Tag Archives: Education

Organizing my Thoughts over the Last Year on Education Reform

Recently I’ve become fascinated by education reform, and in the past year (And especially the last month) I’ve written on different aspects of the subject. I did this in two general periods, a pre-systematic period (actually beginning with the very first post I made, “US Public Schools — Still Terrible” from early December 2004) and continuing thru “How Science Works” (from mid-december 2011). In the comments to that post, Mark Safranski of ZenPundit made this comment on Christmas Eve:

The corporations involved in marketing to public education entities, including testing companies, are not run by scientists and are not doing “science’. That’s not their objective.

There are companies that make (and/or administer) very high quality tests in psychometric terms in which you can have confidence that the results are valid and reliable. And then there are companies that offer testing products that…well….do not meet this standard but have the attraction of being markedly cheaper to purchase and can be administered by anyone off of the street or have students self-administer via computer.

If these much lower quality tests are used as a rough “snapshot” of academic performance as a guide to adjust instruction or direct remediation resources, that’s somewhat useful if re-testing is part of the process. To make any life-altering decisions about students or teachers on the basis of the results of one of these substandard tests is unethical and invalid.

And then at the bottom there are testing products at the level of which the State of Illinois was recently forced to term “catastrophic vendor failure” on forms submitted to the Federal Department of Education. Psychometric quality was not part of test selection criteria under tGov. Blagojevich’s ISBE.

*Who* gets to decides what test is used is a key decision; as is *how* the test results will be used, but low quality tests used for purposes for which they are not designed will discredit the process

which forced me to take the structure of education reform more seriously. ON Christmas Day I wrote “Major Political Actors,” which began my process of seriously thinking about why education reform is so hard. Generally, my thoughts have clusered in several major categories: xGW Theory, Dimensions of Force, Central Actors, Labor Relations, and of course the pre-systematic stuff I wrote in the preceeding seven years.

In the Context of xGW Theory

In the Context of Dimensions of Force

In the Context of Central Actors

In the Context of Labor Relations

In the Context of Education

Pre-Systematic Articles

Classroom Democracy, Part V: Bibliography

I was going through some papers and posts, preparing for the next installment of The Wary Guerrilla, when I realized I had not posted a bibliography for my Classroom Democracy series. Throughout the series I cite chapters and journal articles but never state where I got them from. Thus, without further ado, my long occulted sources:

Bruning, R. (1995). The College Classroom from the Perspective of Cognitive Psychology. Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications.

Dawson, J.D. (1996) Relations of mutual trust and objects of common interest. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 44-53).

Halonen, J.S. (2002). Classroom presence. In S. Davis & W.Buskist (Eds.). The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of William J. McKeachie and Charles Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (pp. 41-55).

Ley, K. and Young, D. (1998). Self-Regulation Behaviors in Underprepared (Developmental) and Regular Admission College Students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1998, Vol. 23, 42-64.

Roth, J.K. (1996). What teaching teaches me: How the Holocaust informs my philosophy of education. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 199-210).

Royse, D. (2001). The mental groundwork. In D. Royse (Ed.). Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors: A Practical Guide. Needham Heights, MA.: Allyn & Bacon. (pp. 1-24).

Ruiz, T.F.(1996). Teaching as subversion. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.(pp. 158-165).

Smith, K. (2006). “Representational Altruism: The Wary Cooperator as Authoritative Decision Maker,” American Journal of Political Science, October 2006, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp 1013-1022.

Smith, K. et al. (2004). Evolutionary Theory and Political Leadership: Why Certain People Do Not Trust Decision-Makers. Presented at the 2004 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, 2004, 1-42.


Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Student Differences and Deliberative Learning

Because of maddening and infuriating problems with my blog hosting service, a comment I wrote to Mark of ZenPundit did not go through. Mark had a question on deliberative learning over at my series, Classrooms Evolved, and as Mark was kind enough to link to those posts, I do not feel good letting him wait until blogspirit gets its act together. (That could, literally, take forever.)

My reply is below:

I’ve tried classroom democracy on community college students, gene. ed students in a survey course, and political science / international studies students in an introductory course. I think all three of these tries went better than a piagetian attempt or lecture-based attempts.

