Monday, 20 September 2010

Deliberating in a Democracy – a good practice guide

This quite special book will hopefully give the readers an idea of what some Romanian high school teachers participating in the “Deliberating in a Democracy” Project have been doing for the last three years thanks to a very generous grant offered by the US Department for Education. In July 2007 the “Friendship Ambassadors” Association and some high schools in Dambovita county joined the project carried out by the Street Law Inc. and two branches of the Constitutional Rights Foundation (in Chicago and Los Angeles). The major idea of the project was to provide European and American teenagers with basic competences to deliberate on controversial issues that shape their democracies. The project consisted of class activities, discussion board communication, videoconferences for students as well as teacher training sessions and teacher exchange opportunities. It was evaluated annually by a team based in University of Minnesota
This collection of good practice comprises four main chapters and the translations of the deliberation issues used in Romania. The first chapter refers to some core concepts: public policy, deliberation, democratic principles, participation as well as the major components of the project. It also describes how the project was carried out in Romania (things done by Romanian high school teachers). We present many original materials developed by the initiators of the project and used in various circumstances in Romania. The chapter obviously introduces the SAC (Structured Academic Controversy) to the readers.
The second chapter comprises eight deliberation lessons carried out by eight out of the thirteen teachers participating in the third year of the project. Some lessons were developed cooperatively. Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, Cyberbullying, Violent Video Games were the favourite issues of our students and teachers. The structure of the class experiences (the way teachers have described their lessons) illustrates the importance of critical thinking and the crucial role played by the students in the new method.
Chapter three depicts other components of the project (11 activities for students and teachers). From staff development sessions to student conferences, from after-class/community projects to student evaluation and from using SAC in other contexts to grateful description of international conferences and teacher exchanges, the six authors of this section really enjoy sharing their understanding and creativity with the readers.
The fourth chapter is the mind and the soul of the guide in the sense that it illustrates what six participants think about the –s and the +s of the project as a whole, how they developed the method/project beyond their formal responsibilities/duties stemming from the project and what they plan to do with DID once the current grant has been over. It is not surprisingly that the styles and the major features of the texts (diary) are very different, and we hope this will make the real difference for the readers who want “to buy” this very complex and generous offer which is the DID Project.
We have gained a lot by participating in this project and we felt we had to share the experience with other practitioners and, maybe, decision makers in education. This guide is not a civic education recipe, it is not even an exhaustive image of the project. It is just ten educationists’ (in Dambovita county) subjective but still honest perceptions of a really interesting professional and personal challenge that enriched them for several years from now on.

Corina Leca, Romanian project co-ordinator Deliberating in a Democracy (Romania)