The Village Project and Deliberative Democracy
The Village program is a form of civic education that prepares children to be active, effective citizens. By working together to design, build and govern small societies pupils advance their civic knowledge and skills. Village offers an unparalleled way to integrate the teaching of communication skills, critical thinking, and work in groups into an education in deliberative democracy.
Many civic education program exist, but none give upper-middle school pupils the comprehensive training in deliberative democracy that The Village Project does. Democracy means much more than simply voting. It is relatively easy to give pupils the chance to vote in the classroom, say for example between two contesting propositions. More difficult, and we believe more important, is to teach students to formulate their own options, discuss and resolve them. At Village, rather than voting between a Plan A and a Plan B, the choices have to be formulated by the pupils themselves. A host of necessary communication, negotiation and critical thinking skills enter into this.
Citizens in peep Villages -- like effective, active citizens in all democracies -- have to determine what their problems and civic issues are and then put them to the group for deliberation. In a discussion of a general topic, the teacher at Village pushes students to offer ideas backed by reasons -- not just “I want the town hospital there,” but “I want the town hospital there because . . . (it would be easy to get to, it wouldn’t disturb neighbors, etc.)”. When students have to give reasons for their preferences, the matter becomes not just a competition between interests. Democratic citizens don’t ignore their own interests, but they need to find ways to convince others of the merits of their preferences. A key counterpart, in discussion, to offering reasons is insisting that citizens listen to each other. Children need practice in listening to their fellow citizens’ ideas and responding to them. In true deliberation, citizens will take the ideas of others into consideration and answer their reasons with other reasons. Citizens, listening to each other and having the chance to respond with questions, new ideas, concerns, should be willing to change their minds. In discussion, led by a moderator who calls on people, ideas develop, so that eventually a concrete proposal can be made. The proposal is not necessarily a compromise or a plan everyone agrees with. It does, however, reflect the ideas of many people. Eventually, we vote on the concrete plan.
Debating and decision-making at Village are not simply empty exercises. The program is not a simulation, but is instead tied to a real miniature world, the peeps and their society, that all the participants develop an affective tie to and concrete interest in. The Village program is an exemplary example of an educational program in which living and learning are inseparable.
Under the umbrella of teaching children civic competency in deliberative democracies we have four primary goals.
* Village teaches children effective communication. Children learn to back their preferences and opinion with reasons. They improve their ability to express their own ideas and also learn to consider fairly the ideas of others which they might initially disagree with.
* Village teaches children critical thinking. Critical thinking at Village encompasses problem identification, formulation and resolution.
* Village teaches the civic values of tolerance as well as a concern for equality and justice. There are many school programs that emphasize rights and Village brings intellectually challenging issues to the forefront by putting rights in direct dialogue with democracy. For example, can a town decide to force someone to relocate their house in the interests, say, of urban design, or do that peep and person have a right to live undisturbed where they have been living?
* Village advances children's school subjects knowledge. Under the belief that no child lacking literacy in math, language, and science can be fully part of his or her society we emphasize the use and advancement of knowledge from school subjects through practice. This occurs, for example, in the architectural design of the miniature houses and the writing of a town newspaper
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Page Last Updated September 17, 2010