Educating for Democratic Consciousness

Counter-Hegemonic Possibilities

by Ali A. Abdi (Volume editor) Paul R. Carr (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XII, 292 Pages


This book has received the AESA (American Educational Studies Association) Critics Choice Award 2013.
There is a widespread, but mainly untenable, assumption that education in Western societies (and elsewhere) intuitively and horizontally aids the democratic development of people. An argument could be made that in contemporary liberal democracies, education was never designed for the well-being of societies. Instead of the full inclusion of everyone in educational development, it becomes dominated by those with a vested interest in the role of the liberal state as a mediating agent that, ultimately, assures the supremacy of the capitalism and neoliberalism. This book extends beyond a theoretical analysis of democratic education, seeking to tap into the substantial experiences, perspectives and research of a wide range of leading scholars from diverse vantage points, who bring themselves and their work into the debate connecting democracy and education, which elucidates the reference to counter-hegemonic possibilities in the title.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword. Democracy Does Not Fall From the Sky Daniel Schugurensky
  • Chapter 1. Framing Contemporary Democracy and the Potential for Counterhegemonic Possibilities | Paul R. Carr & Ali A. Abdi
  • Introduction
  • The System
  • Counterhegemony
  • Conclusion and the Organization of the Book
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Recontextualizing and Reculturing Education for “Democratic” Consciousness: Social and Philosophical Analyses | Ali A. Abdi
  • Introduction
  • Recontextualizing the Educational and the Pedagogical
  • Reculturing Educational Contexts: Critical Observations
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Reshaping the Democratic Truth, and Rethinking Democracy without Elections | Paul R. Carr
  • Introduction
  • Early Exposure to Democracy
  • Studying Politics
  • Cuba and (Is It Possible?) Democracy
  • Occupation, World Social Forums, Cooperatives, NGOs, and Everything Not in Mainstream Media
  • Can Education Be the Answer?
  • The “But What Can I Do?”
  • 50 Proposals for a Democratic Education
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Democratic Education, Thinking Out Differently | George J. Sefa Dei
  • Introduction
  • Democratic Education
  • How Can Indigenous Knowings Inform Democratic Education?
  • Rethinking Democratic Education: Toward a Discursive Positioning
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Reinventing Democracy: Challenges and Counterhegemonic Alternatives for Brazilian Education | Ranilce Guimaraes-Iosif
  • Introduction
  • Education, Civil Society, and Democracy in Brazil
  • How to Educate for Democracy in a Society So Diverse and Unequal?
  • The Counterhegemonic Alternative: Educating to Emancipate and Democratize Democracy
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Relocating the Debate on Democracy, Language, and Schooling: Challenges for Educators Working with Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students | Pierre Orelus
  • Introduction
  • Democracy: Whose Definition and Whose Interests Does It Serve?
  • Language, the U.S. School System, and Democracy
  • Toward a Democratic and a Linguistically Equitable Society
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 7. The End of the Obedient Neoliberal Citizen: Differential Consciousness and Reimagining Citizenship in a Time of Transformation | Lynette Shultz
  • Introduction
  • Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
  • The False Story of Democracy and Its Colonizing Roots
  • What Are the Acts of Humiliation that Destroy Citizenships and Dehumanize to Make Space for the Corporatized Citizen?
  • Educating to Transform the Obedient Citizen of This Story: Love and the Generative Possibilities of Social Justice
  • Learning to Trust Publicness: Grids of Love and Power, Justice, and Solidarity
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Democratic Public Education in the Age of Empire and the Multitude | Dennis Carlson
  • Introduction
  • Public Education and Empire
  • Teachers and the Multitude
  • Democratic Public Education to Come
  • References
  • Chapter 9. Animating Democracy: The Civic and Pedagogical Imperatives | Randy Hoover
