Developing democratic civic virtues through aesthetic education and design in public schools
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By consciously re-crafting K-12 American public schools through aesthetic design, the United States can improve civic education. Specifically, by paying attention to how school environments affect students through each of their five senses, Americans can create learning environments that encourage the development of civic virtues necessary to support four essential criteria identified by John Dewey as foundational for an ideal democracy: individual expression, communicated experience, associated living, and consciousness of the connection between individuals, their behaviors, and their choices. By examining Dewey’s theory of ideal democracy, and the civic virtues that it requires, I delineate and analyze specific criteria by which to improve American civic education in public schools. Then I show that creating beautiful schools can meet the specified criteria and develop civic virtues in students. These virtues are necessary – although not by themselves sufficient – for healthy democratic citizenship. America today is far from an ideal democracy. Split in our beliefs, unengaged in the civic process, disconnected from fellow citizens, and often unaware of the harm caused by our lack of participation, care, and responsibility, we have a long way to go before our democracy approaches the ideal form proposed by Dewey. Far from deterring our efforts, however, these facts should motivate us to find new and improved ways to educate our young citizens during their years in public schooling. This thesis aims to convince the reader that the conscious crafting of school aesthetics can provide a unique and irreplaceable contribution to that end.