The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

New Book Explores the Importance of Democratic Education


On Friday, September 8, 2023, Professor Julian Culp, who is teaching philosophy and political theory in the Department of History and Politics, launched The Cambridge Handbook of Democratic Education, which he co-edited with Professors Johannes Drerup and Douglas Yacek from the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, and the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The celebration of the book’s publication with Cambridge University Press, hosted by AUP’s Center for Critical Democracy Studies,  consisted of a morning conference with three keynote speeches on democratic education, as well as an afternoon workshop on the future of democratic education. In addition to AUP faculty, students, and staff, over 20 scholars working on various issues of democratic education were present. Professor Kate Zhang from AUP’s Teaching and Learning Center opened the conference with a welcome address in which she explained how AUP’s global liberal arts education contributes to creating democratically competent global citizens.

The Cambridge Handbook of Democratic Education pursues two central aims – one academic and one political. The academic aim is to fill a gap in the contemporary literatures in educational studies and theory by offering a handbook on democratic education that views democracy, following the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, as a social form of life. Hence, different from the existing handbooks in these fields of research, the handbook is not limited to questions of civic or political education in a narrow sense but recognizes that democratic education touches upon many issues, such as climate change, disability, and racism. The political aim is to send a message about the importance of democratic education in times in which democracy is often said to be backsliding or in crisis. Improving and expanding democratic education is an urgent need when trust in government institutions is fading, democratic values such as civility and tolerance are under attack in political discourse, and education is subject to commodification. This is even more relevant as shrinking public budgets and the COVID-19 pandemic have placed immense strain on the existing educational structures.

In line with this analysis, the first keynote speech, by Professor Harry Brighouse, author of the prize-winning book The Aims of Higher Education (Chicago UP, 2015) and director of the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, emphasized the obligations of instructors in higher education to equip future members of the elite and workforce with the attitude, skills, and knowledge they need to serve society at large. Given that college graduates tend to be socioeconomically better off than other citizens, their future work in leading positions should benefit society as a whole and in particular, the least well off. In the second keynote speech, Professor Michael Hand, who teaches at the University of Birmingham and serves as president of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, explained the aims of moral and democratic education and argued that they were not overlapping but distinct.

Finally, Professor Meira Levinson, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, presented the main ideas of her initiative This initiative, which is supported by educational theorists and practitioners from around the globe, strives to foster democratic attitudes such as moral sensitivity and empathy. It does so by way of presenting and discussing cases in which students, teachers or parents face normative dilemmas of how to reconcile competing educational values such as inclusion, equity, or truth. To present such a case at the book launch, Professor Levinson led a role play activity in which AUP students and faculty acted as teachers and students dealing with conspiracy in the classroom. Each keynote speech was followed by challenging questions from the large audience interested in defending democracy through education.