  • Introduction
  • Two Imperatives
  • The Pedagogical Imperative
  • The Civic Imperative
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 10. What We Are Willing to Know: Deconstructing UNESCO | Peter Pericles Trifonas
  • The Ethics of Difference after Deconstruction
  • Deconstructing UNESCO
  • Eurocentrism and UNESCO
  • References
  • Chapter 11. Education and Democracy under Neoliberal Knowledge Imperialism | M. Ayaz Naseem & Adeela Arshad-Ayaz
  • Introduction
  • Galtung’s Structural Theory of Imperialism
  • Neoliberal Knowledge Imperialism
  • Knowledge Economy
  • University as MNCs
  • Internationalization of Education
  • Speculative versus Productive Knowledge
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 12. Challenging Neoliberal Anti-Intellectualism, Consumerism, and Utilitarianism: Achieving Deweyian and Freirean Visions of Critically Engaged Citizens | Michael O`Sullivan
  • Introduction
  • Citizenship as the Contested Central Purpose of Education
  • The Impasse Created by the Triumph of the Pursuit of Credentialism
  • Effecting a Strategic Pedagogical Alliance between Critical Pedagogues and Other Concerned Teachers
  • The Minimum Basis of the Alliance: Teaching a Core Curricular Package
  • Explaining the Impasse: Blaming the Teacher Misses the Point
  • Ideological Domination: Keeping Critical Thinking at Bay
  • The Rise of Neoliberalism in the West
  • A Response to Anti-Intellectualism
  • Getting Beyond the Impasse: Mainstream Teachers Become Exemplary Global Citizenship Educators in a Teacher-Initiated Schoolwide Program
  • A Primary Teacher’s Story
  • An Intermediate Teacher’s Story
  • Findings with Respect to the W. H. Knight Experience Teaching the Core Curricular Package through Critical Global Citizenship Education
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 13. Democracy as a Practice of Resistance and Resilience against Tyranny | Gina Thesee
  • Introduction
  • Democracy-Resistance: A Tool to Critique Epistemological Resistance against Tyranny
  • Democratic-Resistance as an Epistemological Strategy to Refuse, the “No!”
  • Democratic-Resistance as an Epistemological Strategy to Requestion, the “Why?”
  • Democratic-Resistance as an Epistemological Strategy to Redefine the Collective Experience, the “Us”
  • Democratic-Resistance as an Epistemological Strategy to Reaffirm the Individual and Collective Self, the “Yes!”
  • Democratic-Resilience as an Emancipatory Pedagogy with Concrete Actions
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 14. Iron Man Democracy: Militainment and Democratic Possibilities | William M. Reynolds
  • Introduction
  • Cruelty and Force: The Present Context
  • Critical Media Analysis
  • Critical Pedagogy–Media Literacy and Popular Culture
  • A Possible Project of Hope
  • References
  • Chapter 15. Inventing Democracy: Teaching and Togetherness | Noah De Lissovoy
  • Introduction
  • Four Resources for Thinking about Being, Democracy, and Community
  • Inventing Democracy and Democratic Education
  • Toward a Pedagogy of Democratic Community
  • Conclusion: Teaching and Togetherness
  • References
  • Chapter 16. Vibrant Democracy Requires More Than Facts and Acts: “Ordinary Politics for Youth Political Engagement" | Kristina R. Llewellyn & Joel Westheimer
  • Introduction
  • The Study
  • Kids Don’t Know Anything
  • Lee-Ann, Gabrielle, Jillian, and Sahra
  • The Solution? Facts to Acts
  • Kids Don’t Do Anything
  • The Solution? Acts to Facts
  • Beyond Deficit Models
  • Civic Assets: Students Know Things and They Are Involved
  • Ordinary Politics and Youth Political Engagement
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 17. Multiculturalism and Democratization in Switzerland and Canada | Angela Stienen & Carl E. James
  • Introduction
  • Multicultural Democratization
  • Multiculturalism from Above and from Below
  • Multiculturalism versus Integration
  • Toward an Education for Radical Democratic Multiculturalism in Switzerland and Canada
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 18. National Identity and the Education of Immigrants: Greece and the Rights of “Non-Citizens” | Vicki Macris
  • Introduction
  • The “Problem” of Immigration and a Call for Policy Intervention
  • Educational and School-Level Policy
  • Citizenship Education in Greece
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • List of Contributors
  • Index