Students differed on motivation. Community college students and major students tended towards mastery orientation, with the major students taking the democracy itself as a system to master while community college students used it to help them master their technical skill. Thus the major students devised and implemented clever alternatives to the sort of democracy I layed out, while the community college students used it as a way to select tutors who would help other students in exchange for reduced assignments.

Gen. ed. students were generally performance oriented. Several times there were “coups” with a President or Prime Minister declaring his term extended — students were focused mostly on grades and so such coups were popular (as they provided more continuity than elections in course structure).

Thus the directional nature of the classroom I describe in this series. I expect that by embedding the democracy within a curriculum you would have a more durable system for gen. ed. students, while still allowing major students the ability to play with the system if they want to.

I plan on handing out an edited version of this philosophy to students on the first day next semester. This system is designed for practical implementation.

Phil’s question over at “Open Thread” is also still hanging, but Catholicgauze and Sean seem to have that covered. (I don’t have the original text of my comment anymore, so I hope it stops being AWOL soon!)

Learning Evolved, Part IV: Bibliography

The last part of this series is for future reference, and for you to verify the sources I have used. The format is more-or-less APA style, but I make no claims for stylistic competence.

The A’s:

Alford, J. & Hibbing, J. (2004) .The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior. Perspectives on Politics, 2(4), 707-723
Alford, J., Funk, C., & Hibbing, J. (2005) Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99(2), 154-168.
Alford, J., & Hibbing, J. (2006). The Neural Basis of Representative Democracy. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.

The B’s through Z’s are below the fold:


