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Education beyond the classroom: art, football, and rock & roll

Many of the democratic practices that we highlight in our work (control over the agenda, accessible decision-making, the freedom to participate) require some degree of knowledge and understanding on the part of participants. However, as outlined previously, democratic participation does not demand a minimum threshold of education or knowledge. So how do different people, with different skills, education levels, and experiences, make decisions together?

Diversity of perspective is a strength of democracy; it can lead to incredibly innovative and diverse solutions to the challenges that face our communities. Nonetheless, participants who are working through decisions together require some common frame of reference and communication tools to discuss, share perspectives, and express preferences with one another. This goes beyond language. Our social and cultural knowledge, and our comfort with social norms, exerts significant influence over our ability to participate in decision-making.

If democratic decision-making is intended to be accessible to individuals from all walks of life, then it's incumbent upon us to think about what knowledge and concepts are available in the public realm - to everyone - outside of formal educational settings and the classroom.

What common cultural experiences and cultural norms are widely disseminated and accessible?

Sport games, for one. Pop culture as another. And the media, the news. These forums provide a frame of reference for our public lives, and shared concepts about life itself. No I'm not exaggerating; how we talk about our personal lives, and participate in social groups or on a political level, draws from commonly understood concepts and cultural practices. An example from sports: the notion of consistent rules that cannot be compromised, and fairness. From pop culture: the notion of personal integrity, and what personal success looks like, shaped by our icons. Fame as a virtue. From museums: the value of a shared history, and connecting with the past.

Different art forms provide a whole range of public values: the value of creative exploration, and our human propensity to interpret the world around us. The importance of aesthetic. The value of beauty in different forms. Many cultures, from all over the world, used a form of public theatre to share social norms and values, and have done so for centuries.

What cultural events impact your life on a regular basis? The Bacholorette? GQ magazine? Community festivals? Game of Thrones? The Superbowl?

These shared cultural experiences shape how we approach decision-making, and how we make decisions about our lives. This has two implications for democratic processes:
  1. If you're convening a group for the first time, spend some time articulating the shared values and principles that will guide your work. Will you follow a strict agenda, with time limits, or follow a more iterative, creative, process? What are the rules for participating? How will you communicate with one another? 
  2. Where, in our communities, can we provide opportunities for public education outside the classroom? How accessible are cultural events? How often do we hold cultural events? 
Part of the question here is also one of scale: do our communities require small, local, cultural events to explore locally held beliefs and values? Or is it sufficient to access and hold large scale events at the national level?

To answer these questions, consider what principles and concepts are put forward in your 'public realm'. If you feel uncomfortable at the thought of the values that you experience publicly, or feel that a majority of your cultural exposure comes from global media sources, perhaps consider attending a local theatre production, poetry reading, or art show. 

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