Are Schools Democratic? How Compliance Policy Threaten Pluralism

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Abstract

In this paper, we bring together illustrative cases from Australia and Denmark to argue that traces of ‘illiberal democracy’ and ‘undemocraticliberalism’ (Mounk, 2018) can be detected within current education policies of these two countries. Ultimately, we argue that democratic ideals,particularly those associated with pluralism (Connolly, 2005; 2013; Nichols, 2017), are being subtly eroded by new modes of educational governance and policy within the schools of this study. ‘Illiberal democracy’ - or democracy without individual rights - is characterised by excessive majoritarianism that fails to maintain protections for minority voices and groups. Broadly speaking, populism is often considered a form of illiberal democracy that seeks homogeneity through the establishment of a collective identity and the exclusion of ‘others’ (Plattner,2010; Rummens, 2017). ‘Undemocratic liberalism’ is characterised by the protection of individual rights, but without guaranteeing individuals’ability to participate in decision-making processes. As Mounk (2018) argued, the threat of undemocratic liberalism has emerged as international partnerships (e.g., European Union) and global enterprises (e.g., Amazon) increasingly participate in the policies and politics of individual nation states. This evolving national-global relationship profoundly affects how individuals are able to influence their own governments. In our paper, we show how these competing forces are manifesting in covert and overt ways within Australian and Danish schools (to different degrees). Our data include policy documents, interviews with teachers and students, and observation fieldnotes. Our preliminary findings point to two major trends: 1. To different extents, standardisation and compliance are incentivized over pluralism. In Australia, teachers are required to comply with the Australian Curriculum, while group planning ensures that teachers do not deviate from the schedule. In Denmark, the school has implemented a comprehensive behaviour program that rewards students for complying with a set of school-wide rules. There is an increasing presence of external authorities(sometimes for-profit) within the schooling systems. This involvement impedes the capacity of teachers (and students) to influence the policies and practices at their school. While their individual rights are protected (e.g., they will not be terminated), their ability to participate in decision-making processes or to exercise professional discretion is drastically limited. We see forced compliance as promoting a limited view of ‘good’teachers/students, while privileging homogeneity over pluralism. We argue these notions of ‘compliance’ are at odds with the pluralistic ideals that should underpin liberal democratic institutions (Connolly, 2013).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusSubmitted - 2021

Keywords

  • learning, educational science and teaching
  • management, organizational development and innovation
  • education, professions and jobs

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