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  • Writer's pictureChaire UNESCO en démocratie, citoyenneté mondiale et éducation transformatoire

Believing that it exists when we’re not sure what it is…: Could we paint a picture of democracy?

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

A Keynote Address at the Creative Approaches to Democracy Education conference in Lisbon (March 11 at 11:30 EST)

The conference takes place March 10-12, 2022, and is open-access with registration.

Believing that it exists when we’re not sure what it is…: Could we paint a picture of democracy?

Paul R. Carr

What does it mean to live in a democracy, to be democratic, to base everything we do on the premise of our democracy, and to question the integrity and sanctity of those who do not adhere to our vision of democracy? Can democracy exist without critically-engaged and socially-justice-based engagement and participation? Do we believe that education is the glue that binds together democracy and critically-engaged and socially-justice-based engagement and participation? If so, what type of education? These questions frame this presentation, which critiques the normative, hegemonic, electoralist democracy that we see playing out before us. Normative democracy is smothered in militaristic patriotism, winner-take-all elections, corporatized political parties and institutions, limited political participation, media constraints, and neoliberal education. Of course, there are many good things happening in our societies but issues of racism, sexism, homelessness, poverty, xenophobia, feminicide, discrimination, marginalization and rampant power differentials also characterize, and, I would argue are, incompatible with a vibrant, dynamic, socially-just and critically-engaged democracy. Ultimately, we learn how to be democratic—as democracy is a process, not an electoral result—, and we also learn to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc.. Education is (or should be) potentially the best way to become democratic. We can learn how to dialogue—without killing one another, which, sadly, has traditionally been an oft-used option—, and also to engage with one another, in and through education, at the formal, informal and non-formal levels. But what are the other elements we could and should consider: how should civil society be constructed, developed, integrated and imbued throughout formal power dynamics?; what about the role of culture, the arts, music, dance, theatre, literature and other forms of creativity?; and can we imagine democracy without (re-)considering how our world is formed, shaped and massaged through social media communications, including the endless number of innovations, applications and engagements as consumers, producers, participants and instigators? So how do we build (a) democracy? This presentation humbly attempts to address these issues, knowing that critical dialogue is a necessary component to advancing collective synergy, energy, decency, social change and agency. As we can see with the COVID pandemic, there are no easy solutions but we are all in this together.


Creative Approaches to Democracy Education 10-12 March, 2022

"This international conference aims to promote and support the role of citizenship education in sustaining plural, inclusive democracy. We will showcase creative, innovative and inclusive approaches and practices, explore solutions to the inherent challenges while underlining the increasing importance and relevance of education for democracy in our fascinating and problematic 21st century societies.

We invite teachers, university scholars and students, informal educators, NGOs, think tanks, and other interested entities to share interesting work, ideas and research on the topic. We wish to attract proposals and case studies addressing a variety of contexts (formal/informal/non-formal education; professional settings; NGO settings) that explore the following aspects, amongst others:

THE CoE REFERENCE FRAMEWORK The Council of Europe has recently published invaluable tools such as: (2018) Reference Framework of Competencies for Democratic Culture (3 vols); (2021) A Portfolio of Competences for Democratic Culture. How can we use these tools to promote the students’/youth/citizens’… understanding of the world and empower them to express their views, collaborate, advocate and participate in changing society? How can we best explore these tools to promote active reflection on and critical evaluation of local and/or global issues to develop intercultural dialogue?

ARTS AND INCLUSION In a diverse country, democracy requires advocacy for many minorities. How can creative learning activities encourage engagement, inclusion and emancipation, from the earliest ages? How can the creative arts validate expression and communication for neurodivergent learners and minority thinkers?

CREATIVE THINKING Oppression thrives when citizens believe there is no viable alternative. Closed linear and stunted thinking will not generate imaginative futures. Can arts encounters in education liberate learners from thinking that there is only one correct answer, based on the status quo, which the teacher already knows in advance?

THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY The European project was founded on liberal democracy and human rights after the catastrophes of war. How do we feel our democracies are being transformed in response to increasing diversity? In increasingly divided societies how can we halt the drift towards authoritarianism?

THE TOOLS FOR PARTICIPATION Is it accepted that our future citizens must consciously grasp the tools and levers of social change? If so… how are educators to train them to take on such highly complex tasks?

‘THIN’ OR ‘THICK’ DEMOCRACY Many learners leave education believing that democracy is just voting. Popular media reinforce this limited ‘thin’ notion of participation. What pedagogies are required to build an understanding of and capacity for grass-roots participatory democracy’?

SLOW LEARNING AND COMPLEXITY We live in an age of distraction, driven by rapid change. How can we learn to explore beyond first impressions, to seek other viewpoints, understand other persons; to listen to their stories and, together, consider the longer-term future? Can artistic encounters activate this learning? How can creative approaches lead to deeper understanding?

WHO ARE ‘WE’? Our identities grow from our cultural sources, shaping our definitions of who we will call ‘us’ and who ‘them’. How can we develop a curriculum of self-discovery so as to recognise, respect and understand the others with whom we must collaborate to survive?

EMOTIONAL LITERACY School curricula value logical cognitive processes and often ignore emotions. And yet emotions cannot be untangled from our identities, tribal loyalties, political affiliations and actions. How can we equip learners to acknowledge their emotions and recognise how they can be manipulated by others?

IMAGINATION AND ACTION How can a pedagogy of the imagination generate new visions for change within collaborative projects of increasing scope, and real world impact?

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP How can digital creation and expression nurture media skills to strengthen engagement in collaborative, international democratic learning?

This international conference is the result of an Erasmus+ EU funded project entitled: Creative Approaches to New Democracy through Innovative Inclusive Citizenship Education The project is a five-country collaboration to provide active, creative and arts-based learning resources using digital technologies with associated staff training."


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