Deliberative Pedagogy: What Does It Mean to Educate for Citizenship in a Democracy?

Timothy Shaffer is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. He is coeditor, with Nicholas Longo, Idit Manosevitch, and Maxine Thomas, of the new book Deliberative Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning for Democratic Engagement (Michigan State University Press, 2017), which came out of Kettering’s ongoing deliberative pedagogy research.

What makes deliberative pedagogy deliberative pedagogy? In selecting these words to describe what we do in classrooms and communities and what we’ve published in our book, we didn’t necessarily choose words that just roll off the tongue. But we did select words that get at the heart of what makes this work what it is; it’s not simply a phrase synonymous with something else.

Deliberative pedagogy integrates deliberative processes of working through issues with teaching, learning, and engagement. This stands in contrast to models that are transactional, one-directional, or thin when it comes to engaging students and others in defining educational experiences. This is where contributions such as Martín Carcasson’s lead essay on the need for developing democratic mind-sets in order to address wicked problems becomes extremely helpful in saying what we mean by the term deliberative pedagogy. In a similar way, Sara A. Mehltretter Drury, Leila R. Brammer, and Joni Doherty have developed a rubric that lays out learning outcomes and developmental levels through which students (and anyone open to learning and considering new viewpoints) move into a deliberative space that considers things such as collaboration, relationships, and empathy in deeper and more authentic ways. These two chapters, among many more, speak to the knowledge grounded in experience offered through accessible, yet insightful, chapters.

Deliberative Pedagogy is a diverse collection of chapters from around the world and from different types of colleges and universities. Chapters focus on teaching and learning in liberal arts colleges, community colleges, historically black institutions, comprehensive universities, and research-intensive universities. The book is introduced by David Mathews and Maxine Thomas of the Kettering Foundation. They both write about how this project came to be after years of convening university faculty members who were committed to using deliberative practices in their classrooms and engagement work. Without the Kettering Foundation’s leadership, this book wouldn’t have emerged in the way it has. We’re grateful for the opportunity to be able to create a community of scholars who wrestled with not only the concept of deliberative pedagogy, but also naming it as such. We look forward to continuing this conversation into the future.

The book is comprised of sections exploring issues such as the theory and history of deliberative pedagogy, practice-oriented chapters exploring classroom settings and cocurricular spaces, the impact of deliberative pedagogy on institutional cultures, and the need for diverse approaches to assessment of deliberative pedagogy and of its impact. The concluding chapter asks us to keep pushing the boundaries of what it means to educate for citizenship in a democracy.

No matter your setting or role, we wrote Deliberative Pedagogy with an extremely wide audience in mind. Our hope was that for those deeply interested in and committed to deliberation in higher education, they would be able to build on this volume. Similarly, we hoped that this volume would wind up in places such as centers for teaching and learning as well as centers for civic engagement. What we’ve laid out are, in my view, compelling accounts of civic-minded professionals and how they have made teaching and learning about using knowledge in public ways and being a citizen (in the broadest sense) in today’s world.

So why pick up Deliberative Pedagogy? I believe our attempt to speak to related but sometimes distinct conversations helps to bring more clearly into the higher education engagement discussion a deliberative element that has resided largely beyond academe. Increasingly, deliberation is working its way into higher education. What Deliberative Pedagogy does is offer examples into how we might all more fully embrace a democratic-minded approach to our teaching and to student learning. It’s not a book about speculation; rather, it’s deeply grounded in what the contributors have been doing for a long time. I think we said it well at the end of our introduction:

At its core, deliberative pedagogy offers a glimpse into what the next paradigm of teaching and learning is likely to look like. By giving students agency in the classroom, making learning collaborative and engaging, and recognizing the connections between learning and social action, deliberative pedagogy represents a new model of learning for a globalized, networked society. Deliberative pedagogy also connects education with democracy by providing an example of the type of civic innovation needed for colleges and universities to respond to the complex challenges facing society. This idea also echoes those of education luminaries like John Dewey (1910), who believed that knowledge and learning are most effective when people work collaboratively to solve real-world problems. Deliberative Pedagogy builds on this thinking with an in-depth examination of the theory, processes, and practice of deliberative pedagogy—offering a way of teaching, learning, and engaging that cultivates spaces for diverse voices and perspectives to listen, speak, and act.

We hope this volume can further a conversation that is only beginning.