Could Amy Gutmann's Philosophy of Education Help Repair Our Democracy


Supplement For First Class: Introduction:

Copyright © 2023 Bruce W. Hauptli

Please read my A Quick Introduction to “Deliberative to Democracy” and Democratic Education; as well as Guttmann's "Preface to the Revised Edition" and "Introduction: Back to Basics" (pp. xi-18) prior to class.  


These Class Supplements (and other pieces from my website) generally may be read before and/or after class.  They will remain on my webpage as long as it is active.  In class I hope to cover most of the points, but am not wedded to the order they will be presented in or discussed.  I will open class with a call for questions about the material as well as about the prior classes. 


I. Discussion of Deliberative Democracy:

We will discuss my web piece introducing many of the ideas, topics, issues, and questions we will confront in the course.  


II. Discussion of Gutmann's View of "Deliberative Democracy"


xii-xiii A guiding principle of deliberative democracy is reciprocity among free and equal individuals: citizens and their accountable representatives owe one another justifications for the laws that collectively bind them.  A democracy is deliberative to the extent that citizens and their accountable representatives offer one another morally defensible reasons for mutually binding laws in an ongoing process of mutual justification.  To the extent that a democracy is not deliberative, it treats people as objects of legislation, as passive subjects to be ruled, rather than as citizens who take part in governance by accepting or rejecting the reasons they and their accountable representatives offer for the laws and policies that mutually bind them. 

  Deliberative democracy underscores the importance of publicly supported education that develops the capacity to deliberate among all children as future free and equal citizens.  The most justifiable way of making mutually binding decisions in a representative democracy—including decisions not to deliberate about some matters—is by deliberative decision making, where the decision makers are accountable to the people who are most affected by their decisions.[1]   


xiv Democratic Education offers a principled defense of schooling whose aim is to teach the skills and virtues of democratic deliberation within a social context where educational authority is shared among parents, citizens, and professional educators.   


11 The most distinctive feature of a democratic theory of education is that it makes a democratic virtue out of our inevitable disagreement over educational problems.  The democratic virtue, too simply stated, is that we can publicly debate educational problems in a way much more likely to increase our understanding of education and each other than if we were to leave the management of the schools, as Kant suggests, “to depend entirely upon the judgment of the most enlightened experts.”  The policies that result from our democratic deliberations will not always be the right ones, but they will be more enlightened—by the values and concerns of the many communities that constitute a democracy—than those that would be made by unaccountable educational experts. 


What does she mean by “democratic virtue?”  How is it different from moral virtue, religious virtue, cultural virtue.... 


11-12 The primary aim of a democratic theory of education is not to offer solutions to all the problems plaguing our educational institutions, but to consider ways of resolving those problems that are compatible with a commitment to democratic values.  A democratic theory of education provides principles that, in the face of our social disagreements, help us judge (a) who should have authority to make decisions about education, and (b) what the moral boundaries of that authority are. 

  A democratic theory is not a substitute for a moral ideal of education.  In a democratic society, we bring our moral ideals of education to bear on how we raise our children, on who we support for school boards, and on what educational policies we advocate.  But we cannot simply translate our own moral ideals of education, however objective they are, in to public policy.  Only in a society in which all other citizens agreed with me would my moral ideal simply translate into a political idea. 


Really, she doesn’t want to offer solutions?  What does she mean by “considering ways of resolving problems that are compatible with a commitment to “democratic values”? 


Is her commitment to democratic values more “basic,” or fundamental than to her “moral values”?  Does she believes her commitment is one all individuals share?  Does she believe all her fellow citizens share it? 


Do you see elements of pragmatism in her view?  Could there be a connection here to John Dewey's A Common Faith. 

Going back to the final sentence in the Gutmann cite, would it be enough for all the citizens to agree with her, or would she also want them to have done so deliberatively? 


13 A democratic society is responsible for educating not just some but all children for citizenship. 


14 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 policies—of nonrepression and nondiscrimination—that preserve the intellectual and social foundations of democratic deliberations.  A society that empowers citizens to make educational policy, moderated by these two principled constraints, recognizes the democratic ideal of education. 


Note: [click on the footnote number to return to the passage in the text

[1]Amy Gutmann, Democratic Education (Princeton: Princeton U.P., [1987] 1999), p. xii-xiii.  Emphasis (bold and italics have been added and will be added often to subsequent citations).  All further citations to this work in this and the ensuing supplements will be begin with the page number as this one did, but will have no further footnotes. 



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Last revised on 03/20/23