Democratic Education in the 21st Century

A Call for Papers

Guest Editor: Bertram (Chip) Bruce

Editor of Schools: Studies in Education: Andy Kaplan

In an age of climate disasters, extreme income inequality, conspiracy theories, anti-democratic movements, segregated schooling, pandemic, and more, the need for democratic education has never been greater, but it may also seem less viable than ever. Classics such as John Dewey’s Democracy and Education are still relevant but invite us to re-invent education for today.

The symposium

Schools: Studies in Education, published by the University of Chicago Press, plans to host a symposium on this topic to celebrate Schools’ twentieth anniversary of publication. The mission of Schools is to present inquiry into the subjective experience of school life. Unique among academic journals of education, Schools features articles by and about the daily life of classrooms, descriptions and reflections on the meaning of what happens when learning actually occurs. 

To celebrate our twentieth year of publication, we propose a symposium on how to think about democratic education in today’s world, and how we should plan for the future. How should issues such as indigenous people’s rights, racism, women’s rights, authoritarian governments, the concentration of wealth, and more make us analyze, discuss, and work to create democratic education?

We highly encourage submissions from classroom educators at all levels, from educators outside the United States, and from educators associated with alternative schools or informal learning.


  • November 15, 2021: One-page prospectus for your proposed article
  • July 25, 2022: in preparation for the workshop, send first draft, outline, or notes to Andy Kaplan; the folder containing these drafts will be accessible to contributors by August 1 
  • August 15: online workshop
  • October 15: final ms. to be considered for the Spring 2023 issue
  • October 31: editors’ review of the ms.
  • November 30: outside review of the ms.
  • December 31: final, revised copy
  • Spring 2023: publication of the first set of articles
  • Similar deadlines will apply for the Fall 2023, or beyond, issues

Manuscript preparation

Interested authors should submit a one-page prospectus describing what their project entails. This is to determine appropriateness and balance for the special issue. We anticipate a mix of empirical and theoretical contributions. Completed manuscripts will undergo the usual Schools: Studies in Education review process before final acceptance.

Articles should be a maximum of 8000 words (25 double-spaced pages). Please follow the Schools style guide.

Articles will appear in the Spring and Fall 2023 issues. There is a possibility of a follow-on book publication based on revised versions of the articles, once the symposium has been published in Schools. 

Collaboration in teaching

Morning assembly

Morning assembly

There are many outstanding private schools in Kathmandu, informed by advanced educational theory and implemented by dedicated, knowledgable teachers. But even though these schools are a bargain by US standards, their cost is beyond the reach for most Nepalis.

On the other hand, public, or government schools, are underfunded and have few books or other materials, too few teachers, and generally limited resources, especially for the needs they try to meet. In one school, students said that their dream was for a school bus.

IMG_3156In this context, the Collaborative Schools Network (CSN; offers an intriguing alternative model. It is essentially a public/private partnership, not unlike some charter schools in the US. The CSN brings expertise in the form of two Teach for Nepal (TFN) alumni. These are young people, skilled in math, science, and English, who have devoted two years to living and working with village schools. In addition, CSN can hire additional teachers and provide funding for equipment such as books, computers, and even a smart board.

IMG_3164The Collaborative Schools Network adopts and manages existing public schools and transforms the education they provide to some of the country’s poorest children. It currently manages three schools. Since these schools are already funded by the government, CSN can leverage for greater impact.

IMG_3169The TFN alums teach, coach the government teachers, and lead a school improvement process. This includes parent relations and management to ensure that students arrive on time and stay until the end of the day and that substitute teachers are available. A temple nearby provides free midday meals for primary students.

As they say,

Our aim is not just to improve a few schools, but to transform the public education sector in Nepal, by proving that public schools can be successful with the right support. We are outraged by the chronic failure of public education in Nepal, and are driven by a simple motto: We put students first.

