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4/8/2017 1:23:00 PM
Symposium takes on schools' role in creating democracy

Brittani Howell, Herald-Times

If the U.S. wants children to become democratic citizens, it should make its public schools more democratic themselves.

That’s what Deborah Meier told educators Friday morning during a symposium discussion.

Meier, a renowned education expert, pioneering leader in the small schools movement and the first teacher or principal to win a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant,” joined Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and Terry Mason, dean of the Indiana University School of Education, for the Harmony-Meier Institute symposium’s closing event, “A Public Conversation about Public Education in Indiana.”

Meier was unable to attend in person because of health reasons, but that didn’t stop her from bringing her voice to the conversation via Skype. The symposium organizers projected her Skype window onto a screen at the front of the School of Education auditorium, where she loomed large over her fellow speakers. IU’s Mason compared her to the Wizard of Oz. Both Meier and the audience laughed.

The conversation, co-sponsored by the Harmony-Meier Institute and the Department of Education, covered teacher autonomy, the growing role of technology in the classroom and the influence of high-stakes testing, but it returned often to the role of public schools in creating a democratic society.

It’s a vital role, Meier said, but one that public schools don’t perform very well.

“I think we have this odd phenomenon where we send ourselves through 12 years of education in a thoroughly authoritarian system,” she said, in which decisions are made at the upper levels of administration and teachers are expected to comply.

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