Exploring democracy in a preschool setting
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore democratic educational practice as it functioned in one high-quality, democratic preschool community during the 2009-2010 school year. Using a single, instrumental case study design (Stake, 2005) allowed me to illuminate how this intentionally democratic preschool community (including children, faculty, and parents) experiences, constructs, and practices democracy in its unique cultural context, including some of the possibilities and challenges that arose. Data generation included the collection of field notes on classroom observations and school events, photographs and video recordings of classroom experiences and interactions, transcriptions of parent and faculty interviews, and school documents such as portfolios, documentations, and school pamphlets. My data analysis process included developing thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) and memos, creating internal and external codes, and producing a full narrative report. As I analyzed my data, I identified ten emerging and interrelated themes that recurred within the community and served as integral and foundational elements of the school’s high-quality, democratic environment. These themes included: 1) maintaining a cultural foundation of respect, trust, and care among all community members; 2) using responsive and intentional teaching practices and making learning processes visible through diverse forms of discourse and documentation; 3) sharing the decision-making, power, and control among all community members; 4) putting a strong emphasis upon building social relationships and learning collaboratively; 5) using narrative as a critical tool for making meaningful connections and building memory and identity; 6) slowing down the learning process, both for children and adults; 7) upholding a strong image of both children and adults as powerful, capable, and socially-connected problem-solvers and fellow citizens worthy of equal voice and rights in the community; 8) providing opportunities for all members of the community to develop a sense of social responsibility and concern for the common good based upon the interdependence of self and others; 9) valuing pleasure, happiness, and levity as integral parts of the school experience; and 10) upholding a commitment to freedom (physical, emotional, social, intellectual) and foundations of social equality and justice.