Zoi Litou

Zoi Litou

Friday, 25 May 2018 14:47

Aristotle and Diversity

Democracy and education have been linked as far as Ancient Greece in the writings of Aristotle (384-322 bc.) (Fraser, 1996). Democratic theories of education have been central to the institution of public schooling in the United States and Canada since the inception of free, compulsory, public education. Horace Mann (1796-1859), W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) and John Dewey (1859-1952), were early advocates for public education in the United States. More recent scholars have built on the early writings of these important thinkers to push the notions of the democratic education and equal education opportunity. In this book, Understanding equal educational opportunity: Social justice and democracy in schooling, Howe (1997) expands on the thesis presented by Amy Gutmann (1987) in her book, Democratic education. Gutmann’s central idea is as follows:

A democratic theory of education recognizes the importance of empowering citizens to make educational policy and also of constraining their choices among policies in accordance with those principles- of nonrepression and nondiscrimination – that reserve the intellectual and social foundations of democratic deliberations. A society that empowers citizens to make educational policy, moderated by these two principled constraints, realizes the democratic ideal of education (Gutmann, 1987).

Gutmann (1987) states that the principle of non-repression prevents any group from “using education to restrict rational deliberation of competing conceptions of the good life and the good society” and that non-discrimination can be understood as “a principle of non-exclusion” (pp.44-45). However, Howe charges that Gutmann’s “general principle of ‘non-repression’ (of which ‘nondicrimination’ is a derivative) is too weak to adequately protect marginalized and oppressed groups in negotiating the participatory ideal” (1977, p.66). Nonoppressions is offered in its place, for Howe believes that a “stronger principle – a principle of nonoppression- is required in order to protect groups that are threatened with marginalization and exclusion from meaningful democratic participation” (1997, p. 67).

Nonoppression is a more powerful concept that Gutman’s non-repression. There are many non-discrimination in schools, businesses and government designed to protect minorities from unjust exclusion. These policies make it illegal to refuse admission or hiring to people based on race, gender, religion and other factors. If a business or a school is forced to admit a woman or a person of color due to these policies, it is likely that the work climate will not be conductive to the success of that minority member. Incidents that display covert racism and sexual harassment may impede the ability of that individual to work to his/her best capability. The same holds true for students in a school settings. If the climate is not supportive of every child in the school, then true educational opportunities “worth wanting” (Howe, 1997) do not exist. It is not enough to legally remove the barriers preventing their entrance, but we must also go a step further and begin to remove the oppressive language and structures that create a hostile climate for minority students.

Read more in Meyer, E. (2010). Explorations of Educational Purpose 10: Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools, Springer.

The objective of this article is to better understand the factors that affect the chances of re-engaging early school leavers in education, with a particular focus on the importance of time out from school (duration dependence) and school-related factors. 
Dropping out of school can substantially diminish the life prospects of youth. On average, early school leavers have much greater difficulty in finding and retaining employment and are more likely to be in low-paid jobs (Heckman and Rubinstein 2001; Rumberger and Lamb 2003). Improving student engagement in school has been a key driver of reforms since the mid-1990s. These reforms have included increased school autonomy, more years of compulsory education, expanded upper-secondary curriculum and early intervention programmes. However, since the mid-1990s, there has been little improvement in school completion rates in countries from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). On average, school completion rates in the OECD have risen from 74% in 1995 to 80% in 2008 (OECD 2010), with rates in the European Union and the USA increasing by only around 3 percentage points in the last decade (European Commission 2011 and Chapman, Laird, and KewalRamani 2011, respectively).
While retaining youth in school should be the first priority, the modest improvement in school completion rates since the mid-1990s underlines the importance of also having programmes to encourage early school leavers to return to study. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the literature on how to encourage early school leavers to re-engage in education. The key research questions addressed in this paper are: what is the effect of time out from school on the chances of re-engaging early school leavers in education? How can schools prepare youth who leave school early for further study after school? In particular, what is the likely effectiveness of measures aimed at retaining young people in school, such as improving numeracy and literacy levels, delaying school dropout and incorporating vocational courses in the upper-secondary curriculum? In settings where the main pathway back to education is through job-specific vocational education and training (VET), can schools encourage reengagement by providing post-school career planning?