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

Preface to the Korean Version of the Book“It’s not education that scares me, it’s the educators…”

Preface to the Korean Version of the Book

“It’s not education that scares me, it’s the educators…”

Is there still hope for democracy in education, and education for democracy?

Paul R. Carr & Gina Thésée


Carr, Paul R. & Thésée, Gina. (2019). “It’s not education that scares me, it’s the educators…”: Is there still hope for democracy in education, and education for democracy? Gorham, ME: Myers Education Press.

English version:

Korean version:


Everything changes but does everything really change? The Yin and Yang of education and democracy, and the eternal quest for emancipation

Paul R. Carr & Gina Thésée

We wrote our book just before the pandemic, documenting almost two decades of thoughts, debates, reflections, arguments and research on education for democracy and democracy in education. Like many other colleagues, we hoped that there would be a natural symbiotic and deeply inter-meshed relationship between the two, echoing the Chinese philosophy (Yin and Yang) that frames the two concepts as interconnected, developing and sustaining life, even if the tensions that define them can cause turbulence.

COVID-19 demonstrated a broad range of empathy, solidarity, complicity and the realization that there is no way out without due consideration for everyone. At the same time, we witnessed many manifestations of greed, conflict, indifference to the “Other,” and social inequalities that did not disappear. As we moved through the pandemic tunnel, despite some notable transformations in diverse sectors and regions—people working at home or virtually, altered urbanization patterns, fewer in-person meetings, conferences and travels, the phenomenon of “labor shortages” and the need to collectively develop the public health system—, we also experienced more of the same, the many plagues that make us question how humans are, should be or can be.

Rather than abolishing war and conflict as politico-economic policy, practice and a way of living together , the conception, production and sale of arms reached a peak at the very time global health matters become visibly transparent, exposing the fault-lines than run through already vulnerable families, communities, societies and nations.

We also have experienced unprecedented environmental catastrophe, with intense flooding, forest fires, rising sea levels, intense heat-waves, droughts, and the extinction of species. We have also witnessed cultural genocides and the mass migration of untold numbers of people from the Global South to the Global North, all impacted by social and political factors, and also, environmental factors, notably climate change, caused, in large part, by humans. On the economic stage, there is (still) corruption, the extreme concentration of wealth combined with the limited sharing of resources, increasing of social inequalities. Moreover, systemic social phenomena such as sexism, feminicide, racism, xenophobia and homophobia/transphobia have lead to the continual assault on Women, on Indigenous peoples, Black people, on migrants and other vulnerable social groups. At the same time, a reductionist conception of democracy persists, echoing the less than enviable elections that are intended to define democracy,

We are facing global problems with nuanced contextual and cultural contours at the local level. And these problems are inter-connected, with political and economic decisions, patterns, history and hegemony framing how the broad diversity of people around the world live.

While we believe and hope that we can come closer together, despite the geography, traditions, languages, values, cultures and politics, as the potential for communications, dialogue and engagement has exploded through social media and internet-based applications, we also acknowledge that broad swaths of the world’s population continue to be subjugated, marginalized and excluded.

So how is it possible to experience the realities and depictions that we’ve just enumerated above if, indeed, we live in (a) democracy. What is democracy? And how could it be possible to fantasize about it without engaging, critical, emancipatory education?

Our book seeks to provide some of the nuances of this problematic of the tango between democracy and education that is, in our perspective, not strongly enough debated, cultivated and developed. We often take it for granted that we live in a (normative) democracy, and that our education systems are, thus, naturally democratic. As we note throughout the book, all of the social inequalities and scarring that takes place in our societies are often faithfully reproduced in education, and, yet, happen without significant action, deliberation, dialogue and resolution through the necessary democratic channels. Yet, the notion of robust, critical, engaged, thick democracy requires diminishing human suffering, war, conflict and marginalization. Our inspiration from Paulo Freire and the critical pedagogy school of thought has provided us with a range of examples, philosophical and theoretical orientation, and proposals for change. Part of that inspiration requires us to humbly accept that we do not have the answers alone, although we dearly hope that we can contribute positively to the debate.

Education should be the natural and logical site for supporting, cultivating and initiating dialogue, and learning how to critique and foment social change. What is the purpose of education? To get a job, to conform to societal norms, to become a good citizen? We believe that it is, in large part, or should be, intended to build up society for everyone, not just the power-brokers, the economic elites, those who have disproportionate power and influence at diverse levels. Education should not be about tests and evaluations and rankings; that would be perverse, counter-productive and nefarious, knowing that so many young people will be deleteriously eliminated, stigmatized and marginalized.