We are grateful to the contributors to this volume, as well Daniel Schugurensky, who wrote the foreword, for their complicity in pulling together a collection of writings that we hope will enhance the literature. We have known many of the contributors for a number of years, and it has been a pleasure working with them on this project. It is also a pleasure working with Peter Lang Publishing, and we benefited greatly from the support provided by Chris Myers, Sophie Appel, and Heather Boyle.

From Ali: a long overdue thank you to all the students I have worked with over the past decade in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. Without their energy, intelligence, and commitment to the critical categories of learning and academic living, my epistemic and analytical locations would have been so much more limited and less inclined to assume a global, humanist perspective on the primary categories of educational and social well-being. And a special thank you to one of these students, Nada Shaban, for her excellent work in putting together the index for this book. At a more personal level, I deeply appreciate and am certainly grateful for the delightful moments of discussion and discovery I continuously share with my two sons, Elias and Yonis.

From Paul: I would like to acknowledge and thank many colleagues and friends who have engaged, supported, and pushed me over the past several years to develop more critical scholarship, including David Zyngier, Marc Pruyn, Darren Lund, Brad Portfilio, Shirley Steinberg, Antonia Darder, Dave Hill, Peter McLaren, and a number of those in the Paulo Freire SIG and the Comparative and International Education Society of Canada. At a personal level, I continue to be inspired by Chelsea and Sarah, and joyously overwhelmed by the next generation in the form of Noah and Luka. Lastly, I would like to recognize and thank Bob, who has been a truly wonderful companion and supporter these past two decades, making every celebration a true event.

—AAA & PRC ← viii | ix →

← vii | viii →


Democracy Does Not Fall From the Sky


When we learn in school about the origins of democracy, textbooks and teachers often direct us to Ancient Greece as a main reference point. We are taught that democracy flourished in that part of the world around 2,500 years ago, but we are told little about how it came about. Greek democracy did not fall from the sky. It originated in successive protests of the common people (the demos) against debt bondage. At that time, as a result of exorbitant interest rates and the need to use their own bodies as collateral to get loans to feed their families, many free laborers who had lost their land became slaves to the wealthy. The tensions between the rich and the “new poor” generated much political instability, and the risk of a mass rebellion was on the horizon. It was in this context that in 594 BC, in order to regain governability, Solon promulgated a series of democratic reforms that opened the door for the political participation of the poor. Democracy, then, from its beginnings, has been connected to struggles for economic and political justice.

Another important reference point in the long road to democracy is Magna Carta, issued in England in 1215 by King John. This important document was not a product of divine inspiration or of the benevolence—or the wisdom—of the king. It was the product of the rebellion of a group of his subjects, who wanted to limit the power of an authoritarian monarch to raise taxes, seize properties, and impose service obligations. Among other things, Magna Carta ensured protection from illegal imprisonment and immediate access to justice, and prohibited the king from imposing new taxes without consent. These provisions eventually led to the now common practices of trial by jury, habeas corpus, and the principle of “no taxation without representation” that inspired the American Revolution. The barons who benefited from Magna Carta also pledged not to impose new feudal services and fees from their own vassals, and when serfdom was abolished, the rights of Magna Carta were extended to other groups.

Likewise, many other features of contemporary democracy that in the twenty-first century we take for granted, like the right to vote, were not gifts ← ix | x → from the dominant groups in society but the product of many difficult struggles. Moreover, the expansion of the franchise to universal (adult) suffrage, where the right to vote is not restricted by sex, race, social status, wealth, or sexual orientation, was the result of the hard work of a variety of social movements. We could continue with other examples, but the point I am trying to make is that democracy should not be perceived as a static structure but as a long historical—and probably endless—process shaped by the struggles of subordinated groups for freedom and equality.