Barker, L. (2002). Teaching the Learning Course: Philosophy and Methods, in The Teaching of Psychology: Essays in Honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer, 379-393.
Biggs, John (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Philadelphia, PA; Open University Press.
Bower, B. (2006). The Bias Finders: A Test of Unconscious Attitudes Polarizes Psychologists. Science News, 169(16), 250.
Boyd, R., Gintis, H., Bowles, S., & Richardson, P. (2003) “The Evolution of Altruistic Punishment,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 18 March 2003, 100(4), 3531-3535.
Bruning, R. (1995). The College Classroom from the Perspective of Cognitive Psychology. Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications.
Buller, D.J. (2005). Adapting Minds. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.
Camerer, C., Loewenstein, G., and Prelec, D. (2005). Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics. Journal of Economic Literature, 43(1), 9-64.
Carmen, I. (2006). Genetic Configurations of Political Phenomena: New Theories, New Methods. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Capsi, A., et al. (2003). Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene. Science. Vol. 301 No. 5631 pp. 386-289.
Chemers, M., Hu, L., & Garcia, B. (2001). Academic Self-Efficacy and First-Year College Student Performance and Adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 55-64.
Cooper-Clark, D.(1996). A story waiting to be told: Narratives of teaching, scholarship, and theory. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 166-175).
Crawford, M. (2006). The Schizophrenic Symptom of Flat Affect. kuro5hin, Online: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2006/8/15/35149/9787.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The Creative Personality,” Psychology Today, July/August 1996, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19960701-000033.html.
Dawson, J.D. (1996) Relations of mutual trust and objects of common interest. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 44-53).
De Martino, B., et al. (2006) Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain. Science, 313, 684-687
Ding, Y., et al. (2002). Evidence of positive selection acting at the human dopamine receptor D4 gene locus. PNAS, 99(1) 309-314.
Entwistle, N., McCune, V., & Walker, P. (2001). Conceptions, Styles, and Approaches Within Higher Education: Analytic Abstractions and Everyday Experience, in Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles, 1 January 2001,
Fehr, E., & Gachter, S. (2000). “Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments,” The American Economic Review, September 2000, Vol 90 No 4, 980-994.
Fowler, J. (2006). Altruism and Turnout, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 68 No. 3, pp 674-683.
Fowler, J., Baker, L., & Dawes, C. (2006). The Genetic Basics of Political Cooperation. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Gardner, H. (1998). Extraordinary Minds. Basic Books: New York, NY.
Gardner, H. (2003). Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association.
Gilbert, A., Regier, T., Kay, P., & Ivry, R. (2005). Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left. PNAS, 103(2), 389-494.
Guth, W., & Tietz, R. (1990). Ultimatum Bargaining Behavior: A Survey and Comparison of Experimental Results. Journal of Economic Psychology, 11, 417-449.
Halonen, J.S. (2002). Classroom presence. In S. Davis & W.Buskist (Eds.). The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of William J. McKeachie and Charles Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (pp. 41-55).
Halpern, D.F. (1994). Rethinking college instruction for a changing world. In D. Halpern (Ed.) Changing College Classrooms. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass. (pp. 1-10).
Hammond, R., & Axelrod, R. (2006) The Evolution of Ethnocentricism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(6).
Harpending, H., & Cochran, G. (2002) In Our Genes. PNAS, 99(1), 10-12.
Hammock, E. A. D., and Young, L. J. (2005). Microsatellite instability generates diversity in brain and sociobehavioral traits. Science 308, 1630-1634.
Jervis, R. (2004). The Implications of Prospect Theory for Human Nature and Values. Political Psychology, 25(2), 163-176.
Jung-Beeman, M., et al. (2004). Neural Activity When People Solve Verbal Problems with Insight. PloS Biology. 2(4).
Kiewra, K., et al. (1994). A Slice of Advice. Educational Researcher, 23(3), 31-33.
Kotulak, R.. (2006). Gender and the Brain. Chicago Tribune (30 April).
Kurzban, R., & DeScioli, P. (2005) “Characterizing reciprocity in groups: Information-seeking in a public goods game,” (Submitted), alternate draft at http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~descioli/kurzban%20descioli%20pgi%207%2012%2006.pdf.
Kurzban, K., DeScioli, P., & O’Brien, E. Audience Effects on Moralistic Punishment.
Larimer, Christopher W., Hannagan, Rebecca, & Smith, Kevin B. (2006) Balancing Ambition and Gender Among Decision Makers. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior
Ley, K. and Young, D. (1998). Self-Regulation Behaviors in Underprepared (Developmental) and Regular Admission College Students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1998, 23, 42-64.
Lieberman, M., Schreiber, D., & Ochsner, K. (2003). Is Political Cognition Like Riding a Bicycle: How Cognitive Neuroscience Can Inform Research on Political Thinking. Political Psychology, 2003, 24(4), 681-704.
Lodge, M., & Taber, C. “The Automaticity of Affect for Political Candidates, Parties, and Issues: An Experimental Test of the Hot Cognition Hypothesis,” Unpublished Manuscript, http://www.sunysb.edu/polsci/mlodge/taber_lodge_automaticity.pdf.
