EDF 300 Democracy and Education T 425pm


This course deals with issues that are difficult, controversial, and sometimes unpleasant.

You may experience discomfort during the semester when reading, writing, and talking with your professor and peers about the course material.

Taking this course shows a commitment to confronting your assumptions about important social and political ideas and other people, whether they be individuals or groups.

If you do not want to challenge or advocate your beliefs, please do not take the course.

We will tolerate all perspectives, except intolerance. We will not tolerate an inability to be open, listen, and understand things that do not fit with our beliefs.

One of us may say something that carries significances we were not aware of before. We might offend one another. The professor promises to do everything in his power to make the classroom a space for communicating these meanings and facilitating our reactions to them.

Because we tolerate all perspectives, we will not agree with each other all the time. We will disagree. Our disagreements may be emotional. If at any time you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or have other deep feelings related to the course please write to your professor or come to office hours.

Welcome to Democracy and Education. Enjoy the course.



DEPARTMENT: Professional & Secondary Education
COURSE TITLE: Democracy & Education
INSTRUCTOR: Dr. David I. Backer
EMAIL: dbacker@wcupa.edu
Monday 315-415pm (Graduate Center), Tues/Thurs 1-3pm (Anderson)


Any student with a disability who believes he/she needs accommodation(s) in order to complete this course should contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities as soon as possible.  The staff in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities will determine what accommodations are appropriate and reasonable under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Office of Services for Students with Disabilities is located in Lawrence Center – Room 105, and can be reached by phone at 610-436-2564.


A study of the philosophical, historical, and sociological issues related to American education. The course places schools within the context of the larger American society and asks to what degree can and should schools serve as agents for creating a more just and democratic society.


Course Overview: Hello and welcome to EDF 300! We’re going to study democracy and education together. We’ll do this by using democratic practices in the classroom, examining ideas about democracy and education, and looking at examples of democracy and education. In general, I’d like you to come away with a basic understanding of democracy, a basic understanding of education, and then be able to think about (and critically practice) contemporary educational politics and practices using those basic understandings. By the end of the course I hope you will be able to say something meaningful about the following questions.

Essential Questions: What is democracy, what is education, and what is the relationship between these two concepts today? 


  1. Read course texts.
  2. Practice democratic techniques in class, like discussion and self-evaluation.
  3. Discuss historical and contemporary philosophies of democratic education.
  4. Discuss historical and contemporary policies, pedagogies, and practices.
  5. Complete FEI papers and the Philosophy of Education paper.
  6. Attend every class meeting possible.
  7. Complete two grade proposal surveys at final and midterm and a check-up.


  1. Discuss the ideas of past and present educational theorists and philosophers.
  2. Suggest ways to improve education in your own community.
  3. Define components of differing philosophies of education.
  4. Think about contemporary issues in terms of democracy.
  5. Describe the role of schooling as a social institution in a democracy.
  6. Articulate and defend beliefs about the purposes of education
  7. Understand the role of schools in democratic and capitalistic society.
  8. Define what it means to be a “critical democratic citizen”


(Make sure to complete readings for two lines each class meeting)

Day Focus Reading Due
(1/24) Day 1


Introduction of syllabus, practice FEI (student and society passage), making of name cards, political diagnostic No reading n/a
Practice discussion, other classroom techniques. Elements of Discussion, David I. Backer, excerpts. FEI 0 (Practice)
(1/31) Day 2


Greek ideas of democracy: The many govern for the good of all Aristotle Politics (Parts I – VIII) FEI 1
Modern ideas of democracy Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (pp. 1-45) FEI 2
(2/7) Day 3 What does democracy look like? Early systems “What was the Iroquois Confederacy?” PDF: abss6ch4draft

“Our Indians Have Outdone the Romans,” by Bruce E. Johansen

What does Democracy look like? Our system The US-constitution

Videos: Intro, Congress, Separation of Powers

(2/14) Day 4 Who are “the all”? Race problems Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, Introduction: newjimcrow-ch-1

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Short Except

FEI 5 (both readings together)
Who are “the all”? Gender problems Seneca Falls Declaration FEI 6
(2/21) Day 5 Who are “the all”? Class problems Karl Marx, Capital, pp.45-48 & 238-243 FEI 7


Socrates: question everything, all the time Meno FEI 8
Day 6 (2/28) Plato: The Cave Excerpt and Video FEI 9 (on both reading and video)
Ancient Aztec Education:

Education of the Face

Aztec Thought and Culture

Introduction and Chapter IV

FEI 10
Day 7 (3/7) Sor Juana: 

Ignoring Less

La Respuesta, sec. 1-10 FEI 11
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Indirect Method (reading emailed) FEI 12
Day 8 (3/21) John Dewey: Conjoint Communicative Experience, John Dewey, Democracy and Education Chapter 7 FEI 13
Paulo Freire: Conscientization Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness , Excerpts FEI 14
Day 9 (3/28) Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis: School Can’t Change Society Schooling in Capitalist America, “Broken Promises” chapter 1, p.1-17.


