chapter  9
“We have a motion on the floor”: Montclair High School and the Civics and Government Institute DAV I D LEE KEISER AND SHANASTEIN
ByMontclair High School and the Civics and Government Institute David Lee Keiser and Shana Stein
Pages 17

The need for students to engage in the democratic critique and participation to which Beyer (1996) refers has lately become acute. Due both to the contested 2000 Presidential Election, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, students in this country’s schools have had the opportunity to examine what it means to live in the social and political democracy of the United States. Of course, most debates about democracy are less momentous than those precipitated by the two events mentioned above, and yet, one function of debate and critique – about any subject – is both to strengthen and challenge the democratic process. In this time of heightened student civic engagement in school – brought on in recent years by school shootings as well as national crises – many topics generate heated debate and constructive critique. Much as the Columbine shootings galvanized movements towards educating for compassion, the recent challenges to working democracy have renewed many educators’ commitment to enculturating students into a democratic society (Aronson, 2000; Goodlad et al., 1990). Some whole school reforms, such as the Coalition of Essential Schools, operate under democratic principles of participation, consensus building, and equity (Sizer and Sizer, 1999). Schools unaffiliated with whole school reform and renewal organizations can also create democratic spaces for students to learn about and enact democratic principles.