Lupia, A. (2002). New Ideas in Experimental Political Science. Political Analysis, 10(4), 319-324.
Lupia, A., & Menng, J. (2006). When Can Politicians Scare Citizens Into Supporting Bad Policies? A Theory of Incentives With Fear Based Content. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
McDermott, R. (2004) The Feeling of Rationality, The Meaning of Neuroscientific Advances for Political Science. Perspectives on Politics 2(4), 691-706,
McDermott, R. (2006). Testosterone, Cortisol, and Aggression in a Simulated Crisis Game. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Morris, J., Squires, N., Taber, C., & Lodge, M. (2003). “The Automatic Activation of Political Attitudes: A Psychophysiological Examination of the Hot Cognition Hypothesis,” Political Psychology, 24, 727.
Moshman, David. (2005). Adolescent Psychological Development (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Olson, I., & Mashuetz, C. (2003). Emotion. 5(4), 498-502.
Orbell, J., et al. (2004). ‘Machiavellian’ Intelligence as a Basis for the Evolution of Cooperative Dispositions. American Political Science Review Vol. 98, No. 1, 1-15.
Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Viking Adult: New York, NY.
Pintrich, P., & Garcia, T. (1994). Self-Regulated Learning in College Students: Knowledge, Strategies, and Motivation,” by Paul Pintrich and Teresa Garcia, Student Motivation, Cognition, and Learning: Essays in Honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie, 113-133.
Price, L.F. (2005). The Biology of Risk Taking. Educational Leadership. 62(7), 3-6.
Price, M. E. (2004). Judgments about cooperators and freeriders on a Shuar work team: An evolutionary psychological perspective. Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 101, 20-35.
Pollio, H. P. (2002). Humor and college teaching. In S. Davis & W.Buskist (Eds.). The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of William J. McKeachie and Charles Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (pp. 69-80).
Reiter, S. (1994). Teaching Dialogically: Its Relationship To Critical Thinking in College Students., in Student Motivation, Cognition, and Learning, 1994.
Ridley, M. (2003). Nature via Nurture. Harper Collins: New York, NY.
Robbins, S., et al. (2005) Do Psychosocial and Study Skill Factors Predict College Outcomes? A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130(2), 261-268.
Robbins, S., Le, H., & Lauver, K. (2005) .Promoting Successful College Outcomes for All Students: Reply to Weissberg and Owen(2005). Psychological bulletin, 131(3), 410-411.
Ross, P. (2006). The Expert Mind,” by Philip Ross, Scientific American, August 2006 edition.
Roth, J.K. (1996). What teaching teaches me: How the Holocaust informs my philosophy of education. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 199-210).
Royse, D. (2001). The mental groundwork. In D. Royse (Ed.). Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors: A Practical Guide. Needham Heights, MA.: Allyn & Bacon. (pp. 1-24).
Ruiz, T.F.(1996). Teaching as subversion. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.(pp. 158-165).
Sanfey, A., et al. (2003). The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game, Science, 300(5626), 1755-1758.
Sapolsky, R. (2006) A Natural History of Peace. Foreign Affairs. 85(1).
Schulman, L.S., & Carey, N.B. (1984). Psychology and the Limitations of Individual Rationality: Implications for the Study of Reasoning and Civility. Review of Education Research 54, 501-524.
Schwartz, Daniel L. (1995). The Emergence of Abstract Representations in Dyad Problem Solving. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4, 321-354.
Singer, T. (2006). Empathetic Neural Responses are Modulated by the Perceived Fairness of Others. Nature, 439(26).
Smirnov, O., Arrow, H., Kennet, D., & Orbell, J. (2006). ‘Heroism’ in Warfare. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Smith, K., et al. (2004). “Evolutionary Theory and Political Leadership: Why Certain People Do Not Trust Decision-Makers,” Presented at the 2004 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, 2004, 1-42.
Smith, K. (2006) Representational Altruism: The Wary Cooperator as Authoritative Decision Maker. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp 1013-1022.
Spezio, M., & Adolphs, S. Emotional Processing and Political Judgement: Toward Integrating Political Psychology and Decision Neuroscience. Unpublished Manuscript. Available Online: http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030111/decisionmaking/grad2005/spezio.pdf.
Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. (2001) Adolescent Development. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 83-110..
Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992) The Psychological Foundations of Culture. In The Adapted Mind, Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, eds. New York: Oxford University Pres.
von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). A Constructivist Approach to Teaching. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Weissberg, N., & Owen, D. (2005) “Do Psychosocial and Study Skill Factors Predict College Outcomes? Comment on Robbins et al (2004),” Psychological Bulletin, 2005, Vol. 131 No. 3, 407-409.
Wolak, J. & Marcus, G. (2006). Personality and Emotional Response: Strategic and Tactical Response to Changing Political Circumstances. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Wrangham, R. (1999). Evolution of Coalitionary Killing. Yearbook of Anthropology 42 1-30.
Zak, P. (2006). The Neuroeconomics of Trust. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Zimmerman, B. (2000). Self-efficacy: An Essential Motive to Learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, Vol. 25, No 1, 82-91.


