This article offers a conception of democratic education and an account of how that conception should inform our understanding of formal education for public schools. The goals of a democratic education are best secured by participating in self-government, as advocates of participatory democracy have always claimed. Broadly stated, those goals include encouraging and equipping individuals to become committed, self-governing, democratic citizens. More specifically, individuals gain through democratic participation political information and knowledge and, arguably, the skills, virtues, and normative commitments of democratic citizens. This conception of democratic education suggests in turn the desirability of what is here termed the democratic community school, in which students participate in the governance and pedagogy of their schools, the school and the local community it most directly serves become in various ways integrated, and the curriculum is politicized so as to advance democratic values and aspirations. The article concludes by identifying some of the key difficulties and obstacles that make the democratic school so difficult to achieve but also provides reasons for believing that working toward the utopian ideal of democratic schools is practically as well as normatively worthwhile.

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