In this constant dynamic of domination and liberation, education matters. As the editors of this book observe, education often favors the elites and provides legitimacy to the status quo. However, as suggested in the subtitle of this volume, it can also contribute to a counterhegemonic and emancipatory project. It is with the background of this historical tension that we can examine the issues raised in the different chapters of this book, and discuss their relevance to the context of the second decade of the twenty-first century. This is, after all, an interesting decade, as we may be living in the first stages of an important shift. We are in the midst of yet another economic crisis, with high levels of unemployment, foreclosures, wealth concentration, and social inequality. The neoliberal project, while still hegemonic, is being contested in several regions of the planet. The World Social Forum has been active for more than ten years and has established itself as a recognizable counterpoint to the World Economic Forum. The Arab Spring, the Indignados in Europe, and the Occupy Movements in North America may prove to be more than a passing fad and mark an important turning point in the path toward the democratization of economic, social, and cultural life. The proliferation of participatory democracy experiments around the world may provide the basis for a new political culture. Governments of several Latin American countries are showing that there are alternatives to the neoliberal package of privatization, deregulation, and budget cuts and that it is possible to combine progressive policies with sustained economic growth. New social media are starting to challenge the monopoly of media conglomerates, and open source journals are facilitating the free circulation of knowledge within and across borders. The social economy is slowly growing in many localities, and cooperatives are becoming more visible than ever before. An ecological perspective is rapidly permeating human consciousness, probably because we have realized that we are running out of time to save the planet.

This brings us back full circle to the first part of the title of this book, which calls our attention to the development of a democratic consciousness. ← x | xi → If we accept the premise that we are still living in a world that is profoundly undemocratic, that the fragile and imperfect democracies that we have today are the product of centuries of struggles, and that a more democratic world will not fall from the sky, it is clear that democracy is an unfinished project. This project is not only about a better form of government, more transparent and participatory governance, and more fair and equitable policies. It is also an ongoing process of community building, of healthier relations with other community members and with nature.

From the preceding discussion we can extract at least five educational implications. The first is that the democratic project requires the development of a democratic consciousness, and this, in turn, requires experiences with democratic practices in a variety of institutional settings, including, but not restricted to, classrooms and schools. Another is that education for democracy must be conceptualized and implemented in connection with related fields such as citizenship education, global education, environmental education, intercultural education, peace education, and gender education, and in general with the more institutionalized field of social studies education. A third is that the role of schools is not only to help students adapt to society, but also—and fundamentally—to help them change society for the better. This, in turn, requires the development of a sense of individual and collective agency, particularly among traditionally marginalized groups. Courses that promote community engagement, service learning programs, student councils, student participation in school councils, and school participatory budgeting are just a few areas with potential to develop this sense of political efficacy. Contrary to prevailing stereotypes, today’s youth is eager to participate when they perceive that they have an opportunity to make a difference, be at the local or international level, particularly if they identify a just cause. The recent student protests in defense of public education in different parts of the world, youth engagement in social and environmental movements seeking an alternative future, or the current Stop Kony 2012 campaign show that young people want to be part of something larger than themselves and are willing to contribute to build a better world when they have a chance to do it.

A fourth implication is that education for democracy needs to have a more clear presence in preservice and in-service teacher education. This is not easy in an educational system that emphasizes “back to basics,” testing, and measurement, but it is not impossible. After all, many educational systems around the world mention among their objectives the development of informed, critical, caring, and engaged citizens. A fifth implication is that ← xi | xii → education for democracy, to be consistent, must include efforts aimed at the democratization of educational institutions. Presently, there is an international movement of more than 200 “democratic schools” that can be traced back to Leo Tolstoy’s incipient experiments in Yasnaya Polyana in the late nineteenth century and the work of people like Francisco Ferrer y Guardia in Barcelona, Emma Goldman in New York, and Alexander Neill in Summerhill in the early twentieth century. This movement has many lessons to offer the field of education for democracy, but most of these schools are in the private system. It is pertinent to ask whether some of these innovations are applicable to public schools, and what are the necessary conditions to develop a vibrant network of democratic schools in the public education system.

These five implications present several challenges for research, for policy, and especially for practice to the education for democracy movement, a movement that is not constrained to the formal education system but also includes the so-called nonformal education system. The development of a democratic consciousness includes the development of critical analytical skills as well as the development of democratic values and attitudes that are best learned through democratic practices. All this runs counter to a formal educational system that emphasizes testing, measurement, and rankings and is reinforced by a particular structure of rewards and punishments. For this reason, in certain contexts it may be easier to advance education for democracy in the nonformal sector, and particularly in popular education, because of its flexibility, openness to innovation, and commitment to democracy and social justice.