FEI 15
Bowles and Gintis for Today “The False Promise of Education,” by David I. Backer FEI 16
Day 10 (4/4)


ESSA, the law of the land Intro Video

Diane Ravitch’s Blog Posts, EXCLUSIVE 1-9

FEI 17
 Day 11 (4/11) Charter Schools (pro) Separating Fact from Fiction on Charter Schools


FEI 18
Charter Schools (con) Fact-checking “Separating Fact from Fiction”

PDF: ttr-charterclaims-mmw-1

FEI 19
 Day 12 (4/18) School Segregation Today “The Problem We All Live With,” This American Life FEI 20
DEMOCRATIC CURRICULUM 1 Assignment: find a reading that you think would be interesting to study with the class given  the themes and ideas that have developed in the course thus far. Make sure the reading is 10-20 pages, and an academic article, chapter of a book, or intellectual essay. Please bring a hard copy of the reading to class. No FEI, just find the reading and bring it to class.
 Day 13 (4/25) DEMOCRATIC CURRICULUM 2  ED_Article FEI 20
DEMOCRATIC CURRICULUM 3  https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/lessons-high-performing-countries FEI 21
 Day 14 (5/2) DEMOCRATIC CURRICULUM 4  New Outspoken Atheism FEI 22
DEMOCRATIC CURRICULUM 5  Capability thru participatory democracy FEI 23
Final Discussion

Final Paper due: Come to class and email paper to Dr. Backer.

FILL OUT Final Grade Proposal Survey

Final Paper and Final Grade Proposal Survey


Dr. Backer will not “give” students grades. This is undemocratic. Rather, students will propose a grade based on their own standards of quality and negotiate with Dr. Backer. Two times throughout the semester, Dr. Backer will send out a grade proposal survey. Students will take the measure of their own learning with these surveys, to which Dr. Backer will respond with prose feedback. At one point during the semester, each student must complete a personal check-up through email. Since criteria for evaluation are democratized in this course, there are no formal criteria for grading. However, the percentages below are a suggestion to help you think about self-evaluation.

  1. 13 FEI papers on readings 30%
  2. 1 Final Philosophy of Education Paper 35%
  3. Overall attendance, discussion participation 25%
  4. Mid-term grade proposal survey 5%           
  5. Final grade proposal survey 5%


FEI papers

FEI papers are Fact-Evaluation-Interpretation papers. You will write at least 13 of these papers, print them out before class, and turn them in to Dr. Backer hard copy after class. Again: you will type the papers, print them out, bring the hard copy to class, and then turn it in after class. These papers will help you engage with the readings fully. Full credit on an FEI paper requires four components. Each part is described below.

1) Write a factual question about the text and answer it yourself by looking it up elsewhere (internet, wikipedia, dictionary, encyclopedia)

  • Factual questions include: What does [a word] mean? Who is [a person]? When did [an event] happen? What is [a thing]?

2) Write an evaluative statement about the text (500 words)

  • Evaluative statements include: I disagree with [position or idea]. I relate to [idea] because in my own life [personal experience]…

3) Write an interpretive question about the text (no answer, 100-300 words)

  • Interpretive questions include: When the author says [passage], does s/he mean [an interpretation] or [another interpretation]? On the one hand, the author says [passage], but then elsewhere s/he says [different passage]–is that inconsistent? Is the real meaning of what the author is saying [your thought], or is it something else? When I read [passage], I think it means [your thought]–but I’m not sure because [doubt]. Am I right? In one reading, I thought [something] was true, but in this reading the author says [passage]. Is [something] really true?

Dr. Backer will mark (not grade) your FEI papers each week. The mark will be 0, 1, or 2.

0 = FEI does not include one of the three elements, is significantly limited in one or more sections, or is completed for the wrong reading.

1 = Fact, Evaluation, and Interpretive sections are present and satisfactory; each section follows the format above correctly.

2 =  Factual question addresses a word or term central to the reading’s theme; Evaluative statement is insightful, drawing passages directly from the reading with proper citations; Interpretative question is substantive, succinct, and gets to the heart of tensions in the reading to create classroom discussion.


For your final paper, pick an educational practice or policy and analyze it from at least three theoretical perspectives we have explored throughout the semester. 

Here’s a way to think about the paper: pick three authors whose work you’ve enjoyed (Aristotle, Sor Juana, Dewey, Michelle Alexander…). Imagine you’re sitting in a classroom together with them having a discussion about an educational practice or policy (something from your own school, something at West Chester University, this class, charter schools, segregation, ESSA, discussion pedagogy, free schools…). What would these authors say? Where do they agree, disagree, or build upon one another? Finally, after listening to what these authors say, what is your perspective? Do you agree with some, all, or none of them? Why?

