00 SES 00 B, Keynote on Demand by Ninni Wahlström: School and Democratic Hope: The School as a Space for Civic Literacy
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The purpose of this presentation is to explore the role of the school in upholding and strengthening democracy at a time when the meaning of democracy is being challenged and the democratic form of governance at a national level is being questioned. In accordance with the conference theme “Education and Society”, it is important to also explore the role of the school beyond those aspects that are measurable, assessable and comparable. From the starting point of the curriculum theory and education policy research fields, I argue that a central issue for educational researchers is to address the school as a space for a broad civic education.
The democratic perspective of compulsory school tends to be subordinated to a logic of economic globalisation in which individual countries’ competitiveness is given high priority. In this discourse, which Nancy Fraser terms “progressive neoliberalism”, the concepts of knowledge and competencies aimed at serving the needs of the labour market have been central to the discussion on the expectations regarding national school systems. But what knowledge and competencies are needed for the qualification of democratic citizens? Public schools are not only publicly financed but are also the places where a public—a citizenry—is made. A main argument I will put forward in this presentation is that the school, as part of society, is vulnerable in relation to political and educational policy aspirations. At the same time, daily life in school can be a place for maintaining democratic principles and a democratic way of living together. Both these perspectives are important to observe and include in educational research. In line with this argument, I suggest the concept of civic literacy as a guiding principle for both the content and practice of teaching. In the problematisation of the democratic role of the school, primarily four aspects will be highlighted: the problem of segregation, the problem of purpose, the problem of curriculum and the problem of teacher agency.
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