Among the impacts are that there has been a 220% increase in the number of students in three years, a 17% increase in student attendance, equating to an extra day a week, and 94% attendance at parents meetings, compared to 30% nationally.

Yesterday, Susan, Biswash Chepang, a teacher at King’s College, and I visited the first of the Collaborative Schools, Shree Jana Uddhar secondary school in Budhanilkantha. The school shows signs of the 2015 earthquake and might be considered spare in terms of its facilities.

However, there is a good spirit among the staff, teachers, and students. Everyone seemed committed to student learning. We met with TFN alum Rajan Maharjan, Principal Hare Ram Khatri, many teachers, and students. They were welcoming to visitors and demonstrated to us a school that is working well.

The Collaborative Schools Network is an excellent model for school improvement.

See the video below, featuring a student we met. Can you watch it without both a tear and a smile?

Deurali danda (hilltop)

Early morning bus ride to the SW hills

Early morning bus ride to the SW hills

A word to the wise:

If you’re in Nepal, and you get invited to join a group of 15 year-olds from Nisarga Batika School for their six-hour spring walk, ask a few questions ahead of time:

  • What kind of “walk” are we talking about?
  • Is a spring walk what we Americans call impossible mountain climbing?
  • Is this just a warmup for their upcoming seven-day trek in Pokhara?
  • Does your trip leader, Sudeep, happen to be a triathlete?
  • Did he recently come in third in the Pokhara triathlon sprint?
  • Are you older than 15?

On the way up

On the way up

Despite my lack of forethought, I not only survived the trek, but had a great time. We climbed Deurali danda, which I thought from a map lookup was far west of Kathmandu. Apparently, though, it just means hilltop, of which there are many in Nepal, even in the Kathmandu Valley. The summit is near Chandragiri Hill, where there is now a modern cable car for tourists.

A welcome rest stop

A welcome rest stop

Our ascent was gradual at first, but soon we heard some alarming advice from our trek leader: “It now becomes a single track, steep, and slippery from the rain. Watch your step. Stay in groups of four to watch for slips.”

Also, “Be alert for wild animals. We saw leopards on the last two treks. Clap your hands and yell when you see one.”

At the top

At the top

There were no leopards as far as I could see. Our mishaps turned out to be minor. There were many screams when one student picked up a leech. One had minor cuts and a sore wrist from a fall. Another sprained an ankle, reinjuring some previous damage from sports.

I broke the ice, or rather the leaf litter, when my foot sank through a deep hole. No damage except to my pride. That recovered a bit when I saw one after another of the others have minor slips.

Abandoned cable car, for industrial use

Abandoned cable car, for industrial use

The students were all in better shape than I was at their age, but a few appeared to have had a bit too much screen time, for which I was grateful. There were frequent calls for rest breaks.



A hilltop resident, turning 6 today

A hilltop resident, turning 6 today

An old stupa? Even my hosts weren't sure

An old stupa? Even my hosts weren’t sure

Fiddleheads, a favorite food treat in both US and Nepal

Fiddleheads, a favorite food treat in both US and Nepal

Beautiful fern cacscades

Beautiful fern cacscades

Golden trumpet trees

Golden trumpet trees

Celebrating near the end

Celebrating near the end

Some guys don't even recognize it's a trek

Some guys don’t even recognize it’s a trek

Kumbeshwar Technical School

KTS is a place very close to my apartment in Patan and is now close to my heart as well. I’ve visited several times and want to learn more about it.

KTS was established in 1983 to assist the local community of street sweepers. They were “untouchables,” with little education or employment opportunities.

Carpentry training

Carpentry training

The project began with a childcare project, followed by adult literacy classes, and a nutrition and health clinic. Soon, a carpet weaving training program was established to expand employment possibilities. A production unit grew out of that, which provided funds to start a primary school in 1987.

Today, there’s a nursery, a free daycare center for employees’ children, and an orphanage. There are now training programs for knitting and carpentry as well.

