachers, they expect African-Americans to do poorly; they don't challenge us in advanced courses" (13/G/F/A/5)

    "The students do not govern the classroom; the teacher is the dictator. The students do not vote for the teacher; the teacher is appointed" (18/U/M/W/1)

    "In fact, it was an essentialist environment where teachers and administrators were more like dictators than those of today. Students had no input into education; it was a set curriculum determined entirely by the school bureaucracy" (124/U/F/W/1)

Democratic educational experience3
Democratic educational experience should)0

  • Fewer respondents had an unequivocally positive democratic experience in education


    "My school was full of supportive and outspoken people that helped to acquaint me with politics" (1/U/F/W/1)

    "I began thinking for myself in high school and realized for the first time that the things I agreed with were really my thoughts, not my parents" (19U/F/W/1)

    "My teachers taught me to be open minded and ask questions, especially when it comes to government" (22/U/M/O/1)

Democratic educational experience4
Democratic educational experience should)0

  • A large part of this positive experience can be attributed to a single "government" class in which students were exposed to some of the formal workings of democracy


    "My last class in high school was government and I think this was the most effective" (43/U/F/W/1)

    "my government class opened my eyes to it" (15/U/F/W/1)

    "My senior year government class really had an impact on my thinking of democracy because it made me more knowledgeable" (89/U/F/W/1)

    "The mandatory gov't class for seniors teaches a great deal about citizenship and almost everyone knows a lot more when they leave than when they entered" (18U/M/W/1)

Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy
Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy should)0

  • When talking about democracy, some participants, again, emphasized that schools and teachers should be focused universally on the electoral process and voting


    "Getting kids to vote is a big thing" (68/U/M/A/2)

    "Voting is the key" (66/U/M/W/1)

    "my senior class was encouraged to vote as well as (be) informed on current issues allowing interest to be taken. We were also provided with voting registration forms by our teacher" (67/U/F/W/1)

    "Yes, (teaching democracy is important) by presenting information about all election issues and showing examples of how federal issues affect us on a personal level" (42/U/F/W/1)

Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy1
Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy should)0

  • Participants in favor of teaching democracy pointed out that they are, and should be, positive role models.


    "Absolutely! Teachers should emulate democracy and reflect a positive role model of the democratic process" (8/G/M/W/5)

    "I want the kids I teach to be instilled with the morals and beliefs that keep our great nation sustained" (35/U/M/W/1)

    "We as teachers must show that it is through dialogue that we reach agreement and air our opinions. Everyone's opinion is important-the teachers' as well as the students'" (124/U/F/W/5)

    "They should because it is important and yes, teachers are capable of establishing democratic values in students" (90/U/F/W/2)

Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy2
Concern about teaching controversial issues and democracy should)0

  • An important proviso to any attempt to broach the notion of teaching democracy, according to a large number of participants, is the concern about imparting values and indoctrination.


    "I believe that values are important to teach as long as the teacher does not try to indoctrinate the student" (3/G/M/W/4)

    "They should teach students their rights, but not instill this ‘sense of democracy’ to the point where the students are indoctrinated" (11/U/F/W/1)

    "No, because when they try to do so their political views come out" (25/U/F/W/1)

    "I think teachers should inform their students but need to be careful not to pursue any answers" (84/U/F/W/1)

    "Teachers should never be allowed to (present) information to their students about choosing democracy over anything else. A student should have their own right as to which party they would be a part of" (74/U/M/W/1)

Democracy and social justice
Democracy and social justice should)0

  • For some participants, understanding racism is critical to democracy


    "Racism is a significant plague to democracy" (3/G/M/W/4)

    "A racist society is not fully democratic. Sadly, I believe the U.S. is a racist society" (9/G/F/O/4)

    "I feel we will have a female president before a black one" (47/U/M/W/1)

    "It's sad to me that people still judge each other on appearance, but I cannot deny it still goes on. If racism didn't impact democracy then why have we not had an ethnic president?" (71/U/F/W/2)

Democracy and social justice1
Democracy and social justice should)0

  • An interesting connection to systemic inequities, especially in relation to social class, was made by a number of participants. The understanding of privilege based on class, as opposed to race, is evidenced through comments such as:


    "Rich people seem to always have more than poor people when it comes to politics and rights" (17U/F/W/1)

    "The more important or even 'rich' a person is, they can get away with more things than an average person would" (35/U/M/W/1)

    "Those who have power and influence -and 'know people'- can usually achieve things others cannot. Getting out of trouble, favors, etc." (43/U/F/W/1)

    "I still believe that in our society it does make a difference where you come from and who your parents are, it's hard to be a minority with the same right as a respectful figure" (44/U/F/W/2)

Democracy and social justice2
Democracy and social justice should)0

  • Another layer of responses questioned the reality of racism in the US, arguing that equal rights are the foundation of the nation. White participants noted that:


    "I don't see how it (racism) affects democracy" (20/U/F/W/1)

    "Why would racism be an issue in democracy nowadays?" (26/U/M/W/1)

    "Race doesn't matter, everyone is equal" (102/U/F/W/1)

    "Racism is only an important issue if someone makes it one. In the end, votes have no color" (126/U/F/W/1)

    "It shouldn't be an issue. An American citizen is an American citizen. Americans of all races should take advantage of our democracy" (19U/F/W/1)

Theme 1 power of the people with an emphasis on government
Theme 1: themesPower of the people, with an emphasis on government

  • Many spoke of political system that exercises decision-making power and “sovereignty”.