In closing, the education for democracy movement can make important contributions in three main areas that attest to its counterhegemonic possibilities. First, it can contribute to democratizing educational institutions, from changing pedagogical relations and curriculum content at the classroom level to promoting more deliberative and decision-making processes in school governance. Second, it can contribute to democratizing the educational system, starting with tackling educational inequalities by postal code and promoting policies that improve educational opportunities for everyone. Third, it can make a modest contribution to the democratization of society by articulating its educational efforts with social action and with progressive social movements. It is probably here where education for democracy can maximize its counterhegemonic possibilities. Of course, translating these potential contributions into actual realities requires plenty of organized work, but this is the only way to make progress, because democracy will not fall from the sky.

Chapter 1

Framing Contemporary Democracy and the Potential for Counterhegemonic Possibilities



The role of education in developing human well-being has been discussed extensively by educators, policy makers, and political leaders. The direction of analysis in this case is usually eschewed in favor of learning programs leading to better life (or more specifically, employment) prospects for people. But the focus on human well-being cannot be simply stamped out as a part of nature; necessarily, it has to be nuanced, itemized, and both subjectively and communally located and contextualized. That is, while learning projects could add something good that can be measurable and generalized, they could also omit or even depress many other intersections that define the way people read—and engage with—the world that surrounds them, critically or uncritically interact with the institutions that control their being, and unintentionally disempower themselves in often objectifying systems that attempt to re- and mis-direct them from achieving their potential (Carr, 2010). With these concerns in mind, it is clear that the space between the social and the educational is a very active one, and is more often than otherwise, mediated by the political. With public policy being the most potent intervener in socio-educational connections, being conceptualized, formulated and implemented via political power, the intersections can be heavy and congested, with intense ideological and practical subterfuges that aid the life contexts of some while disempowering many.

While the intentions of the social-educational-political continuum may not deliberately claim so, learning processes and outcomes are never devoid of select philosophical groundings and intentions that bend the directional trajectories of the instructional-pedagogical context. As such, education, if anything, is a very complex enterprise, and its end product within a neoliberal mind-set or more intangible social manifestations in the form of out ← 1 | 2 → comes are never neutral or benignly attachable to the existentialities of all. As has been the case in the past 150 or so years of the proliferation of mass schooling in the world (albeit with divergent temporal happenstances), education has become a project that is desired by all but one that continuously favors the lot of the elites, and, in order to give legitimacy to the philosophical foundation of the institution of education, only selectively those who are not epistemically familiar with its organization, its political and economic values, and its philosophical and linguistic constructions (Abdi & Richardson, 2008). But sometimes it might not be unthinkable to claim something else: that, although in Noam Chomsky’s terms, for example, education doesn’t aim for, or achieve, the welfare of all (2004). Here, the categorizations should sound complex, even irrational; actually for us, they shouldn’t be.

The System

The critical point in the constitution of all education as a hegemonic system that oppresses its recipients should not be detached from the point related to its potential. Let use a simple example. A boy or a girl goes to school, manages to fulfill the requirements, and, over time and space, meets the graduation and certification exigencies that were designed for him or her by those who only knew the learner via the imperatives of the system. It even supposedly gets better; the learner uses the certification outcomes to find a job, buy a house and a car, raise a family, and, via this personal experience, makes sure his progeny repeat the same story. Is that something good? Both technically and less technically, yes and no, and here is where the subtitle of this book takes us by way of another question: Do contemporary educational programs liberate the potential of individuals and groups, or do they actually restrict them? To harmonize this certainly extraneous question within the system, one simple way to start could be explaining what we actually mean by the system. Perhaps we should clarify one point before we seek a short answer for this concern: the example of the boy and the girl above is, despite any shortcomings, a good story, of the mainstream up-side, of education. As we shall see below, the situation of societal-educational interactions is actually much worse for so many others all over the world.


XII, 292
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (March)
development capitalism neoliberalism
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 308 pp.

Biographical notes

Ali A. Abdi (Volume editor) Paul R. Carr (Volume editor)

Ali A. Abdi is Professor of Development Education and Co-Director, Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research (CGCER) in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. Paul R. Carr is Associate Professor of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Lakehead University (Orillia), and Co-Director of the Global Doing Democracy Research Project.


Title: Educating for Democratic Consciousness
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