DECLARATION ON EDUCATION FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY IN THE 21st CENTURY
- Affirming that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and deserve the best education possible;
- Affirming that universal education and excellence in education are essential to the flourishing of a democratic society;
- Aware that in the 21st century the United States and its people are part of an increasingly interdependent world and face a deepening global environmental crisis and the urgent need to address complex issues of social and economic justice and war and peace;
- Recognizing that there is an urgent need for the reform and renewal of American political democracy, which is failing to address critical, short term and long term, social, economic and environmental problems due to the loss of a sense of common purpose, a lack of principled leadership, extreme partisanship, and widespread corruption;
- Recalling Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation almost two hundred years ago that the future of American democracy depends on nurturing and perpetuating “the habits of the heart” that sustain a dynamic civil society and effective democratic government;
- Remembering John Dewey’s firm conviction that democracy is first and foremost a great moral ideal and that moral and social democracy is the inspiration, and only sure foundation, for a democratic political system;
- Sharing John Dewey’s faith in education as “the fundamental method of social progress and reform”;
- Concerned that America’s schools, and especially the public schools, are not giving the necessary attention to the habits of the heart and shared ethical framework that are needed to guide a vibrant, culturally diverse democratic society in the 21st century;
Spiritual and Moral Development
1. It is the purpose of the schools to nurture the growth of the whole child, helping young people find a path to self-realization and preparing them to be caring, creative, and responsible democratic citizens who contribute to society according to their personal capacities and talents.
2. There is within each and every child an innermost core, the deep center of the feeling, thinking, willing human being – the heart. With the heart, each and every child is endowed with a natural capacity for spiritual and moral growth, which is an integral dimension of human development and can be nurtured in a great variety of ways.
3. Heart centered spiritual and moral development leads to a way of being that is infused with a sense of interconnection with the larger world and that inspires caring relationships with oneself, other persons, and the greater community of life. It is about overcoming the illusion of separateness and finding meaning and purpose through learning, growing, loving, sharing, creating, giving, and serving. For many, this way of being is sustained and guided by the feeling of an ineffable sacred presence within oneself and in and through all things
4. An awakened heart that supports a deep sense of caring, meaning, and purpose is the necessary foundation for the full development of a young person’s cognitive, emotional, social, and moral capacities.
5. Integrating the head and the heart promotes social as well as individual wellbeing. It fosters the shift in thinking, values, and decision-making needed for wise, compassionate, and skillful leadership in all spheres of society and for revitalization of American democracy
6. It is the responsibility of parents, families, religious institutions, communities, and schools to cultivate the spiritual awareness and inner moral compass of young people. At a time when increasing numbers of children grow up in a predominantly secular world, it is imperative that schools create caring learning communities that address this fundamental human need, supporting teachers in their spiritual development as well as students.
Pathways to Implementation
7. In creating and implementing programs and curricula designed to support spiritual and moral growth, Pre-K-12 education should be guided by a science-based, rigorously tested, developmental psychology. Through the wide sharing of best practices each school must find those approaches that can be most effectively integrated with its culture and harmonized with its unique situation.
8. The experience of wonder in relation to nature, the enjoyment of beauty in its many manifestations, and participation in the creative arts are in the lives of children are gateways to spiritual awareness and sources of joy and moral inspiration. Through its physical design, culture, and curriculum, the school can provide students with many opportunities for encounters with nature and engagement with the arts.
9. The schools have a responsibility to promote an understanding of and respect for universal spiritual and moral values such as are set forth in widely supported declarations like the United States Declaration of Independence, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Earth Charter. A school culture that embodies these values and promotes learning by doing is fundamental to achieving this objective.
10. Studying the history of the world’s religions and how the religions have explored the spiritual dimension of experience needs to be part of a young person’s spiritual and moral education. However, the secular schools should not be advocating for or against organized religion or promoting the worldview and beliefs of any one particular religion.
11. The telling of the universe story as science is coming to understand it is an invaluable resource that can help young people orient themselves in relation to the larger whole of which they are an interconnected part and find their bearings spiritually and morally in relation to the greater community of life as well as the larger human family in all its cultural diversity.
12. The spirit of respectful, free, and open communication is fundamental to the democratic way of life and the non-violent management of differences and conflicts. The schools have a responsibility to create a learning environment that instills this spirit and teaches the art of constructive dialogue.