Democratic Education and the Open Enquiry Imperative

CMEI Colloquium
Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education
March 9, 2016


In any society, those with power can use propaganda to distort democratic politics and political learning. In contrast, education in the name of democracy seeks to enlighten and empower us as citizens living in a complex world. This type of education is crucial in our 21st century world—one in which citizens face many variants of propagandizing and other efforts to manipulate political opinions, from political spin-doctoring to push-polling, to well-financed political groups and beyond. This lecture explored some of the theoretical and ethical groundwork for civic education premised on an open inquiry imperative by drawing creatively on thinkers such as King, Arendt, and John Stuart Mill. In a national study and book, Educating for Democracy, my Carnegie Foundation colleagues and I offered three contributions to these debates: 1) that education should students confront the challenges of democratic citizenship, 2) an open inquiry framework for civic education, and 3) that this type of education can provide measurable benefits for students’ political engagement. The lecture included examples from programs we studies and highlights from our findings.


Speaker Biography:

Dr. Elizabeth Beaumont’s work centers on constitutional democracy and American political development, as well as civic engagement and education. During the fellowship year, Beaumont will work on a study of the emergence of the civil rights movement and a book project, provisionally titled "Unruly Citizens," on the historical and theoretical underpinnings of political dissent, protest, and civil disobedience. She is particularly interested in problems of unequal citizenship, rights debates, and popular constitutionalism. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University and has served as a Research Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and as an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of The Civic Constitution, as well as other articles, chapters, and two co-authored volumes. Her research has been supported by a number of grants and fellowship, including awards from the Ford, Carnegie, and Hewlett Foundations, as well as a McKnight Land-Grant Junior Professorship.