Synthesis/Regeneration 5   (Winter 1993)

Strategies for Change

Education For Democratic Empowerment:
Towards A Green National Action Plan

by Bruce Lofquist, Oakville, Ontario

The prime objectives of this article are twofold: one, to generate interest among Greens in the schooling issue and two, to provide alternatives to present Green education policy and associated inaction. Recommendations are put forth for a Green national education action plan.

Today's "moment" is one of unprecedented, interlocking social and ecological crises. One author aptly characterized the times as a "crisis of crises." Central to this moment however, is one overarching crisis — the crisis of democracy. The democratic or participatory crisis manifests itself in terms of a largely passive, acquiescent, and cynical citizenry, a depoliticized mass culture and patriarchal social arrangements permeated by hierarchy and domination. Corporate or late capitalism, and liberal democratic and bureaucratic statism, provide the macro-institutional shell.

Dialectical thought informs us that moments of crisis are not without their moments of opportunity. One critical opportunity that does exist is the possibility for the "generalization" of the democratic revolution in these liberal-democratic times.

Essential to the Greening of society is fundamental social change and the creation of an informed, critical and active citizenry. Change through radical democratization is key. Accordingly, social transformation at large is contingent upon in part, the realization of active citizenship and the participatory democratic ideal in the schools. The transformative potential of schools will be realized through praxis — through the active, reflective struggle for educational change. Schools represent critical sites for democratic contestation. They constitute a pivotal strategic element in the larger project of extending and deepening the democratic revolution to all social spheres.

The educational scene in Canada and the United States however, is best characterized as one preoccupied with efficiency, restraints and cutbacks, national standards, international competitiveness, labour reproduction and cultural transmission—notions antithetical to radical school democratization. This neo-conservative agenda is successfully framing the educational issue utilizing a discourse of "malestream" capitalist economics, as characterized above. To reflect the real and central crisis, the school issue must be reframed as primarily a cultural and political issue, employing an alternative, radical and hegemonic or counter-hegemonic discourse (and, of course, political strategy).

The contestation of discourse signifies the radical reconceptualization and redefinition of notions of, for example: power (reconceptualized as power within and power with); politics (reconceptualized as the politics of everyday life, and the personal is the political); and democracy (reconceptualized as strong or participatory democracy). More specifically, in terms of schooling, an alternative and radical discourse has expressed itself as "schools as democratic public spheres," "curriculum as cultural politics," "teachers as transformative intellectuals," and students as "border crossers."


The national education policy of the Greens USA 1 is contained within their Green Program. Green education policy statements are in need of both reorganization and reconceptualization. Education policy should be restructured along the lines of the economics section in the program to include: a more extended analysis of the current crisis (relating how the general crisis relates to the specific education crisis); a clear articulation of the roles of patriarchy, the liberal state, and corporate capitalism in the educational crisis; a clear statement of overall goals; statements and extended discussion of, and time frames for, both immediate and long-term goals; and an outline of strategies and tactics for change (e.g., direct action for educational alternatives).

The educational implications of Green theory and practice in general, and the ten key Green values in particular, are profound and subversive. The opportunity exists for the development of a creative and bold synthesis — a dynamic Green educational policy grounded in Green principles. The policy foundation and basic principles are in place. It remains to further draw out and articulate their radical implications for formal education. Among the critical Green questions to be addressed are the related questions: What are the basic goals of formal education? and What should they be? In response, Green education policy should have as its core the notion of transformative education, i.e., education for democratic empowerment. A restructured and reconceptualized education program could be developed utilizing one of the Green pillars as core dimension, i.e., the principle of grassroots democracy (and associated local community deliberation and decision making).

The notion of education for democratic empowerment provides a rationale, curriculum and epistemology for schools; furthermore, it provides an organizing framework and change strategy for both schools and reciprocally, for society at large. The present Green education program however, does not adequately capture either the desperate need for a transformative schooling, or the required sense of resistance and possibility, of hope and agency to bring it about. The document is deficient in terms of social and political engagement. A strong, active, participatory democracy requires a strong, active, participatory schooling. The full implications of Green theory and practice have not been sufficiently drawn out and articulated in the education program.

A Green education program which has the notion of transformative education as core, begs the questions: transformation and empowerment for whom? by whom? how? where? It is critical that transformative notions of education be informed by a sense of both the "universal" and the "particular" — a respect and concern for the quest for mass or large-scale popular democratization and empowerment, and a similar consideration for the need to situate these processes in the particular, in contextual diversity and difference as expressed through class, gender, race and age.