Learning Evolved, a companion series to Classroom Democracy
1. Darwinism-Cognitivism
2. Social Motivation
3. Coalitionary Education
4. Bibliography

Classroom Democracy, Part IV: The Evolution of Learning

We must liberate Political Science from the Barbarians.

Political scientists rarely apply the tools of political science to the problem of teaching political science. Instead, our poor field is oppressed by interlopers from psychology or economics. Students are naturally curious, the psychologists tell us, and so we should merely facilitate their natural desire to learn the materials. Or the Economists trot out their Rational Man, and tell us that our students are his clones: the student’s must be forced to study by altering the utility function by punishing behaviors we dislike and rewarding the behaviors we enjoy. Everywhere these foreigner followers of the SSSM god teach us to ignore our ancient traditions and follow their strange ways.


The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

No more! It is time for the colonized to become the colonizers! Our hammer and sickles and evolutionary analysis and wary cooperation theory. Let us rise up and seize the commanding heights our own field’s future!
Political science is the study of social conflict and interpersonal interaction. Current research into genetic factors imply that certain traits are in-born, and I propose that these can be exploited for pedagogical ends. Humans are loss-avoiding, in-group-supporting, out-group-competing, cheater-punishing machines, and it is time we apply these facts to education. (I realize that the direction of this paper is separate from the week’s focus on international relations and comparative politics, but I believe it is no less useful.)


Loss avoidance, for instance, can be a powerful tool for an educator. As Jervis (165) notes, “losses inflict psychological harm to a greater degree than gains gratify.” Yet traditional education ignores this, with students beginning with zero points in a class and slowly earning their way to the minimum amount of points needed for a score they desire. This “framing effect” — different response to the same substantive stimuli depending on how it is described — has been shown to me important (Jervis 172) even among highly educated populations, such as surgeons. An evolutionarily-informed classroom would start students with the maximum numbers of points, and be deducted through the assignments to the final grade.

Disengaged students are the fear of every instructor, and from the perspective of an plural classrooms, these could be thought of as outbreaks of peace (a cessation of student competition). Peace between groups “is the normal human condition” (18) but hope can be found in systems. Systems may be the cause of the “intergroup alliances” (24) that prevent group tournaments, and systems can also serve to prolong hostilities (23). Thus the wise instructor will have to devise the classroom such that conditions that further intergroup tournaments — such as power asymmetries as well as not overly “punishing” groups for original solutions to problems (23) — in order to improve education. Likewise, safe predictable levels may , (Jervis 168) along with too much “tension-reducing reconciliation” (Sapolsky) such as “cheating,” arise, and these need to be countered as well. Similarly, the emergence of groups in which all of the work is done either by women in “female farming systems” (Harpending and Cochran 11-12) or entirely by males in raiding parties (Wrangham 22) would be something to watch out for.

By being closer to human nature, a method of political science education focused on coalitionary aggression and loss aversion will be more inclusive. Some mental phenotypes “are adaptive yet… are irritating or undesirable (Harpending and Cochran 10) and can lead to labels such as Hyper-Active (Ding et al 314). However, group tournaments would allow a division of labor that allow different personality types to contribute in different ways. This is superior to the current, atomist, model of education which attempts to use a common delivery to directly teach every student.

Student motivation is always a question, which is not surprising as minimal competition (“peace”) is the normal human condition (Wrangham 18). Fortunately, as educators we can create intergroup competition through manipulating system-level rules (24). Breaking students into groups, say, and not deducting points from the winning group, should be enough to encourage individual competition, especially if we trust in man’s capacity as a wary cooperator and allow further deductions based on negative, if costly, reviews from fellow students (say, a student can deduct one point from himself to deduct a point from a cheater).

This model makes precise predictions. It argues that classes which give the students all of their points immediately but then deduct for wrong answer, rather than classes that begin students with zero points and reward for correct answers, should produce higher-achieving students. Likewise, it argues that classes where group work is done with the purpose of triumphing over another groups should be more effective than either classroom where the purpose is intergroup cooperation, individual cooperation, or individual competition. An experiment to demonstrate this for one-shot classes should be straight-forward to conduct, and a comparative, semester-long study involving recitations is not beyond the realm of possibility.

These experiments would integrate well with existing programs. Games that focus on cheater-detection and cheater-punishment, for example, can easily be applied to seeing if students will detect and punish academic cheaters — especially if those cheaters’ actions cause the victim to lose points.


Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Classroom Democracy, Part III: The Life of Constitutions

An agile Constitution can be changed, so that the weaknesses can be fixed and not become avenues for anti-democratic forces. This is as true for the constitutions in Classroom Democracies as the constitutions in Federal Republics. Of my classes last semester, one added a Supreme Court, one established a Lebanon-style division of offices, and one abolished the Assembly.


The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

1. The Supreme Court

Classroom Democracy builds rational academic behavior by exposing students to multiple perspectives through peer interaction. Different options, such as whether to spend a day watching a movie or studying for an exam, are considered by the students. Regular elections rewards students who have good study skills to share, and allows them to act as mentors for students who are not so knowledgeable. Democracy is very Vygotskian, as it relies on dialog and zones of proximal development.

