Title: Democracy Building Instruction: Defining A Theory Of The Dispositions Of Democracy To Support Democratic Education
Program: Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction
Advisor: Dr. Keith Thiede, Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies
Committee Members: Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm, English (Co-Chair) and Dr. Leslie Atkins, Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies
What are the attitudes, mindsets, and capacities that promote the full flourishing of individuals as well as our collective society? Based on a review of the literature on democratic education, the researcher posits a humble theory (i.e., a local theory in educational research) of the dispositions of democracy and then asks educators from Kindergarten through College (K-College) to share their perspectives, reflect on, co-construct, and revise this initial theory. The study considers the overarching question: What do educators perceive to be the essential dispositions necessary to promoting, perpetuating, and productively participating in a democracy, and how can educators help students acquire these dispositions? To this end, the study addresses two research questions:
1. What are educators’ perceptions about the presented theory of the dispositions of democracy, as developed by the researchers based on the literature on democracy building instruction?
2. What are educators’ beliefs and practices regarding the dispositions of democracy?
Participants in the study included K-College educators who participated in a weeklong institute and fellowship year entitled the “DBI Squared (DBI²) Institute: Democracy Building Instruction Through Document-Based Inquiries.” This professional development engaged educators in participating in a democratic learning community in which they experienced, practiced, and transferred essential dispositions like fostering curiosity and openness, engaging in productive dialogue and civic discourse, honoring diverse perspectives and the multiplicity of ideas, seeing problems as possibilities, and advancing equity and social justice, in order to teach through and for democracy in their classrooms.
The research in this study follows a method of applied theory-building research and focuses on the conceptual development and operationalization phases. In the DBI² Institute, educators helped construct knowledge around the dispositions of democracy by defining them, considering their value for democracy both in and beyond schools, and reflecting on how to teach them. Educators discussed and provided feedback on the dispositions proposed by the researchers and considered how to teach these to students in the current educational climate. Educators also constructed mental models to conceptualize the theory and make it usable by other educators. The research findings provide valuable insights and implications for democratic teaching and learning that support students in knowing, doing, participating, and living in democratic communities of practice.
Keywords: Democratic teaching; Teaching through democracy; Teaching for democracy; Dispositions of democracy; Theory-building research