    • (216-F-1-Q-W-C) “For me, democracy involves an organization where decision-making power (sovereignty) belongs to each person or the collective (of citizens, of a people, of a class…)”;

    • (130-F-1-Q-W-C) “For me, democracy is a political regime in which the people exercise their sovereignty themselves, where they hold a certain power to make decisions”.

  • No reference to Constitution in Canadian sample (string in US study)

  • Sovereignty holds a special significance for the French-language group

    • could indicate some reference to the sovereignist movement in Quebec

    • or to a more collectivist notion of governance

    • US sample more replete with affirmations of individualism as a presumably logical counter-balance to government.

Theme 2 participation of people especially through voting
Theme 2: themesParticipation of people, especially through voting

  • Participants reiterated the mainstream belief that:

    • “Democracy is one person=one vote. Each citizen has the right and the responsibility to vote” (24-F-1-Q-W-C)

    • “Power is in the hands of the hands of the citizen who exercises his/her right to vote on the services, organizations, rules concerning the direction of his/her country”. (2-F-1-Q-W-C)

  • Although voting was certainly a strong and relevant factor in defining democracy for the Canadian sample, it was not mentioned as frequently or with as much force as it was in the American study, where voting was often construed to equate, as in the comment above by participant 24, the totality of democracy.

Doing democracy a comparative analysis of pre service teacher educators in

Theme 3: Voting for representatives represents themes


  • The Canadian sample, like the American one, emphasized that voting for representatives, who carry out tasks of a democracy, is key to democracy.

    • (53-M-1-Q-W-C) “Democracy is a political system in which all individuals of age in a society, through voting, relegate freely the political power to a person or a group a specific mandate”

    • “Democracy is the possibility to vote for candidates. These candidates should be able to speak on our behalf in the legislative assembly” (64-F-2-Q-W-C)

  • Interesting to note how many participants also hold negative views of these representatives (the term/word “politician” is a pejorative term in some circles).

  • Reference to voting is perhaps emblematic of the normative ways that democracy is portrayed in mainstream media.

  • It also raises questions about how education-students learn about, and are engaged in, democracy throughout their education.

Theme 4 liberty especially freedom of expression
Theme 4: Liberty, especially freedom of themes expression

  • A common refrain expressed in this study is the general notion that:

    • “democracy is about freedom of expression” (211-M-1-Q-W-C),

    • “democracy is freedom of expression. It allows everyone to have an opinion on what is best for themselves and others.” (171-F-1-Q-W-C)

  • This theme was equally highlighted by the US sample, and echoes a common sentiment enunciated by political elites.

  • While noting that the principle of freedom of expression or other types of freedoms was integral, a critical assessment of how these freedoms are constituted or manifested themselves was not as evident.

  • As in the American sample, it is important to problematize such statements to determine their non-neutral and highly political connotations. For example, do all people have the same freedoms, the same access to power, the same ability to influence public debate, and the same interest in achieving social justice?

Theme 5 majority rule is the key principle in democracy
Theme 5: Majority rule is the key principle in themes democracy

  • The contention that majority rule constitutes democracy was prevalent in both studies.

    • “(Democracy) is a political system that is based on majority rule” (56-M-4-Q CA-VM-Car)

    • “Democracy can be translated into the will of the majority population in relation to laws and political decisions” (102-M-1-Q-W-C).

  • More prevalent in the US sample; given the reality and sanctity of minority rights in Canada, this contention leads to many questions.

  • For example, who is the minority?

    • the French-speaking Quebecois within the Canadian context?, or

    • ethnocultural and racial minorities within the Quebecois context?

  • How are minorities protected if it is up to the majority to decide what laws will be passed (for example, in relation to protection for gays and lesbians, against racism, for equal rights for persons with disabilities, etc.)?

Theme 6 democracy is better system than what exists elsewhere
Theme 6: themesDemocracy is better system than what exists elsewhere

  • A few participants noted that Canada was democratic because other countries are not  normative value of democracy.

    • (181-F-2-Q-W-C) commented that “We are lucky to be in a democratic country because some countries in the world are not”

    • (36-F-1-Q-W-C) “Despite the shortcomings in our system, we are quite developed compared to totalitarian systems that some countries unfortunately have”.