However, social interaction can be stressful. It requires students to consciously weight alternatives, which is mentally more taxing than trusting an authority figure. When the teacher is dedicated to democracy, the students cannot revert easily to their role of passive receptacles of knowledge. One class, however, succeeded in doing just that…


Under Judges Students Rule?

While maintaining the mechanisms of Assembly, President, and Government, one class changed their constitution to create a Supreme Court of eight Justices. The Justices were appointed for life, and could not easily be impeached (both a 2/3rds majority of the Assembly and a majority of the Supreme Court would be needed to remove a justice). The Supreme Court “oversaw” the actions of the Prime Minister, such that the Prime Minister’s sole responsibility became merely asking the Supreme Court how to decide issues.

The students on the Supreme Court were solid students and achievement-oriented. They ran the class is a solid fashion. However, the lack of democratic dialog was notable. The individual perspectives of the Students no longer mattered, as decisions were decided for them by the Supreme Court.

2. Confessionalism

In one class, a small faction of extroverted and smart students quickly established dominance. They noted that students were more likely to vote for a name proposed than for students not yet nominated. Therefore, they purposefully nominated each one of their Party immediately. They were typically able to acquire a 2/3rds vote in the Assembly just among their faction, which let them run the class as they saw fit.


Apartheid Classroom Democracy?

A month or so into the semester, a student privately informed me that he had formed another faction and they would try to change the direction of the class. The mimicked the tactics of the ruling faction, and were able to achieve slightly more than a 1/3rd vote of the Assembly.

Electing a President requires a 2/3rds majority, and neither faction was going to allow a member for the other to be President. Assembly after Assembly was dissolved, unable to create a government. It was a great teachable moment when I discussed how Iraq suffered similar problems under a similar constitution.

The leaders of the factions approached me after class, asking me what would happen because no time was left for teaching after a day full of parliamentary maneuvers. I mentioned I did not know, because I believed in Classroom Democracy.

Their solution was clever. Their amendment would separate the class into three groups, or “Confessions.” Each of the original factions would form one Confession, and the rest of the students would move to a third Confession. They established that the President would always come from one of the original Confessions, the Prime Minister would always come from the other, and a new ceremonial position, the Speaker of the Assembly, would be reserved for the third Confession.

The Confessionalist government, which was styled after Lebanon’s Constitution, ended the factional strife and allowed governments to be rapidly formed. However, as with the Class that established a Supreme Court, it did diminish meaningful discussion about how classes should be run.

3. The Abolition of the Assembly

The third class went in an opposite direction. While the Jurist and Confessionalist classes decided to reduce the amount of discussion by adding to the Constitution, this Class desired more conversation. After considerable in-class and out-of-class discussion, they amended the Constitution to dramatically restructure the Assembly.


A Democracy of the Academy

According to the Constitution, the Assembly is elected through Proportional Parliamentary Representation. However, this class decided that the Class itself would be the Assembly, creating an “Assembly-of-the-Whole” which was not elected because every student would receive one vote. This had the advantage of giving every student direct say over who would be the President, and direct input on Confidence votes for the Prime Minister. This change was made too late in the semester to observe its long term effects, but I was impressed by the contemplation that went into the alteration.


Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Classroom Democracy, Part II: A Defense of Republics

One reason Classroom Democracy succeeds is the powerful human drive for socialization. “Students have a more enjoyable and profitable learning experience when they feel connected to each other,” (Royse 6), and hands-on role-playing (11) such as classroom democracy enable this. Classroom democracy succeeds because it is founded on social interaction, and “the most successful programs for developing critical thought have been those involving social interaction” (Bruning 4).


The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

The innovative nature of classroom democracy makes this doubly true, as its unusual processes challenge “established orthodoxies” (Ruiz 159) and force students to be aware of how they learn and how they want to learn. Socialization encourages students to develop “self-regulation [to] use personal (self) processes to strategically monitor and control his or her behavior and the environment” (Lee and Young 32). Whatever we would wish, many college students do not develop study skills because they are never given any control of their learning in a classroom environment. Classroom democracy allows students to develop self-regulation in a Vygostkian, zones-of-proximal-development, style by working with more established learners in deciding how to learn.


