John Rogers: California’s Schools Can Renew Democracy

Commentary for CalMatters highlights the role of public education in shaping students’ civic engagement, using evidence and analysis in classroom discussions.

UCLA Professor of Education John Rogers has published a commentary in CalMatters on “Reclaiming the democratic purpose of California schools,” co-written with Joseph Kahne, the Ted and Jo Dutton Presidential Professor for Education Policy and co-director of the the Civic Engagement Research Group at UC Riverside, and Erica Hodgin, co-director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at UC Riverside. The commentary is based on their findings as co-authors of the report, “Reclaiming the Democratic Purpose of California’s Public Schools,” which was released in November by Leveraging Equity & Access in Democratic Education (LEADE). 

The co-authors state that the state’s ability to address the current crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and climate change are hampered by a “weakening of our ability to solve problems democratically.”

“Deep fissures in our civic community along with the spread of misinformation undermine our commitment and capacity for public engagement and action,” they write. “Even as we wait for a new administration to bring some modest changes to our national politics, it is increasingly clear that we need a broader renewal of democracy. Our public schools can and should play a critical role. We should be preparing youth to engage thoughtfully and powerfully with societal issues.”

Rogers, Hodgin, and Kahne note that in September of this year, the State School Board formally adopted a new State Seal for Civic Engagement that students can earn on their high school diploma, which will galvanize attention and support for high-quality civic learning in California. The co-authors assert that California’s educators, who may be hesitant to address controversial civic and political issues, will need support from their school districts in the form of professional development in how to structure respectful classroom discussions grounded in evidence and analysis. They also state that service learning opportunities will teach students how to address community problems, and that elected officials and civic leaders can promote the role of public schools in enhancing democracy.

“If we ignore our problems, they will not go away,” write Hodgin, Kahne, and Rogers. “We must reclaim the democratic purposes of education so that students learn to investigate pressing issues, seek out trustworthy information, engage productively across differences, and take action so that both our communities and our state can reach their full potential. The current moment has created both an opportunity and an obligation to act.”     

Professor Rogers is the the director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA. 

To read the commentary in CalMatters, visit the website.

To read the LEADE report on “Reclaiming the Democratic Purpose of California’s Public Schools,” click here.

Photo by Jennifer Young