THE ABC OF DEMOCRACY: AN EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Written in Hebrew and Arabic, the “The ABC of Democracy: an Education Program for Young Children” encourages young children to adopt socials behavioral skills based on humanistic and democratic values. Its 8 chapters and 63 lesson plans concentrate on instilling basic democratic concepts and implementing them in the life of the kindergarteners/elementary school students and their teachers.
The program has been applied widely throughout Israel in kindergartens and elementary schools, both Jewish and Arab. It
is also applicable to informal educational settings, allowing democratic values to be taught outside the classroom.
To expand the children’s boundaries, the program includes encounters between Jewish and Arab students, as well as work with recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
The program was implemented under the guidance, direction, and supervision of the Coordinators of the Elementary School Age Section of the Adam Institute. The activities were led by professional facilitators who were specially trained for seminar activities in these areas.
THE AIMS OF THE PROGRAM
- Assimilation of the vocabulary of democratic concepts, and its subsequent transformation into a way of life, by creating a democratic dialogue between the partners in the school community.
- Empowerment of the individuals in the community while legitimizing differences and advancing the idea of equality.
- Advancement of tolerance and prevention of violence through a study of the dispute resolution process.
- Creation of personal and group consciousness of rights, obligations, and laws, and their influence on social processes in the school community.
The basic assumption of the program is the understanding that the child, from the moment of birth, holds rights to freedom that must be preserved. The child develops an awareness of his/her freedom and the freedom of others. With successful democratic education, the child develops an egalitarian perception regarding the freedom of others and strives to protect it just as his/her own. To help children reach this, we translated and divided the program into a system of democratic concepts that fit each child’s needs. Every child is given the tools needed to be accepting and open-minded in school, at home, and in the community.
Through the program, the child encounters democratic issues and their means of expression in everyday reality, intensifying the confrontation stemming from the convergence of the wishes, needs, and rights of the individuals in society. The central experience that occurs in the seminars is the reflection of current events and the struggle with the real dilemmas in the children’s lives on the assumption that this experience is essential to the acquisition of the democratic vernacular and its internalization.
ILLUSTRATIVE AND LEARNING AIDS
The age of the children for whom this program is intended requires awareness of the characteristics that reflect their stage of cognitive, emotional, and social development: egocentrism, which expresses itself in the inability to be considerate, to give in, and to defer satisfaction; limitations in conceptualizing and the ability to abstract; the immaturity of the process of modeling one’s personal and social identity; the beginning of the forming of testing patterns of social behavior; and the localization of the child in the concrete stage.
Recognition of these characteristics is expressed in the activities, which are experiential and empirical; their message is transmitted through diverse means taken from the areas of literature, drama, music, play, and crafts, thus generating a discussion of the democratic content and the group processes. The Adam Institute has developed unique packages and work pages to demonstrate these ideas and messages. This way of relating to the process is not judgmental, rather it is accepting and enabling.
There are a number of goals for the use of these demonstrations and methods:
A. They serve as a conduit through which the children’s inner world is conveyed – a means of expression of emotions, feelings, needs, and wants – providing ways to connect the emotional process existing within the children and the rational thought presented to them.
B. They enable emotional expression through art, which is less threatening in all its different forms, thus creating the possibility for the child to express him/herself more freely.
C. They offer a selection of methods, thus making it possible for each child to find himself/herself a channel through which to express himself/herself, his/her opinions, and his/her position, comfortably.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PROGRAM
The program is composed of eight chapters, each concentrating on a central democratic idea. Each chapter contains a series of activities presenting the democratic message gradually and progressively.
The decision to implement the program commits the entire population of the school to a lengthy educational process that includes a number of stages:
1. Mastering the vocabulary of concepts associated with democracy;
2. Examining topics arising from the study of these democratic messages;
3. Internalizing the messages and introducing them into the children’s lives.
THE CHAPTERS OF THE PROGRAM
The first three chapters deal with the recognition of the equal right to be different.
