The Democratic Education of Amy Guttmann: An Overview of a Democratic Education

Last Updated: 17 May 2023
Essay type: Definition Essay
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In the first chapter of Amy Guttmann's Democratic Education, she begins to outline what a democratic education means. Democratic education, according to Guttmann, is a vast ideal that encapsulates a number of different aspects pertaining to the success of students, as well as their futures. Students who are currently in school, learning to become successful citizens need to rely on parents, professional educators, and governmental authority in order to become democratic deliberators. In parallel to this, parents, professional educators, and governmental authority need to learn to teach students and bring them up to these standards.

In response to this, asking what kind of people these educators should be, Guttmann says: "...the most common articulated answer is relativistic. 'The citizens of a state should always be educated to suit the constitution of their state,' Aristotle argued. "The laws of education much be relative to the principles of government,' Montesquieu agreed, as did Durkheim and several more contemporary social theorists" (Guttmann, 19). This makes it clear that the educators have no explicit, stringent standards; rather, they have to mold their ways of educating in order to cater to the needs of the future adult citizens of their respective democracies. Democratic education essentially summarizes the way to teach, using many different theories, states of teaching, states of education, and beyond.

Guttmann very clearly outlines four different ways of thinking within education. State of Families, State of Individuals, Family State and Democratic State are the four states she has theories about, and these will extend throughout her entire supposition. Within the classroom, these four can be overtly noticed by means of undemanding observation. For example, within Westerville South High School, there is a numerous amount of indications of each state. The first, and most conspicuous one being the democratic state.

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Aside from the fact that this is the most beneficial state, this state has the most advantageous qualities. Noticing during parent teacher conferences that the few parents that I did interact with all gave teachers proper authority, while maintaining their own moral standards. In the book, Guttmann states with great clarity that part of the essence of a democratic state possesses the idea that "Cultivating character is a legitimate-indeed, an inevitable-function of education" (Guttmann, 41). During one of the parent teacher conferences I attended, one of the student's mother was concerned with his actions in regard to another student. There was a bullying situation happening, and the mother of this particular student spoke about her advice given to her son.

She brought up that she encouraged him to be on his best behavior, but in addition to this, that he will always encounter mean people and to give his best shot at ignoring the bully in this circumstance. This mother, encouraging her son to the best of her ability, only wanted the best for him. However, she made it clear that he had to put effort forth in order for him to overcome this argument. This issue, between two freshman boys, directly aligns with what Guttmann says about cultivating character. Another parent, the parent of a student who was young for her grade, said something along the lines of "Do whatever it takes to make my student successful." And I think this is a classic example of the parent's roles in democratic education.

Parents must trust the professional authority of teachers in order for students to become effective citizens. As Guttmann states: "Unlike a state of families, a democratic state recognizes the value of professional authority in enabling children to appreciate and to evaluate ways of life other than those favored by their families" (Guttmann 42). This comprehensibly displays the ideal that parents, within a democratic state of education, need to have a reliance on the teacher's professional ability. This particular parent sees the necessity for a teacher to actually teach this child, not just have the parents be the only people responsible for conscious social reproduction.

Within the realm of different states of education, there are four theories that Guttmann states. There is The Family State, The State of Families, State of Individuals, and Democratic State. The democratic state, aforementioned above, is the ideal state in Guttmann's mind. However, when compared to the State of Families, we see that Guttmann makes apparent what is so satisfactory about the Democratic State.

The State of Families is a state in which parental authority trumps professional or governmental authority. This is quite controversial due to the inherent contentious nature of the morale that parents possess. In Westerville South High School, the State of Families is not as apparent as the democratic state, but there is still some appearances of parental involvement. Parental involvement becomes less and less as students get older, which is why I think this is the case.

Democratic education makes a lot of logical sense. The ideas behind it are solid; the theory itself is nearly impenetrable. An argument against it might be the lack of involvement of parents could be very difficult to manage at times. Not all parents are able to be a part of student's lives, and some parents choose not to be a part of their children's lives. Guttmann thinks that the only way for this state to work is proper moral education from parents, not just teachers. All in all, however, democratic education as a theory holds to be sound within a school setting.

Democratic education brings together a healthy balance of all four states, while maintaining a rigorous and stringent thinking pattern for sustaining future careers and citizen's future. The way this happens is through the idea of "conscious social reproduction," or the idea that we should be making informed choices in how the future citizens of our society will learn, and what they will become. "The broad distribution of educational authority among citizens, parents, and professional educators supports the core value of democracy: conscious social reproduction in its most inclusive form" (Guttmann 42). This is the quintessential idea of democratic education- educating consciously, among all prospects, to make successful futures for students. This cannot be done with only teachers, or only parents, or only educational authority figures. It must be broadly distributed, as Guttmann states.

Democratic education surrounds a few ideas that hold true to be successful within the classroom. For example, when parents are involved in the classroom, students generally will be more respectful to the teacher. The reason behind this is that students who see their parents respecting the teacher will also want to respect the teacher. It is a common social law. If those close to you respect someone, you will most likely at least act like you respect them. Parents who respect the authority of the classroom can inspire students to do the same.

Students who see other adults besides their teacher acting and helping to cultivate a community of trust, responsibility and an admiration of learning, will most likely benefit from this parental involvement. Additionally, if students are only learning from their teachers, nobody else, this might also fail as an educational way of learning. Students will not benefit if they cannot critically think about current issues, issues within their own family, and exceeding just these issues. Students will need to be able to question what they believe, what their parents believe, and what schools are teaching. Say there are no questions from the students while they are being taught.

Henceforth, creating a utopia, which is inherently dysfunctional. When students are being fed information from one source, and not having an outlet to discuss or hear new viewpoints about that topic or source of information, they will become backed up with too much "fact" rather than questioning the facts given to them. This creates a mindset of mistrust and a myriad of students with one-track-minds. This is not healthy or beneficial to anyone. Rather, this sort of education would create robots who just state facts above all else. Democratic education, while not being inherently strict, does have an explicit set of thinking patterns. I believe what Guttmann is trying to convey is that democratic education is not a curriculum, rather, it shows us how to teach that curriculum, simultaneously holding true to certain morals and beliefs.

Furthermore, students need a democratic education to become proper, functioning citizens who are able to debate, think critically and operate as such. I think that democratic education has its faults, but all in all, this theory should be attempted to be achieved by all educational systems that wish to function as schools that cultivate democratic learners, debaters and proper citizens.

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The Democratic Education of Amy Guttmann: An Overview of a Democratic Education. (2023, May 17). Retrieved from

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