On the production side, there is no child labor involved and all the work adheres to Fair Trade policies (KTS is a founding member of Fair Trade Group Nepal). Products are sold abroad by organizations such as Traidcraft, Serrv, Ten Thousand Villages, and Oxfam.

The library (and social studies teacher)

The library (and social studies teacher)

The project provides an allowance during training, and employment afterwards. Over 2000 businesses have been started by graduates, some in Kathmandu, and others back in villages.

There is a small shop displaying carpets, knit hats and mittens, furniture and small wooden items. There’s even a cookbook for Nepali food, now in its second edition.

Nursery school

Nursery school

The program keeps growing and changing, but throughout there’s a focus on fairness, opportunity, economic security, local empowerment, literacy and learning.

Nisarga Batika School

Learning math through games

Learning math through games

On the US Thanksgiving Day, I was sorry to be away from family and friends, and looked in vain for a stuffed turkey. But i had something else to be thankful for.

I was hosted for the day at Nisarga Batika School. I was thankful for the warm visit and also that there are at least some schools like Nisarga Batika. At the same time it made me sad that not all students have such great opportunities.

Teachers at the school are eager to find ways to improve, but as of today, the school would be the envy of some of the best progressive schools in the US.

Backpacks of the little ones

Backpacks of the little ones

The school’s philosophy statement begins:

is a thriving community of learners who engage in education that is holistic, relevant and meaningful. As an experiential learning school, Nisarga Batika offers an environment where each individual looks upon the world as their classroom and values self-motivated learning as a way of life.

Discussion about paper money

Discussion about paper money

I visited every classroom and talked with children there and on the playground, where diverse activities were underway. Although that’s just a small sample, it made me feel that the school is doing as much as anyone can to realize the philosophy statement, including seeing teachers as facilitators towards goals of critical thinking, self discovery, and creativity.

If you click on the photo below, or here, you can see a series of additional photos that convey the flavor of the school, including field trips in natural settings and the vegetable market created by children for the plants they grow.

Recognizing Roma

Akdeniz University project

Akdeniz University project, grades 5-7

A remarkable, but little noticed event was reported on April 7 in the NY Times (with limited coverage elsewhere). Rick Gladstone’s, ‘Roma poisoned at U.N. camps in Kosovo may get apology and compensation‘ relates the findings of a human rights advisory panel of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. The panel found that the mission failed to protect Roma families sent to camps after war broke out in 1998 between Serbia and Albanian separatists.

Hundreds of Roma were placed in three camps in Mitrovica, Kosovo, after ethnic Albanians had seized their homes. The camps were within 200 yards of enormous piles of industrial waste from a lead-smelting factory. Soon after the camps were set up, many Roma died from lead poisoning. Others suffered stunted growth, irreversible brain and nerve damage, suppression of the immune system, anemia and renal failure. There were associated speech, language, and behavioral problems. Some of this is described in the film Gypsy Blood: The Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian IDPs of Mitrovica, Kosovo (2005).

Turgut Reis school

Turgut Reis school

The panel’s findings are significant in two ways. First, the U.N. rarely apologizes for anything, often denying allegations or asserting diplomatic immunity. Forced to enter difficult situations with limited resources, it is understandable that mistakes can be made. But even as the organization of last resort, it is important for it to acknowledge errors and where possible provide remedies. That’s a necessary first step before encouraging member countries to do likewise.

Perhaps more significantly, the finding recognizes a harm done to Roma people, one in a long series over many centuries. During the Second World War, the Nazis exterminated hundreds of thousands of Roma. This was the Baro Porrajmos, or Great Devouring. After the war Roma experienced killings, forced sterilization, segregation, racial discrimination, evictions, and extreme poverty.

Roma are widely misunderstood. People who would never say something similar about other groups often casually offer ignorant and offensive comments about Roma people. They are seen by many as rootless (“gypsies”). It’s true that they are widely dispersed, but most are settled, or would choose to be if they could find work. They are seen as unwilling to participate, even though as with any group, some assimilate well to dominant lifestyles while others maintain distinctive ways. It’s a final insult that they are widely blamed for petty crimes with little evidence other than an often mistaken ethnic identification. (And yes, they do commit some crimes, just as do members of any group.)