Structure of the paper:

  • Introduction
    • Interesting first line (no cliches!)
    • Map of what you’ll say, which educational practice you’ve picked and who will analyze it.
  • Educational policy/practice
    • In this section, introduce your policy or practice. Make sure to give important details regarding history, leading thinkers/people involved in the practice.
  • Perspective 1
    • Choose an author from the syllabus this year, and use their writing/thinking to analyze your practice/policy. Make sure to include in-text quotations from the author’s writing.
  • Perspective 2
    • Choose a second author from the syllabus this year, and use their writing/thinking to analyze your practice/policy. Make sure to include in-text quotations from the author’s writing.
  • Perspective 3
    • Choose a third author from the syllabus this year, and use their writing/thinking to analyze your practice/policy. Make sure to include in-text quotations from the author’s writing.
  • Your Perspective
    • In this section, state your position on the policy or practice. Use the perspectives you’ve summarized to build your position. What would you say at the discussion with these authors?
  • Conclusion
    • Sum up your ideas in the paper, bringing the reader back to the beginning. End with a memorable line or image!
  • References
    • Make sure you list your references in APA format. Do not use Wikipedia, random internet articles, or superficial websites in your paper.

The paper should be referenced using APA format. A reference list should be included at the end.

References may be taken from the course readings (required and recommended).

Relevance supersedes quantity in evaluation of reference use.

Length: Approximately 10-12 pages not including references, double-spacing, 12 pt.

Drafts of the paper, or sections of the paper, may be submitted for feedback before the final version is turned in.

Final Paper Evaluative Criteria

Introduction to paper (clear articulation of overall purpose, rationale for this paper)

Clear thematic concern statement

Discussion of specific theoretical perspectives (clarity, depth of coverage for purposes of paper, evidence of writer understanding)

Integration of content of course (evidence of relating the topic of the paper to central themes and concepts of the course)

Analytic strength (ability to integrate the viewpoints and theoretical perspectives into a cogent and compelling narrative, articulation of strengths, weaknesses, alternative perspectives)

Use of supporting references (references cited beyond course readings, relevance of references cited)

Grade Description
(F) Does not meet expressed expectations at any level.  Paper does not use course concepts or readings.  It is a paper that someone could have written without enrolling in the course. Fails to correctly use APA style in writing the paper.
(D) Does not demonstrate understanding of course material.  Paper inadequately or incompletely uses sources.  Descriptions of perspectives might severely distort a source’s argument or fail to provide any detail or explanation.  Significant mistakes in the application of APA style in writing the paper.
(C) Demonstrates minimal understanding of course material.  Paper partially uses course readings and other materials to address the issue.  It might inadequately or incompletely describe the perspectives of authors and may inadequately evaluate authors’ perspectives.  Application of APA style with some mistakes.
(B-) Demonstrates basic understanding of course material.  Paper uses several sources to address the issue but does so with insufficient detail or accuracy.  Descriptions of perspectives might distort a source’s argument in minor ways or fail to provide concrete detail or explanation.  Application of APA style with a few mistakes.
(B+) Demonstrates solid understanding of course material.  Paper uses several sources accurately to address the issue with detail.  In a rare case a paper will earn points for basic understanding of sources but stellar evaluation of some.  Application of APA style with minimal mistakes.
(A-) Demonstrates above-average understanding of course material.  Paper reasonably uses several sources to address the issue.  It demonstrates more than solid understanding in the skillful use of detail, evaluation of sources, or some other manner.  Flawless application of APA style writing.
(A) Demonstrates superb understanding of course material. Paper reasonably uses several sources to address the issue.  It demonstrates more than solid understanding in the skillful use of detail, evaluation of sources, or some other manner, and the analysis has extremely forceful writing.  Flawless application of APA style writing.


All texts will be available via PDF at davidbacker.com/classes.


Presence is complex. You can be here in body but not in mind, for instance, or be unable to be present in body but still learn a great deal from the readings. Physical and mental attendance at all classes is expected. It may be possible, if deemed necessary, to demonstrate mental presence using FEI papers despite physical absence.

Remember, you’re going to propose your grade to me for your work in this class. If you’re not in class, you’ll have a harder case to make for a good grade. If you’re here but I can tell you’re not mentally present (on your phone constantly, on your computer, asleep, doing other work, etc) then you’ll have a hard case to make for a good grade. Attend and be attentive.


Again, you’ll have to propose a grade to me. If work is late it’ll be harder to make a case for a good grade. I decide lateness policies on a case-by-case basis. Get me the work when you can and we’ll see from there.


All students have a right to expect that the University will reasonably accommodate their religious observances, practices and beliefs.  In accordance with this policy, I expect you to notify me in writing if you intend to be absent for a class or announced examination.


Rarely, students need incompletes for extraordinary reasons.  I will not grant an incomplete at the end of the semester without prior discussion with the student and a firm deadline the student proposes for completing the work.  


I encourage collaboration among students when reading, studying, and thinking about the course. However, I am evaluating written work in this course as an individual’s product, and I expect all students to do their own work on class assignments.  I also expect students to acknowledge in writing the intellectual work of others, whether from readings or ideas learned from your classmates.  Students must use APA style when citing in papers for this course, as described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.  In cases of plagiarism students will receive a failing grade in this course.

The acid test for citation mechanics:

A citation is sufficient if it would allow a stranger to find the source in a library.  

How to avoid plagiarism

Dangerous habits that can lead to plagiarism:

  • Copying sections of readings (or overheads) directly into notes
  • Waiting until the last minute before starting an assignment
  • Not understanding the intellectual principle behind citations
  • Not understanding the differences between quoting and paraphrasing