Our assumption is that the basis for understanding the democratic option, choosing it, and internalizing it, is the recognition of the equal right of others to actualize their freedom and express their differences. The educational message is that I am different from my friend, just as my friend is different from me, and we are equal in our differences. The participants undergo a process of re-thinking and consciousness-raising which commences with a recognition of one’s personal differences and continues on to see the difference in the other person, accept it, and deal with it. Finalization of the process comes with finding ways to create reciprocal relations between those who are different while protecting each individual’s equal right.
The first chapter is based on recognition of the uniqueness of each individual and acceptance of those who are different.
The activities in this chapter deal with the following subjects: making acquaintance with myself; understanding that the other person is different from me; dealing with the difficulties involved in acceptance of those who are different.
The second chapter concentrates on the term “Equality”.
The activities in this chapter deal with the following subjects: differentiation between mathematical equality and ideological equality; understanding the concept “equality” as an equal right to be different; recognition of the equal right to be different; testing of the concept within society.
The third chapter investigates encounters between those who are different and the results of these encounters.
The activities in this chapter address these subjects: investigating the types of encounters that can take place between those who are different; checking out the reasons for these different types of encounters; clarifying the possible results of these different types of encounters.
The fourth chapter is based on a study of relationships between majority and minority groups in a democratic society.
This chapter is devoted to a clarification of the concepts “majority” and “minority” and awareness of the different possible relationships between majority and minority groups in society in general, and in a democratic society, specifically. As a sequel, the children confront the question of what grants legitimacy to a majority decision, and what renders it illegitimate, while relating to relevant examples from their everyday experience.
The activities in this chapter deal with these subjects: clarification of the concepts “majority” and “minority”; illustration of types of relationships between majority and minority groups; examination of the meaning of majority rule as a vehicle for decision making in a democratic society.
The fifth chapter delves into the concepts of rights.
Different answers are given to the question “What is a right?” One of the most central of these answers relates to a right as “the result of a societal agreement about shared criteria”, while a second answer “posits that a right is a legitimate demand on society, a demand which stems from the natural essence of humanity”.
The activities in this chapter explore the following subjects: differentiating between rights and desires; studying the Declaration of Rights of the Child and clarifying its meaning; examining the suitable relationship between rights and obligations; testing situations involving a clash between rights (conflict situations).
The sixth chapter addresses the nature of just agreement.
Democracy is a societal pact made by people who have consented to recognize the equal right of each person to live according to his/ beliefs and values as long as he/she recognizes the corresponding right of the other person. The goals of this chapter are to examine the advantages in creating such an agreement, and an attempt to formulate such an agreement, including guidelines for just behavior.
The activities in this chapter deal with these subjects: examining the need for an agreement; understanding the need for a just agreement; application of the agreement while determining the difficulties and the advantages of its application; clarification of the concept of freedom and examination of the relationship between actualization of one’s freedom, and group membership and identity; examining the decision making process in a group; various kinds of aggressive behavior; studying the democratic alternative for decision making and social procedures.
The seventh chapter deals with procedures involved in resolution of conflicts.
Our assumption is that after the child has explored the meaning of different democratic values and concepts – differences, equality, majority and minority, rights, and just agreements – he/she has the necessary tools for approaching conflict resolution by democratic means. These tools will protect his/her freedoms and those of others in society, making it possible to effect an equal place for the expression of the needs, desires, and rights of all of its members.
The activities in this chapter are concerned with these subjects: clarifying the relationship between acceptance of one who is different and conflict resolution; studying methods of conflict resolution; examining the concept of fairness.
The eighth chapter deals with the essence of law in a democratic society.
The activities in this chapter explore the following subjects: examining the meaning of the term “law”; clarifying the need for laws; differentiating between different kinds of laws; understanding the principle of equality before the law; exploring the principles on which democratic law is based; fair judgment.