My own experience with Roma people has been limited. There were Roma in Illinois, especially in the southern areas. I met Roma people during a year in Ireland. Amongst a large number of immigrants, they were often misidentified based on quick judgements about behavior. I’ve met Roma in the US and in various other countries in Europe. I learned about librarians in Bucharest working with Roma communities. I visited “Roma schools” in Turkey. I wouldn’t pretend to any great personal knowledge, but what I have experienced loudly confirms what I’ve read from thoughtful sources, e.g., The Roma and open society or Dimitrina Petrova’s ‘The Roma: Between a myth and the future.’

To take just one example: The Turgut Reis middle school in Çanakkale, Turkey (see photos above) is set in the midst of a 600-year old Roma community. To residents of the neighborhood, the Turks, Arabs, Europeans, and so on are the itinerant ones. Students in the school are bright, energetic, focused on sports, music, and each other They’re sometimes unruly, but fun to be with. They fit well to my stereotype of middle school students .

The needs of the Turgut Reis community are familiar in other urban settings–job opportunity, education, affordable housing, and overcoming racism. The history of the people undoubtedly shapes their situation today, but that situation is not determined by being Roma. Attaching a label, such as “Roma,” may provide a starting point for conversation, but it ultimately tells us little about any individual.

I’m glad that the U.N. panel found a failure to comply with the applicable human rights standards in the Kosovo camps. It also urged a public apology and payment of adequate compensation. I hope that doing so nurtures the growth of a greater understanding of a complex and fascinating culture.


Sharing reading across generations

I recently had an enlightening day reading with middle schoolers. It was definitely more fun than when I had to be in middle school myself. I had volunteered for an intergenerational reading group, part of Project Read. This meant that adults in the area would read the same texts and do the same homework as the students. We would then meet with them in small groups during regular class hours to discuss the reading.

On this particular day, we had all read Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery. This classic of secondary school has long provided fodder for discussion, confusion, and in some cases distress. I know at least one person my age who says that she’s still disturbed by it. It’s interesting to read the reactions of readers as shown in their letters to the New Yorker, where it was first published in 1948.

There were four class periods with small reading groups, then whole-class discussion, so I was able to hear a variety of responses and share my own:
  • Many students were excited to discover the similarity of the story to that of The Hunger Games novel/film, and even more to learn that others had made the same discovery.
  • I was surprised to hear one boy say that the story must have been set very long ago, because “the heads of household were all men.” Another added that “the men did all the talking and mostly talked about the women, rather than letting them talk.” I don’t believe that middle school boys from my time would have said the same.
  • One student said that the stoning in the story was wrong “because there were only 300 people in the village.” (One death would make a big difference.) We then talked about whether stoning someone to death was ever justifiable.
  • A big question concerned why people in the story, especially Mr. Warner, didn’t want to change. Several students agreed that the people who resisted ending the practice of stoning were similar “to the people who resist allowing fast food restaurants into Brewster. People are afraid of new things.” I didn’t do a poll, but I imagine a sharp generation divide on the fast food issue, with the older ones opposed. The students were right: The older folks don’t want change. Nevertheless, I was uncomfortable equating stoning people to death with opposing fast food.
  • A volunteer adult added, “sometimes you’ve been doing something your whole life and it’s hard to admit that you were wrong.” I doubt that the 13 year-olds have that same feeling about doing something their whole life.
  • I was dismayed to hear two girls in separate groups describe incidents in which boys had thrown (multiple) stones at them.
  • Another student said that Tessie Hutchinson was stoned because she was engaging in protest. The usual reading is that her cry that the stoning was unfair was disingenuous since she never said anything until after she’d been selected. But in the context of Ferguson events I can now understand the interpretation the student made.
  • My best contribution was to bring up Martin Niemöller’s famous First they came… statement. This much-quoted passage reads all the more powerful for me knowing Niemöller’s own earlier national conservative views and anti-semitism. And it makes his analogy to Tessie Hutchinson more telling. The statement is quoted in a book that the students will be reading later in the year in their Holocaust unit.

