Shaping a learning environment where students’ creative and professional abilities legitimately increase is a priority for the qualified teacher. There is no doubt that each classroom culture is unique, and even intentionally creating two identical academic environments can ultimately lead to different outcomes. Much of how culture develops depends on the children, their upbringing, cohesion, and the influence of their environment. Nevertheless, the core of any environment is the teacher, not only shaping its frame but also controlling compliance with the rules and adherence to the established principles of ethics. Thus, each professional tends to create an individual learning climate that is usually based on tolerance and respect for ideas. However, while some classes take a rigorous, academic approach to learning, others, by contrast, maximize a creative, non-coercive approach. This paper describes a compromise on creating a structuring learning environment based on pluralism of opinion and encouragement of diversity. This essay is a useful teaching tool that demonstrates these social categories’ benefits for building an effective Ethics classroom.
From the earliest stages of social consciousness formation, humankind recognized the importance of an educational system through the transmission of knowledge from the more experienced members of society to disciples. The basics of survival, the rules of hunting, and mastery of speech were the first lessons that the elders of primitive communities taught to young and inexperienced people. Since then, tens of thousands of years later, the education system has not changed radically: the teaching procedure is still an interpersonal communication in which an adult expert passes on general knowledge in a particular field to children. Nevertheless, despite the preserved core of education, the approach to learning has changed qualitatively since then. While the ancient value system recognized brutality and violence, implemented in a unified and standardized learning environment, as effective learning measures, the modern world does not accept this attitude toward students (Kaffemanienė, Masiliauskienė, Melienė, & Miltenienė, 2017). To put it another way, there is a noticeable shift in the teaching system from a dominant teacher to a professional who guides and shapes the climate of the classroom. Moderating educators consider young students as the most valuable social resource, which will be responsible for the development of society in the succession of generations, which means that reliable and quality education is the teacher’s absolute priority.
Modern teaching practices are no longer restrictive of children’s freedoms and opinions, and therefore the student’s personal creative potential is most likely to unfold in such a classroom. A few decades ago, the average portrait of a teacher might have been described as a strict, controlling professional who is the absolute law within the classroom culture. Objection to a teacher’s opinion, open disinterest in his lessons, or disobedience could have been causes of serious interpersonal conflict since children were assumed to have no civil rights within the school. Obviously, such practices could not be acceptable in a progressive society, so gradually, the culture of learning came to what is commonly referred to as the community of experts (Lipman, 2003). Under these conditions, children develop harmoniously within the classroom, where the teacher, while having elevated rights as a leader, seeks to hear and accept students’ opinions. In such a community, all participants’ contributions are welcomed, but not only those who prove to be more initiative. This, in turn, creates an effect of mutual respect and recognition of differences. The academic practices being implemented in many schools today might have seemed to teachers decades ago to be an outrageous intolerance that ruins the classroom structure. Thus, as society has evolved, there has also been a shift in the orientation of the teacher’s role in the school.
Discussing the critical importance of developing a thorough learning culture was essential to introducing the ethical principle on which the designed environment should be built. Thus, one of the new Ethics class’s two central aspects must be a democratic pluralism that encourages universal participation (Reidy, 2001). It is worth recognizing that traditional democracy, to which many developed countries have come to this point, has some critical shortcomings. These include the deliberate attempt of the minority to instill specific values in the majority and, conversely, the neglect of non-small groups’ interests. In this government system, all power belongs to a limited group of people who have been chosen by the majority. Deep democracy, oriented toward pluralism, seeks to solve this problem, constituting a new round of democratic development.
In particular, pluralist democracy is built on forming several social groups of equal political weight. In the context of a whole country, this could mean a plurality of equally-weighted parties, each with a similar influence on legislative decisions. In a class where the number of children rarely exceeds thirty, this system could be successful for universal inclusion. As interpreted by the creator of this concept, Arnold Mindell, deep democracy is taken to mean an idea that touches all aspects of human life, encouraging recognition of all participants’ feelings and experiences (Innerarity, 2019). By focusing on these feelings, the power group can promote ideas. Thus, an emphasis on individuality and a commitment to consider all students’ interests in the classroom distinguishes deep democracy from traditional.
Implementing a system of democratic pluralism for the academic environment has essential benefits for students and teachers alike. This section offers an in-depth discussion of some crucial points that provide a deeper look at this mechanism. First and foremost is the central core of democratic pluralism, namely, considering the opinions and feelings of absolutely everyone involved. In a traditional classroom of two or three dozen students, it is not uncommon to find situations in which children with clearly developed leadership skills take the lead due to a general discussion of a problem. As a result of this social preponderance, less proactive children’s opinions may not be considered, leading to stress and potential pressure for lack of determination. Pluralism solves this problem by allowing each student to have a voice and contribute to collaborative development (Reidy, 2001). In a continuation of this effect, it is worth saying that this approach qualitatively suppresses the system in which the student has acted as a subordinate. Many generations of teachers have constructed an environment in which the student was inherently inferior to the teacher so that the teacher acted as overseer and instructor. Democratic pluralism reverses this view by recognizing all classroom students and teachers as equal parts of the school unit. Thus, discussion of even the teacher’s doubts and experiences is welcomed.
