Saturday, September 30, 2006
Classroom Democracy, Part I: A Parliament of Scholars
My Classes are Democracies and hold elections every week.
The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis
Through these elections an Assembly, a President, and a Government are selected.
First, every student votes for an Assembly. The Assembly is elected through proportional parliamentary representation, so that a student who receives one vote from the class has the ability to cast one vote in the Assembly, a student who receives two has the power to cast two, and so on.
In Assembly, The People Rule
Secondly, the Assembly elects a President. The President is chosen by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly....
In the case there are more than two candidates and none receives a two-thirds vote, the lowest-vote-earning candidate is removed, and the Assembly votes against on the remaining candidates. In the case that there are only two candidates and none receives a two-thirds vote, the Assembly can vote on more time. In the case that the Assembly is deadlocked, the Assembly begins electing again, but cannot vote for any candidate it has previously considered. If the Assembly repeats this process such that there is no one left to vote for, the Assembly falls and a new Assembly is elected by the Class.
The Popular Presidency
Third, the President selects a Prime Minister. This is the first stage in forming a Government. The Prime Minister is selected by the President but most be confirmed by half of the Assembly. If the President's selection for Prime Minister is not approved by the Assembly, the President may try a second nomination of anyone, including the first choice. If the President is again rebuffed, the President's Administration falls and the Assembly selects a new President. If a second President falls, the Assembly itself falls and a new Assembly is elected.
PM: Calling the Shots
Fourth, the Prime Minister selects an Information Minister and an Interior Minister. This is the last stage in forming a Government. Both the Information Minister and the Interior Minister must be approved by the President. If either of the Prime Minister's candidates are rebuffed, a second selection may be made of anyone, including re-nominating the candidate for the office again. If the Prime Minister is again rebuffed, the Prime Minister's Government falls and the President selects a new Prime Minister as described above.
The Ministers of the Government
The Assembly can find that it has "no confidence" in either the President or the Prime Minister by a majority vote. If the Assembly has No Confidence in the President, then the Assembly must select a new President who will form a new Government as outlined above. If the Assembly has No Confidence in the Prime Minister, the President must then name a new Prime Minister as outlined above.. The President can dismiss the Prime Minister and select a new Government, as outlined above.
The central personality in the Democracy is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, in a real way, runs the class. The conditions under which quizzes are taken are decided by the Prime Minister, as well what is discussed in class. The Prime Minister has the power to dismiss the class, hold the class, and run the discussion. The Interior Minister, by contrast, is in charge of suggesting quiz questions for the next week, while the Information Minister is in charge of submitting notes for the class. The powers of the President and the Assembly are limited to oversight of the Prime Minister.
The Assembly can create a Constitutional change by a 2/3rds vote, which is ratified if it is approved by 2/3rds of the class.
Every class I have ever had has challenged this system. Students, wise from more than a decade of classroom instruction, have figured out that teachers lie to them and that collaborative learning is really just a way for a teacher to lecture and then act grumpy when students don't talk up. So students, who don't like hypocrisy, attempt to expose it by spending an entire class period on parliamentary procedures, or letting the class leave early after ten minutes, or some other stunt. They are, like good scientists, attempting to determine the real rules of the class by seeing what a teacher does and not just what he says.
It is after the challenges that teaching becomes delightful. In my most recent, for example, I walked in early as students were negotiating how the class would be run. The requirement for a 2/3rds majority prevents the little cliques, or "Parties" who rise in winner-take-all races (the ones students are familiar with since elementary school). Therefore, students who wish to be leaders know they have to appeal to a wide variety of learning styles. Prime Ministers who do not care about the learning of others, either by not paying attention to other's needs or being flippant, are not chosen again. Students want a good grade on their projects, and in a Democracy they realize that their ability to gain one depends on interaction with the different perspectives of their peers.
Students also are skeptical of those who will cheat their way to the top. The most lopsided race I have ever witnessed began with a Party offering chocolate to students who vote for them. I recognized this as a challenge, and so allowed it. Another student offered himself as a candidate, stating "I don't know what to do, but I know this is not fair." He received twice as many votes offering nothing but fairness than the Party which wanted to "condition" its way to the top. (Interestingly, the Party may have been able to gain 1/3 of the seats, and so cause problems in naming a President, if one member hadn't said "The class is clear what it wants. It wouldn't be fair to vote for ourselves.)
Note: As with my previous post, Inside the Black Gangster Disciple Nation Crack Cocaine Gang-Corporation, the illustrative graphics are courtesy of an army of open-source, free, and no-cost programmers. I am particularly grateful to Inkskape, OpenClipart, OpenOffice.org, and Paint.Net.
Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
your work in this area is so cool to me, Dan. keep posting!
Posted by: Sean | Saturday, September 30, 2006
Sean, thanks! Just wait until part IV -- that was the funnest one to write :-)
It's this series that led me to add an odd question of Mark , as well as put off replying to his comment 
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, September 30, 2006
looking back at your post  above, the most frustrating part of my Master's degree was the push for coverage of stuff that was never discussed in class or tested or written about or anything...
Posted by: Sean | Saturday, September 30, 2006
Sean, I agree completely. I was thinking the same thing today. The amount of reading can destroy comprehension, which which makes that "learning" useless.
Fortunately my Computer Science Masters was free of that nonsense, as the program at USD focused on comprehension and application of concepts.
The College Teaching seminar at UNL, where that point came up, is similarly a citadel of comprehension. The readings are perfectly designed to drive the conversation. Our professor really knows what she is doing.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, October 01, 2006