Like any good learning experience, this one was shared broadly. The teachers, volunteers, and middle school students had to cross some boundaries, but all learned something about the story and about each other. A quote on the classroom wall seemed especially a propos for this intergenerational encounter:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Journal series on progressive education

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) has now published a series of three special issues on “Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future”:

  1. Progressive Education: Antecedents of Educating for Democracy (IJPE 9.1, February 2013)
  2. Progressive Education: Educating for Democracy and the Process of Authority (IJPE 9.2, June 2013)
  3. What’s Next?: The Future of Progressivism as an “Infinite Succession of Presents” (IJPE 9.3, October 2013)

I worked on these journal issues with John Pecore, Brian Drayton, and Maureen Hogan, as well as article contributors from around the world. We’re now exploring options for developing some of the articles along with some additional material into a handbook. The series is timely given current debates about the purpose and form of education in an era of rapid technological change, globalization, demographic and political shifts, and growing economic inequities. It asks, “What have we learned about pedagogy that can support democratic, humanistic, and morally responsible development for individuals and societies?”

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solvingcritical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts. It was promoted by the Progressive Education Association in the US from 1919 to 1955, and reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey.

But as an approach to pedagogy, progressive education is in no way limited to the US or the past century. In France, the Ecole Moderne, developed from the work of Célestin Freinet, emphasizes the social activism side of progressive education. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education demonstrates the importance of art in learning, a key element of the holistic approach in progressive education. Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil on critical literacy, highlights the link between politics and pedagogy. Similarly, influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of basic education resonates with progressive ideals of learning generated within everyday life, cooperation, and educating the whole person, including moral development.

It is worth noting that progressive education invariably seeks to go beyond the classroom walls. Thus, the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House with immigrants fits, even if it is not situated within a traditional school. Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School focused on social activism with adults, exemplifying the progressive education ideals. So too is the Escuela Nueva in Spain, Colombia, and elsewhere. The informal learning in museums, libraries, community and economic development, and online may express progressive education more fully than what we see in many schools today.

We hope that these issues will prove to be a useful resource for anyone interested improving education for a healthier world.

Turkey’s Village Institutes

One of the goals I had for my recent trip to Turkey was to learn more about the Village Institutes (Köy Enstitüleri) there. I knew that they represented an innovative approach to expanding opportunities for learning, but that they had come to an abrupt end in the late 1940’s.

I’d read several articles about the Institutes (see below), and also knew that they had been influenced by John Dewey’s report on the Turkish educational system, but I wanted to hear firsthand from Turkish people who had been involved with the Institutes, or had studied them from a Turkish perspective.

The Village Institutes were created to meet a serious educational need. In 1928 (the year of the introduction of the Latin script in Turkey), 82.5 per cent of men and 95.2 per cent of women were illiterate. For 13.6 million people, there were only 4,894 elementary schools and most of those were in the towns, not the villages where most of the people lived (Vexliard & Aytac, 1964).

Between 1939 and 1946 twenty-one co-educational boarding schools were built to prepare primary school teachers. Much of the construction work was done by pupils and teachers. Youth of both sexes, aged twelve to sixteen, who had completed a five-year village primary school, qualified for admission. Their education was free following a pledge to teach in an assigned village for twenty years after graduation.