Further, the benefits of social cognition are intertwined with motivation. The reason that recent pedagogical models “include not only purely cognitive processes but also motivational ones” (Bruning 5) is that students are moved by group processes. It is not correct, for example, to say that students ask themselves “how well can I do by working and learning as little as possible” (Ruiz 160), but it probably is true that students have “a preference for cooperation, a modest level of mistrust, an ability to persuade others of one’s own good faith, and an ability to detect lack of good faith in others” (Smith 1014) and that instead of utility maximization, what drives the behavior of wary cooperators is ‘sucker aversion'” (1015). Students will contribute and try to help until they believe they are being cheated. The ability for even a small amount of students — holding just one-third of the assembly — to prevent the re-election of an Administration they dislike — means that the “type” of student who is most concerned with unfair play (Smith et al 12) will have the power to act on the behalf of the group. Further, the deliberative, inclusive manner of the elections are likely to correlate with student happiness, because folks “do not necessarily need to receive more resources to be happy, but they do need decisions to be made by decision makers who are not selfishly motivated and who are not driven by ambition” (24). I suggest that “apathy and disengagement” are less the result of “dialogical instruction” and debate (Reiter 302) than the process of the debate.

The processes I use also fit the various learning styles of students better than a series of lectures. Classroom democracy allows both dynamic and static matching for personalities. Learners express “appreciation for teachers who make a point to appeal to a broad range of learning styles” (Holonen 49), yet the ratios of students who thrive in discussion sections, or review sections, or other sections changes from class to class. All teachers are familiar with the glazed-over eyes students can quickly acquire during lectures, and the difficulty in reading students minds. Again, the deliberative and minority-sensitive nature of classroom democracy comes through. Because of the two-thirds majority, “all learning” really does become “collaborative learning” (Dawson 47) because students collaborate even in setting the process criteria. “Students need to write” (Roth 207) and study in different ways, and the inherent “community-process criteria” (Bruning 19) allows for that range. Additionally, the pre-defined ministers allow the thriving of personalities who may simply be shy. Information Ministers may be tasked to provide detailed notes, say, and Interior Ministers to think and write critically on the assignment, and this provides social interaction for students who might otherwise keep their heads down and only show their work on predetermined quizzes.


Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Not That Terrible

Home School Standards,” by Chad M. Shuldt, Clean Cut Kid, http://www.cleancutkid.com/index.php?id=102, 28 December 2004.

Should more be done for our public schools?,” by Chad M. Shuldt, tdaxp, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2004/12/26/attacking_success.html, 28 December 2004.

Commenting on a recent post here, Chad M. Shuldt says

This comes down to a question of accountability. Should home-schooled students be subject to the same standards as public-schooled students? I would ask why should they not be?

Expounding on this on his blog, he repeats

Home-schooling presents a great option for parents, and I know several people that have done it. However, I have often wondered why there is no real accountability when a child is home schooled. The extent to which parents are upholding their responsibility in a home-school situation needs to be measured somehow. It comes down to accountability and responsibility.

Should home-schools be more like public-schools? Only if we want to be more like Tunisia.

Our public schools are terrible. Is this the fault of parents? Teachers? Principals? Politicians? I’m not interested in blame-games. Clearly we have a systemic failure in public education. We are approaching the problem in the wrong way, and getting terrible results for our efforts.

Public schools must be more like home-schools. They must be more accountable to parents. They must be more agile and more competitive. They must not be owned by unions and politicians.

American public schools are unacceptably terrible. Asking if home-schools should be as good as U.S. public school twists reality.

Home schools are great friends of education reform. They are a cannibalizing agents. Their success tells the rest of the educational world “be more like us.” Why should we punish success and reward failure? Why waste effort burdening successful schools with the same regulations which have dragged down the rest?

To those who claim to care about accountability: why are you not holding public schools accountable? Every moment you slow down education reform, every roadblock you build against new educational methods, every regulation you burden those who do not accept “better than Tunisia” with, saves public schools from accountability. The bankruptcy of the current system is exposed. Millions of students waste away in useless mush mills every school day. And Kooistra’s proposed reforms would only build the prison walls higher.

Why should home schools not be held to the same standards as public schools? Because home schools should not be that terrible.