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Educating for American Democracy: Educator Preparation Program Possibilities

In this blog post, members of the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) pilot program outline how EAD can best work with educator preparation programs to address threats to schools’ ability to prepare civically engaged students, the topic of discussion at their 2022 Annual Meeting Learning Lab session. 

In 2021, AACTE released a report, Revolutionizing Education for All Learners, that detailed its strategic plan for following the COVID-19 pandemic with a revolution in education intended to address long-standing and newly discovered educational inequities (AACTE, 2021). Among its strategic planning outcomes was a dedication and commitment to have democratic principles guide the education revolution, stating “democratic principles must guide what we revolutionize toward” (p.8).  Democratic principles, coupled with inclusive pedagogies, specifically inquiry, encompass great potential in addressing stagnant educational gaps. AACTE’s recommitment to democratize teacher education pedagogy and principles culminated in a Pilot program, Educating for American Democracy, in which both authors were participants. Struck by the possibilities of enhanced democratic principles guiding teacher preparation and teaching and learning in K-12 schools, the authors share about the pilot experience. The authors also offer their view on the shift’s constraints and possibilities to enhance educator preparation and ultimately to address longstanding questions about equity and school outcomes in American public schools (Fuentes, 2022).

Equity in educational opportunities and outcomes, or rather inequity, has been highlighted throughout the pandemic. In I’m Here for the Hard Re-Set: Post Pandemic Pedagogy to Preserve Our Culture, Gloria Ladson Billings (2021) details the inequities Black students experiences in their school settings and argues that educators must not resort back to 2019 pedagogy and policies, but rather use this historic juncture as an opportunity to better serve all students. We cannot move forward without first reflecting on how and why pandemic pedagogy did not serve students of color. Equitable opportunities require educators to center their practice in democratic and inclusive pedagogies. Within the current polarized political climate, educator preparation programs (EPPs) must support teacher candidates with tools and resources to embrace democracy by highlighting exceptional examples of inclusive pedagogy in action. Moreover, EPPs must embrace and be responsive to the varied lived experiences of K-12 students, teacher candidates, and community members, posing the problem of relativity. 

Tensions and Possibilities

During the pilot, the authors experienced a tension when considering the shift to include additional requirements, including, but not limited, to democratic principles to licensure programs. Requirements, such as a civics course, may support candidates in designing civically engaging lessons; yet, more requirements may hinder recruitment and retainment efforts. Licensure programs in 2022 have become nimbler and more flexible, as are state licensing requirements, in order to meet the increasing demands for teachers in light of shortages coupled with decreasing demand for college and traditional certification programs. EPPs have trended towards decreasing the number of credits required for certification programs often at the expense of key content or pedagogical areas. Furthermore, and perhaps more detrimental to the teaching of Civics, for example, has been the emphasis on and impact of basic skills testing and subject matter requisite testing independent of EPPs. In our experience, basic skills requirements deter potential candidates who may either avoid the assessment or struggle to successfully pass the state required threshold. EPPs must then respond to the testing reliance by expanding its energy, resources, and time to meet students’ testing needs. Accordingly, teacher candidates spend less time exploring important concepts related to teaching essential democratic principles as a means for enacting effective teaching and learning. This is a mistake at a systemic level.

On the other side of this tension are possibilities for the recruitment of diverse teacher candidates attracted to a more complex, meaningful, and engaging learning experience. A pedagogical shift towards civic education inclusively centered on 21-century students’ lived experiences will value the knowledge that all students bring. Likewise, more students will feel included and represented. Engagement will result from inclusion. The intersection of inquiry and inclusive pedagogy at EPPs, and in K-12 schools, may promote more teachers to value what students know more than traditional teaching and pedagogy. Students might be drawn to courses where inquiry and inclusion are modeled and explored methodologically and clinically across programs. Similarly, EPPs will address teaching shortages by holistically democratizing candidates’ opportunities with improved placements and targeted emphasis on democracy and inclusion within methods courses.

Exploring Democracy in the EPP Classroom

One cannot assume that a candidate can learn in a traditional manner and then teach in an empowering inclusive manner. For candidates to employ strategies that empower learners to truly explore democracy, then EPPs must strategically design high-impact and high-leverage practices to allow students to explore their efficacy teaching inclusively.  Merely taking additional civics courses will not necessarily be enough to inspire democratic teaching. In one pilot session, we discussed what learning might look like in a democratic classroom. An overwhelming number of responses referred to the concept of vulnerability. Students and educators alike must become vulnerable and take risks. And yet, a clear tension can be found in vulnerability conflicting with an EPP evaluation system that places too high of a premium on what candidates perceive is valued as ‘Truth.” In a truly democratic space, the educator does not exert power, but rather takes a step back and strategically guides students through discussions, debates, and discourse(s). In a truly democratic space, the educator “calls candidates in” and “does not call them out” when their opinions or viewpoints conflict with their own. EPPs must inclusively model democracy in action before we require candidates to teach democratically on their own.

You can learn more about AACTE’s collaboration with the Educating for American Democracy Consortium on AACTE website, which includes resources such as an in-depth report on the pilot and soon to come, primer videos from the sessions led by EAD champions during that pilot.


Fenwick, L. (2021). Revolutionizing Education for All Learners. American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). https://aacte.org/resources/research-reports-and-briefs/revolutionizing-education-road-map/

Fuentes, D. A. (2022)  Profoundly Antiracist Questions About Schools. Teachers College Record. https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=23978

Ladson-Billings, G. (2021). I’m here for the hard re-set: Post pandemic pedagogy to preserve our culture. Equity & Excellence in Education, 54(1), 68-78.


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David Fuentes

William Paterson University