The duties of the new teachers included:

  • primary education
  • adult education in the villages
  • raising the cultural level of the villages through the distribution of books, educational programs, radio, and vocal, dance, & instrumental music education; the photo above (by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images), shows Turkish teenagers in an Institute presenting a mass concert on the saz, the Turkish national instrument
  • promoting progressive agricultural techniques in the fields, the orchards, and kitchen gardens; the raising of  livestock; rural handicrafts such as ironwork, carpentry, leather work, mechanics, and electricity
  • instruction for adults in child-rearing, housekeeping, needlework
  • the creation and development of rural cooperatives

The graduates of the Institutes were to return to their villages as leaders and reformers. Teachers, students, and villagers in general were to learn practical skills, mostly related to their agricultural economy, new tools for life, and general education.

The Institute approach embodied ideas of Ataturk, Dewey, and others such as integrating theory and practice, focusing on the underserved, working across institutions, and a systemic approach to building a stronger society. Classical education was to be combined with practical abilities and applied to local needs.

The Institutes had a major impact, and many people regret that they were shut down. But there was resistance against this secular and mixed education. Some feared that it would educate ‘the communists of tomorrow,’ a damning statement during the Cold War. Traditionalists questioned the coeducational and secular aspects. Powerful landlords did not appreciate the goal of educating children who could ask “Why?” questions. There were also questions about the organization and preparation of the teachers. By 1953 the Village Institutes had been completely shut down.

I heard strong statements from people who knew about the Institutes and decried their closing. An artist we met, who had been born during the Institute period, said “They killed the Turkish children! They murdered Turkey’s future!”

Others were more reserved, but still felt that a crucial opportunity had been lost. There are estimates of major losses for Turkey in terms of general literacy and economic development still being felt today because of the closings.

From the little I know, it appears that the Village Institutes demonstrated a successful model for education that could be applied anywhere after suitable adjustment for local needs. I’d like to learn more, and have many questions.

For example, all the photos I’ve seen show only (or mostly) young men, even though the Institutes were coeducational. How did the young men and women get along? How did they each experience the Institutes? The graduates would now be in their 80’s. How do they think about that experience today? What did their training mean for the villages where they went to teach?

How do the Village Institutes compare to other grassroots, community-based education initiatives, such as the school at Weedpatch Camp in California, Foxfire, the Misiones Pedagogicas (village literacy program in Spain, which was shut down by Franco), Paulo Freirean projects in many countries, Paseo Boricua, the Reggio Emilia Approach, or the school set up by the schoolboys of Barbiana?

Perhaps most importantly, could or should the Institutes be revived? Or, are there principles we can derive from them that would be valuable for the more urban populations of today?


Ata, Bahri (2000). The influence of an American educator (John Dewey) on the Turkish educational system. Turkish Yearbook of International Relations (Milletlerarası Münasebetler Türk Yıllığı), 31. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi.

Bilgi, Sabiha, & Özsoy, Seckin (2005). John Dewey’s travelings into the project of Turkish modernity. In Thomas S. Popkewitz (ed.), Inventing the modern self and John Dewey: Modernities and the traveling of pragmatism in education (pp. 153-177). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dewey, John (1983). Report and recommendations upon Turkish education. In Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Middle Works: Essays on Politics and Society, 1923-1924. Vol. 15 of Collected Works. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.

Eğrikavuk, Işil (2010, April 9). Anniversary marks unfinished story of Turkish village schools. Hürriyet Daily News.

Stirling, Paul (1965, 1994). Turkish village. Canterbury, UK: Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent at Canterbury.

Stone, Frank A. (1974). Rural revitalization and the Village Institutes in Turkey: Sponsors and critics. Comparative Education Review, 18(3), 419–429.

Uygun, Selçuk (2008, November). The impact of John Dewey on the teacher education system in Turkey. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(4), 291–307.

Vexliard, Alexandre, & Aytac, Kemal (1964). The Village Institutes in Turkey. Comparative Education Review. 8(1), 41-47.

Wolf-Gazo, Ernest (1996). John Dewey in Turkey: An educational mission. Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 3, 15-42.

Yılmaz, Omer (1977). Schools for developing countries: The Turkish Village Institutes. Educational Planning, 3(4), 72–80.