In a previous post in this series, I mentioned a critical-thinking process of deliberative discussion, one which leverages two linked uses of the word “deliberative.”
A textbook definition of the term that describes it as “relating to or intended for consideration or discussion” gives the word a positive, if generic, grounding. But when used in phrases like “deliberative democracy,” it refers to a growing body of academic work, some of it put into practice, to find ways to build thoughtful reflection and discussion into democratic decision-making.
In that book, Fishkin points out that “pure” or “direct” democracy (such as that of Golden Age Athens when every citizen got to vote on every issue) and representative democracy (such as that of Rome or contemporary America) does not exhaust all possible methods of democratic decision-making. For example, after the Athenian democracy was defeated in the Peloponnesian War, a resurrected form of democracy emerged that included new bodies, drawn by lot, that allowed small groups of people to analyze and vet proposals before and after they were voted on by the main citizen assembly. In this way, one small group could discuss (i.e., deliberate) whether a policy was worth putting to a vote, while another would decide afterwards if an assembly-approved measure should be made law.
To a certain extent, such small group reflection is built into our system through the vetting processes that take place in Congressional committees and the courts before and after laws are passed. But advocates of deliberative democracy have proposed and implemented ways to get representational groups of citizens involved with this process, giving people the opportunity to not just respond to policy proposals, but to reflect on and shape them.
Another phrase relevant to this discussion is “deliberative rhetoric” which refers to language directed towards the future, vs. forensic rhetoric that focuses on the past, or demonstrative rhetoric that uses the present tense to discuss the here and now.
As I talk about in Critical Voter, most effective debates utilize deliberative (i.e., future oriented) language, given that the future holds the possibility of positive change. For example, scolding a child or spouse for “always tracking mud into the house” is a forensic, past-oriented statement that assigns blame and is likely to be less effective than a deliberative statement such as “next time, could you take your shoes off before coming inside” which proposes a solution for avoiding the problem in the future.
Getting back to our discussion of Common Core, and Florida’s supposed abandonment of it, the background knowledge you read about in the last part of this series points out that academic standards are the work not of a US President, state governor or political staffs, but are rather the output of countless teachers and other educational professionals who apply their knowledge of content, pedagogy and experience teaching students to the creation of standards applicable to all students at all grade levels.
As you might guess, the process of developing such standards is highly deliberative in that involves lots of discussion among experts, working individually, in small groups and as a whole body, to propose, critique and negotiate what’s in and what’s out. Having combed every state ELA and Math standard as part of this project, for example, I developed a sense of the kinds of deliberations that led to standards looking a certain way.
For instance, a handful of state math standards ask very young students to name the days of the week as part of the cluster of skills associated with working with time and money. Within this same category, some states ask students to do math with coins at an earlier age than others. While seemingly trivial to outsiders, these choices reflect priorities of educators within a state important enough for them to deliberately choose to deviate from Common Core in order to support inclusion of this subject matter.
With regard to Florida, we can expect a substantial (and hopefully substantive) set of deliberations over what “abandoning the Common Core” actually means.
In theory, it might mean (as in Oklahoma) the complete replacement of current Florida standards with something else. But any future-oriented (i.e., deliberative) conversation of such drastic action would likely include an analysis of whether the cost of such a dramatic move (which would involve ripping out standards already integrated into curriculum, technology and data systems across the state) is worth the cost, vs. less destabilizing changes that maintain what’s best about the Core while letting it evolve (ideally through careful deliberation) to meet the needs of all Florida students.