  • US study: participants had not, generally, studied or experienced other systems; little evidence provided to justify this statement.

  • Issue of what students learn and should learn about diverse contexts, and also the normative values without critical assessment.

  • How do we substantiate the contention that North America is more democratic for those who have been marginalized (i.e., Aboriginal peoples)?

Theme 7 critical perspectives on democracy
Theme 7: themesCritical perspectives on democracy

  • A few participants underscored their critique of democracy:

    • “lack of participation” (48-F-2-Q-W-C); the need for citizens to have access to “pertinent information in order to be able to take an enlightened position” (13-F-2-Q-W-C)

    • “democratic principle has disappeared for some time because of manipulation by elites” (35-F-1-Q-W-C); “it’s anarchy… The present democracy is far from being the power of the people, by and for the people” (138-F-1-Q-W-C)

    • economic inequities: “democracy reposes on human rights – an oppressed people, constrained, cannot have access to democracy” (187-F-1-Q-W-C);

    • democracy is a utopian and abstract concept: “democracy is a policy that seeks equality for all citizens but, in reality, it is a representative of an ideal model because the true democracy does not exist” (31-F-1-Q-VM-LA); and “the vision of democracy is abstract…. Our vision of democracy is that which one wishes to see, that of the West; a North-American democracy” (61-M-1-Q-W-C).

  • These critical comments were even sparser in the American sample.

Analysis themes

  • Cook and Westheimer (2006): “If people are not born democrats, then education surely has a significant role to play in ensuring that democrats are made” (p. 348).

  • Findings reinforce notion that democracy is not, nor should it be, a static, fixed objective.

  • For democracy to exist, it must be continually messaged, questioned and, especially, experienced.

  • Weak appreciation for education as key aspect in democracy, combined with the importance of social justice, underscores sentiment that future educators may not be experiencing a strong, or “thick”, democratic educational experience throughout their education.

Analysis themes

  • The commonality of the North American experience can be explained, in part, by the prevalence of neo-liberal policies and realities that broadly affect youth, students and educators on both sides of the border.

  • Research supports the introduction of a critical pedagogical approach in education to better prepare future educators for the challenge of engaging students in the classroom AND also to frame their experiences so as be able to confront diverse political realities themselves.

  • Re: Freire’s work, education is a political project; avoiding embracing such a notion will diminish the educational and democratic experience for students

    political literacy

  • In an increasingly multicultural society, it is important to problematize the meaning of ethnocultural pluralism within a context of democratic education.

Analysis themes

  • What are the implications for society if critical, democratic engagement (a “thicker” interpretation of democracy) is not the focus of public education?

  • Why are participants reluctant to critically deconstruct and assess the merits of democracy, or why do they more freely and seemingly instinctively conceptualize democracy in a more formal sense of electoral processes and formal representation?

  • Incorporating a vision, a curriculum, a pedagogy, a policy framework and an institutional culture conducive to cultivating political literacy and social justice in education can assist in establishing a more accountable, democratic educational system and experience for all students.

Framework for democratic education
Framework for democratic education themes

a. Educational curricula

  • what is explicitly asked of teachers and students through curriculum and other policy documents re: democracy, citizenship, social justice?

  • who is involved in developing the formal and informal curricula?

  • how can the myth of social studies being the only area to explore politics best be approached and rectified?

    b. Teacher preparation

  • how are educators prepared to understand and interact with democracy?

  • what type of on-going support is provided to teachers to undertake critical work?

  • how are educators evaluated to ensure that they are able to effectively engage in democracy?

  • Institutional culture

  • how do educational systems support, cultivate and demonstrate leadership in relation to democracy in education?

  • what is, and should be, done to encourage a culture of democracy in schools?

  • how are macro issues defined, articulated and funded, and what is the linkage to social justice within the institutional culture of educational systems?

Framework for democratic education1
Framework for democratic education themes

d. Accountability

  • what leadership measures are in place to ensure that democratic policies, practices and outcomes are in place?

  • how are academic standards connected to democracy, citizenship and social justice?

  • how are decisionmaking processes evaluated to ensure that social justice will be a functional reality in addition to written policy directives?

    e. Civic engagement

  • how should students become engaged with democracy at school?

  • what should be done to forge a stronger linkage between citizens/ communities and international issues?

  • how should the formal curriculum recognize the importance of civic engagement?

    f. Political education

  • how can controversial issues be addressed in education without the fear of being labeled anti-patriotic?

  • what can be done to introduce students to the complexity of politics, especially outside of the electoral process?

  • what strategies, measures, activities and experiences should be infused into the formal and informal educational experience in order to support and infuse political education and political literacy into schools?

Doing democracy a comparative analysis of pre service teacher educators in

Merci themes


Thank You