“Informed, Empowered” a mural created by youth in Brooklyn in partnership with Groundswell. Banners read: “We Are Not Government Issued” and “Arm Yourself with the Knowledge to Think for Yourself”.

Critical Reflection Prompt 4: Why School? Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6, 12, & 13.

Ground yourself: In Why School Mike Rose writes:

“Reading and writing gave me skills to create with and act in the world.. . I was learning how to marshal evidence and frame an argument. . . Acquiring and using knowledge brings its own pleasures. . . All the foregoing helped me to develop a sense of myself as knowledgeable and capable of using what I know. This is a lovely and powerful quality — cognitive, emotional, and existential all in one. It has to do with identity and agency, with how we define ourselves, not only in matters academic but also in the way we interact with others and with institutions.” (38–40)

First, think about your “unfolding narrative” book. In what ways has your own identity — your relationship to place, to institutions and people that are part of those places — been shaped by education, by schools you have attended, teachers you have had? What does Mike Rose say that resonates or not with the ways in which your education has or has not helped you develop/express your sense of self in the world? (You don’t need to write about this. Just think about it to ground yourself in some of the ideas you will be writing about below.)

Guiding question: What is the relationship between education and democracy?

Here is a bit of a road map, to help you think about ways in which Rose addresses this question:

Throughout this text, Mike Rose provides many examples and illustrations of the ways in which equitable and meaningful public education is central to a thriving democracy. He outlines many current factors — policy, standards, dichotomizing intellectual and vocational learning, and privileging specific ways of learning and cognitive skills over others — that have impacted and caused huge inequities in public education.

He writes: “As an ideal [emphasis added], democracy assumes the capacity of the common person to learn, to think independently, to decide thoughtfully”(96). Yet, our own educational system, accompanying attitudes, and values regarding different kinds of intelligence and skills have become narrowed by standards that don’t account for multiple ways of knowing which are at the heart of the “democratic imagination”(97).

In Chapter 13, “Finding the Public Good Through the Details of Classroom Life,” Rose probes more deeply into the connection between education and civic life and the fact that “we must not simply accept our public institutions as they are, but be vigilantly engaged with them”(204). He describes a Los Angeles talk show host who called local children “garbage” and the fact that the kids themselves know that people think of them as “trash” (205). He ends with his call to action: “ We have to do better than this. We have to develop a revitalized sense of public life and public education” (205–206). What is at stake if we don’t?

PROMPT: Use the text to explore the vital connection between a public education system that empowers all people to think and act critically/creatively AND a living democracy? How do we provide education that cultivates the capacity for all people to participate, engage with and challenge public institutions? Please use at least one quote from the beginning (1 and 2), middle (5 and 6), and concluding chapters (12 and 13). The Now What? needs to make a connection with and use specifics from your community experience thus far. You can use the example below or you can create your own line of inquiry as long as it helps you better understand the connection between an equitable education and a living democracy. You could also go at this from the other angle, exploring the barriers and challenges to this type of education i.e. market driven values, standardized testing etc.


What does Rose mean by “democratic imagination”? (Use quotes from text to support your point/interpretation.)

So what? How can and should education engender young people’s capacity for a democratic imagination? Who is most impacted by the lack of this type of education? (Use quotes from text to support your interpretation/point.)

Now what? How do you see the students at your community partner site either encouraged or discouraged from cultivating a democratic imagination? (Use quotes from text and a specific illustration or story from your community partner experience to support your point.)

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