The following are a selection of elements and principles that should inform a national Green education policy platform, developed around a radical democracy core (general elements and principles are in the main, followed by more specific school applications):

In sum, the philosophy of education reflected in the Green education program is largely a holistic, student-centered, bioregionally grounded one, one which focuses on personal transformation. It is proposed that a more overtly social transformation orientation be adopted — one developed around the notion of radical democracy as the core dimension. This is not to suggest excluding the present orientation, but to offer a shifting of prime emphasis.

The potential exists for an education for democratic empowerment to be not only micro-transformative, on the scale of classrooms, schools, and local community, but also macro-transformative, on the scale of large school jurisdictions and society at large. School change and broad social change are reciprocally interrelated. The school/community nexus and the school/society nexus are critical. It remains to outline a change strategy which is informed by these essential connections.


Green theoretical and practical works 2 in general, and the national Green Program in particular, contain discussion of most of the key elements and principles of an independent, non-statist strategy (or better, strategies) for social change. Further insights are found in writings which focus on contemporary or new social movements, grassroots organizations, and associated discussions of civil society and the public sphere. Within the field of education itself, signposts are provided by the approaches of feminists, critical pedagogues, socialists, postmodernists, popular educationists, and those who provide invaluable accounts of school democratization in practice.

The outline below is tentative and rather truncated due to space constraints. It attempts to identify and pull together some of the critical elements, structures and principles which would provide directions for a Green strategy for educational change 3. The focus of the outline is on "political" strategy, with the objective of furthering structural change — fundamental change in social arrangements and the loci of decision-making power. This focus is not to deny the validity and necessity of strategies which are more empirical rational and/or normative reeducative in orientation; the required changes will result from the synergistic interaction of all change strategies (and things unplanned as well). Additionally, the focus is on relatively large-scale change at the level of the school and above.

Given the notion of education for democratic empowerment as a leading image, the following elements, structures and principles constitute signposts for the development of a Green political strategy for educational change. There is a need for the following:

One possible strategy would be the development of a new, "progressive" coalition of organizations interested in the education issue. The coalition would come together around the notion of democratic schooling. Such a coalition would represent an attempt to incorporate diverse constituencies in civil society —constituencies based in schools, in local community organizations and in social movements— in a common cause and to form a "popular bloc."

The Greens must more actively contest the neo-conservative, statist, education agenda and the increasing corporate attempts at school colonization. Greens are particularly well equipped to more actively enter the struggle for democratic schooling — their strengths are the strengths required for further developing and implementing a program of large-scale educational change, namely: leadership; a relatively large network based on active, grassroots locals; a facility for working at the grassroots with diverse groups of people, as found in coalitions and networks; a promising education program already in place; a principled theory and practice informed by among other things, a decentralist, community-based and grassroots democratic tradition and feminist values; and a commitment to engage more women, people of colour and youth in their membership and work.

Formal education is a high profile issue — in some constituencies an explosive one. A Green national action plan would dramatically increase Green exposure in all forms of media and to all sections of the population.


In light of the above analysis, the following recommendations are made:

(1) the reorganization and reconceptualization of the education section of the national Green Program;

(2) the organization of a pre-Gathering education conference in 1993;

(3) consideration of the merits of a formal education project focused on building a progressive coalition of rather diverse organizations interested in the schooling issue (The Coalition for Democratic Schools, or CDS?);

(4) the placement of the notion of a formal education project as part of the 1993 Green Action Plan, on the Green Congress agenda;

(5) the adoption by the Green Congress, of a formal education campaign or project, as part of the 1993 Green Action Plan; and

(6) the establishment of a Green Action Working Group to facilitate the above.


1. Although Canadian Green education policy statements (those of Ontario and British Columbia) were analyzed, discussion here will be restricted to the national education policy of the Greens USA, as found in the Green Program.

2. The works of Howard Hawkins, Murray Bookchin and other social ecologists, stand out in particular.

3. Theorizing about change strategies of course, should not succumb to "universalistic" tendencies, i.e., to become entrapped in privileged, dogmatic, inflexible notions of "the" strategy for change. As was noted above within the context of "transformative" notions of education, concern and respect must be granted "particularities" in change strategizing.

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