HURSH, David W.; ROSS, E. Wayne. Eds. Democratic Social Education: Social Studies for Social Change. New York: Falmer Press, 2000. 263p. Resenha de: BRADLEY, Jon G. Bradley Canadian Social Studies, v.38, n.2, p., 2004.
Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a familiar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of human nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth, and family, of material or cultural wealth. This faith may be enacted in statutes, but it is only on paper unless it is put in force in the attitudes which human beings display to one another in all the incidents and relations of daily life (Dewey, 1940, p. 226).
Democratic Social Education: Social Studies for Social Change is the third volume to be released within the Garland Reference Library of Social Science series. This is a timely publication, not only in that it nicely balances the first two books that dealt with the dramatic arts and art education, but more importantly in that the whole issue of democratic/citizenship education is coming to the fore in many differing and varied societies. Taking their cue from George S. Counts’ (1932) professional admonishment to educators to develop a new democratic society within a new social order, Hursh and Ross have compiled an extremely interesting array of articles that attempt to rise to this long-ago issued challenge.
The authors clearly note that they feel that Counts’ seventy-year old challenge still needs to be met, albeit within a revised world framework that takes into account the modern realities that currently confront the educational landscape. Additionally, they state the essays in this collection respond to Counts’ question with theoretical analyses of education and society, historical analyses of efforts since Counts’ challenge, and practical analyses of classroom pedagogy and school organization (p. 1).
Without wishing to wander too far from the centrality of this book review, it is necessary to take a small side step in order to quickly review Counts’ 1932 tome. Readers are asked to bear in mind that the Great Depression was in full swing and that both Europe and Asia were experiencing the rise of various forms of autocratic regimes. It is within this somewhat unsettling world situation that Counts issued his famous educational challenge.
For those of us who have an interest in the history of philosophical ideas, George Sylvester Counts can be ranked along with John Dewey, Charles Beard and Harold Rugg (to name but a few) as notable and vocal American philosophers who were actively engaged in confronting the realities that [North] America was experiencing during this time frame. To some, the collective and empowering ideals of socialism were an attractive carrot that appeared to mute the harshness of the loss of individuality promulgated by other more strident forms of governmental control.
In many ways, Dare the School Build a New Social Order? is a timeless document. Counts opens his epistle by noting that we are convinced that education is the one unfailing remedy for every ill to which man is subject (page 3). While his views must be tempered by his times and his own heritage, Counts nonetheless raises some of the age-old issues that surround the place and purpose of public education within a democratic society. He criticizes, to be sure, but also holds out the hope that it is this general education adventure which will eventually triumph and permit democracies to overcome, not only current ills, but to potentially make the future a better place for all citizens. In particular, Counts notes that it is the classroom teacher (see particularly pages 27 – 31) that might well wield the most significant power and influence such that meaningful societal transformations might occur.
Hursh and Ross recognize that Counts’ long-forgotten call to teachers to become meaningful agents of social change still resonates today. While the historical times of the mid-thirties are clearly not applicable to the beginning of the twenty-first century, some of the same general ailments still persist. The call for teachers to become democratic leaders within their own small communities drives this volume and provides, at the same time, a framework upon which to construct an active (or, to use Counts’ phrase ‘progressive’) model of education.
The fourteen chapters that make up Democratic Social Education offer the reader a wide-ranging overview of contemporary views. While the Hursh and Ross opening chapter is a tad staid and preachy in its introductory comments, and although this is too often the case with overview chapters, this reviewer was nonetheless captivated by the remaining entries. The following thirteen offerings are wonderfully varied and stimulating intellectual forays into the domain. One grounding feature that resonates time and time again, regardless of individual chapter author or topic, is the centrality of the classroom practitioner to affect and effect change. Honouring Counts, the individual authors have each in their own diverse way placed teachers and teaching at the core of the landscape. They have anchored this social democratic process solidly within the contemporary realities of the classroom.
The editors are to be congratulated for allowing all of the contributors to authenticate the voice of elementary and secondary teachers. After all, it is in the privacy of individual classrooms that great things are wrought and it was to individual practitioners that Counts issued his seminal challenge. Hursh and Ross have compiled a scintillating collection of material that must be read by anyone who has even the most passing interest in citizenship education within a democratic framework.
Counts, G. S. (1932). Dare the School Build a New Social Order? New York: The John Day Company.
Dewey, J. (1940/1991). Creative Democracy – The Task Before Us. In J. A. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925-1953, Volume 14 (pp. 224-30). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
John G. Bradley – Faculty of Education. McGill University. Montreal, Quebec.