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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Deliberative Barbarians: Reconciling the Civic and the Agonistic in Democratic Education

  • Author(s): McDevitt, Michael J.
  • Caton-Rosser, Mary S
  • et al.

The history of civics education in the United States suggests a somewhat adversarial relationship between schools and parents. We view the relationship as an evolving and strained social contract; unresolved is the scope of school influence in relation to that of parents. A high school teacher’s decision to open up a classroom for discussion on contested issues can roust resentful parents, many of whom view such activity as indoctrination. Given this sociopolitical backdrop, we propose a framework for curricular reform in which agonistic expression is tempered by the active involvement of parents in family political communication. We explicate a contingent model of deliberative learning, whereby political exchanges in one context contribute to exchanges in another context. With the student as conduit, interpersonal political communication flows back and forth between the classroom and the living room. We apply the model to research on Kids Voting USA curricula to illustrate the heuristic value of contingent learning.

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