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Democracy is a way of life

Writing on democratic values, R.S. Peters, a distinguished professor at the University of London, has stated:

''Democracy is a way of life in which high value is placed on the development of reason and principles such as freedom, truth-telling, impartiality, and respect for persons, which the use of reason in social life presupposes.''

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And on the question of making ourselves and others happy he has written: ''Respect for persons surely demands that the individual should be encouraged to make something of himself, to find some role, occupation, or activity with which he can identify himself and achieve some kind of self-fulfillment.''

Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, claims that the teaching of democracy in the United States is almost in a crisis.

He says the clash is between ''the complexity of the public agenda and the increased ignorance of the electorate.''

His solution is threefold:

To study the philosophy and structure of democracy. What makes it such a different form of government from others.

To use our history for examples - using case studies and studying the original documents.

To deal with contemporary issues as projected by the news media, but by studying the sources of knowledge, the processes used to reach decisions, and the execution which follows.

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Robert Kelley has taught American intellectual and political history at University of California, Santa Barbara, since 1955.

''Our schools,'' he asserts, ''should encourage a spirit of criticism - of discussion and debate.''

He explains that it's in the doing of democracy, even more than the discussion of it, that ''gets the idea across.'' He would not only have students learn about voting, but vote in school elections.

He would not only have them listen to and read speeches, but give speeches, listen to colleagues give them, and debate issues of current interest within the school setting.

He would test a school's teaching of democracy, in part, by finding out if the principal encourages openess. And whether there is a conscious effort on the part of the faculty to challenge materialism and greed with virtue, understanding, and philanthropy.

Earl G. Harrison Jr., headmaster of the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., explained that his 1,000 students probably learn more about democracy from the way the school is run than in actual classroom instruction.

And the head of Sidwell Friend's history department agreed with the headmaster's statement, but added that during his class on US history the Constitution is gone over line by line. Also, the Dred Scott slavery decision is read in its entirety.

The ''good news'' after six months of researching the question ''How do we teach democracy in our democracy?'' is that there are schools which attempt to teach not only the mechanics (civics), but to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of democracy as well. Also there are signs that discussions about democracy are on the rise in more and more classrooms.

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