But we don’t want to leave the sense that we believe that the situation is hopeless; it is not! These are man/woman/people-made situations, and men/women/people can be more just and exercise their agency and solidarity. Just as no baby is born racist or sexist, and as our colleague Joel Westheimer has put it, no one is born democratic. We learn to be, and there are millions of (nonformal, informal, under-the-radar) acts of democracy taking place around the world. Perhaps the formal electoral-cycle is not the best way to capture the imagination, creativity, humanity and harmony of so much cultural, artistic, organizational and educational production that can lift us up.

So we believe that educators, underpinning education, have a central role to play in developing democracy. Their collective and individual actions, predispositions, gestures, willingness to engage, comprehend and be in solidarity with students (and thus, society) is central to the education project.

The glass is half full. There are many avenues to building solidarity. We’re not ready to throw the towel in on public, formal education. It is too important, far-reaching and impactful to do so. Their engagement cannot be underestimated. But we also need to consider and uplift the informal and non-formal spheres of life and education as well as civil society groups, communities, issues and movements, and connect them to the formal education sector. All of this needs to be re-imagined so as to transform the formal (normative) democratic sector.

It is not too late to develop transformative education for democracy but the declining environment, the incessant wars, the inequitable power relations, the avarice economics and the massive displacement of people around the world are serious and significant concerns. These cannot be considered extraneous and superfluous, outside of the realm of the education system.

Re-considering our own implications, engagement and agency, and also how we relate to power relations, should be, we believe, intertwined with the educational project in alignment with democracy, a new democracy that does not feign being democratic because of flawed elections. Above all, we need a more peace-based, social justice-based, solidarity-based and humanity-based education, a true education for democracy, one that aims to be democratic in its pedagogy, curriculum, educational policies, leadership, epistemologies, connection to non- and informal education, and in its overall conceptualization.

Education for democracy should also be about how we develop together, the process of being democratic, the never-ending dialogues, and we must, importantly, consider all representations of all people, the infinite manifestations of diverse identities and realities. Racial, cultural, ethnic, religious and other minorities, Indigenous peoples, women, LGBTIQA+ identities, and others must all be integrated into the democratic and educational equation. And the socio-economically marginalized must be fully incorporated into all (re)formulations of education. Our book contains a number of models of education for democracy that we hope can contribute to building vibrant, critically-engaged practices, systems, actions and conscientization.

Our message to Korean educators, civil society groups, decisionmakers and anyone else interested in the debates presented in this book is one of solidarity, respect and support. As Korean society becomes more well-known around the world with the explosion of artistic and cultural exploits, and concomitant political and economic relations, we hope that due consideration will be given to what democracy is, how it should be developed in and through education, and how Korean society can become more socially just. Of course, this would be our message to those in Canada or anywhere else but we do recognize that local cultures have unique ways of developing their own forms of democracy. Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all paradigm but, rather, an endless process aimed at social justice, inclusion, engagement, decency and humanity.

On a personal level, we have collaborated with our friends and colleagues at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Education and International Understanding (APCEIU), a UNESCO agency focused on global citizenship in Seoul, for the past several years, and we are absolutely delighted that our book has been translated into Korean. We gratefully thank the translator, Seoungwon Lee, the publisher, and everyone else involved in bringing this project to fruition. Our experience in South Korea has been wonderfully engaging, uplifting and encouraging. Our international Symposium of the UNESCO Chair in Democracy, Global Citizenship and Transformative Education (DCMÉT), in collaboration with Kyung Hee University, in October 2023, focused on Peace, Culture and Social Justice, is a testament to the potentiality of engagement, solidarity and the quest for democracy across cultural, linguistic, economic, political, disciplinary and other borders.

The dialectic, turbulent, chaotic social configurations that contradict the lofty declarations of constitutions and political rhetoric embedded in normative democracy need to be more meaningfully ensconced into the lived realities of everyone, especially those on the outside, thus bringing together the Yin and Yang of paradoxes and tensions to build the utopia we strive to live in. Emancipation will not happen without the social processes, movements, engagement and education that critically define and uplift people in societies so as to address the illnesses, deficits and crushing power plays that characterize the desperation and pain afflicting the world.

But the Yin-Yang effect underscores how we can (and should) develop our own agency, and liberate ourselves. We hope that our book will help further debates, dialogues and actions in South Korea related to education for democracy, and democracy in education. We wish Korean educators, schools and everyone involve the very best in developing the conditions for emancipation. We also wish to keep learning from you, and to keep on constructing education and democracy, together, with you.

Peace and solidarity!

Paul R. Carr & Gina Thésée

Université du Québec en Outaouais Université du Québec à Montréal

UNESCO Chair in Democracy, Global Citizenship and Transformative Education (DCMÉT)

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