To a large extent, these positive effects of the qualitatively new environment became available due to a change in the teacher’s classroom role. The dominant teacher did not encourage students to engage in active discussion but instead offered a monologue whose ideas were impossible to refuse. The image of the moderating teacher took into account all the shortcomings of the previous role, so such a teacher sought to create a neo-democratic classroom culture in which all opinions would be heard. In this sense, the classroom’s cell can be compared to a political community built on the principles of a community of experts (Biesta, 2015). Power belongs to everyone simultaneously, but the majority population cannot reach a consensus — which is understandable — and thus, a moderator is needed (Burbidge, 2017). The modern teacher fulfills such a role by facilitating discussions and giving weight to children’s opinions while serving as a guide. An essential point in this context is the absolute non-coerciveness on the teacher’s part: a competent teacher manages the classroom without imposing their ideas or opinions on the students. Thus, in the Ethics class culture, issues of joint field trips, the school ball, or participation in competitions can be decided by consensus, in which each student expresses their own opinion.
The Politics of Difference
Educational practices of the previous century, especially in socialist countries, used all students’ identities as the core of effective learning. This did not refer to the social equality promoted by the principles of pluralist democracy but to the literal similarity of students: the same school uniforms, learning materials, and type of thinking (Sabic-El-Rayess, Mansur, Batkhuyag, & Otgonlkhagva, 2019). Indeed, this approach soon collapsed, and now all modern schooling is built on the principles of recognizing differences. The difference is to be understood as the variety of opinions, attitudes, ideas, and orientations that exist and that allow a micro-society not to become uniform or atomized ad infinitum.
The politics of difference was first described by the American political theorist Iris Young (2020). Looking at the nature of the ideal society, she specified that difference is the main criterion that supports society’s development. In her view, it is not liberalism in its purest sense, in which the learner’s individualism is the value guide, or even communitarianism, which suppresses individual interests for the sake of the group. Instead, the difference becomes the basis of neoliberalism, which extols social groups’ creation and the social participant’s personal involvement. This model can easily be applied to the Ethics classroom: children within a group have personal, unique experiences that should not be suppressed in any way. It is the teacher’s function to foster a climate in which students recognize the importance and necessity of differences realized through belief systems or ethnic, cultural, or religious affiliations. Diversity also should be emphasized in the cultural identities of textbooks (Muchenje & Heeralal, 2016). The difference becomes a source of several advantages for the classroom environment, stimulating competitiveness, encouraging open, interesting dialogues of opinion, and sharing experiences. In addition, in such an environment, one is most likely to get an answer to a question that might not have been asked on its own: hence, the exploratory nature of the classroom is enhanced.
The very idea of a community of experts is based on the principles of universal respect and the possibility of expressing one’s own opinion, which would not be possible without differences. A fully unified social unit cannot be a functional system, since in this case, there is no pluralism of opinion to stimulate development: neo-democracy turns into authoritarianism. On the contrary, recognition of the importance and critical necessity of the differences that shape the class structure becomes the solution to creating a deep pluralist democracy that encourages each participant’s contribution.
Such a scenario inevitably leads to the vital question of whether a community of students with nothing in common can exist. While acknowledging the importance of difference, it is essential to say that a community without a common, interrupting rational structure is a significant structure for education (Biesta, 2004). Only in the absence of commonalities-excluding, including a focus on education-will each student use a language of responsibility based on personal beliefs, thoughts, and truths. In this case, it is ruled out that led students will follow the leaders: instead, the diverse classroom culture encourages the individuality and uniqueness with which students come from their environments (Watkin, 2017). The professional teacher creates an environment in which interpersonal communication among students who have nothing in common is seamless. The best communication mechanism is a public discussion in which all students participate: to steer the discussion in the right direction, the teacher can coordinate students and ask leading questions (Biesta, 2015). This approach is entirely consistent with the foundation of pluralistic democracy and a community of experts’ principles.
An Ethics class in a school may include up to thirty middle-aged students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Behind each of the children are their own lived experiences, including the influence of their parents’ upbringing and the environment in which the children grew up (Watkin, 2017). It is likely that some students may be migrant or ex-pat children, so their cultural background is very different. Some of the children may have a deep religious commitment, a different sexual orientation, or gender identity. Students’ interests should not be similar either: it is likely that some will enjoy the exact sciences and others, conversely, the humanities or social sciences. This creates a multicultural atmosphere in which each member of the social unit presents a unique life experience, realized through worldviews, attitudes, and ways of thinking. According to the principles of democratic pluralism discussed above, such a society itself is already an ideal social unit. Recognizing differences becomes the key to classroom management, so the teacher coordinates and formulates the agenda to maximize the involvement of each member. Participating together in the class’s life, making important decisions, forming a set of rules, or electing group leaders are entirely collective events, requiring all students’ absolute involvement.
Summarizing the above, it is worth reiterating that the school system has been extensively modified in recent decades, and the emergence of a variety of cultural approaches is a legitimate change. The teacher is free to create their own classroom climate, and this essay examined an academic culture centered on democratic pluralism mixed with an appreciation of the politics of difference. Thus, students’ simultaneous association by social interests, taking into account and encouraging all existing differences, becomes a key parameter for success.
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