Fuentes, J. L., Fernández-Salinero, C., y Ahedo, J. (Eds.) (2022). Democracia y tradición en la teoría y práctica educativa del siglo xxi. Narcea. 180 pp.


Democracia y tradición en la teoría y práctica educativa del siglo xxi, the book edited by Juan Luis Fuentes, Carolina Fernández-Salinero, and Josu Ahedo, tackles the unavoidable debate about the role of education in establishing a democratic society in the current century, starting from a broad understanding of the concept of democracy: in the words of Dewey, cited in the prologue by Gonzalo Jover, as a form of moral and spiritual association first and then a form of government. Thematically, the text is arranged around three complex concepts: democracy, tradition, and education. The eight chapters into which it is divided, written by seventeen authors from the field of the theory and history of education from nine different universities, consider questions such as “what goals should a democratic education set itself at present?”; ¿what can be provided to the education of people in the plural setting typical of a democratic society by, on the one hand, religion and tradition, and, on the other, by emerging proposals such as character education, service-learning, or maker culture?”; “what can we learn nowadays from the law of 70, enacted under Franco’s dictatorship, or how can we turn technology into a source of pedagogical opportunities instead of resigning ourselves to seeing it as a threat to democratic coexistence?”.

In chapter one, Cortina presents a robust argument about how an education for democratic citizenship can combat the decadence that democracy has slipped into since the end of the 20th century. This education, understood as a cooperative activity, is responsible for equipping young people with the necessary tools to choose their own model of happiness and a good life, and also to identify and highlight a situation as unjust when appropriate, choosing dialogue with those who have different perspectives. To achieve these goals, Cortina proposes a triple path of Kantian inspiration: educating in basic knowledge and competences (imperative of skill), education in how to be happy and in how to be just (imperative of prudence), and education in the importance and meaning of justice, freeness, and compassion (moral imperative).

In the second chapter, Cámara, Fuentes, and Naval start by setting out a social-historical-theoretical framework that covers the evolution of character education during the 20th and 21st centuries, and its link to different concepts and theories. After concluding that the current consensus involves an integral education that does not neglect non-intellectual dimensions (aesthetic, affective, moral, social, etc.), the authors consider various focusses for character education, such as clarifying values or social and emotional learning. They also define them and note how to put them into practice with examples of specific interventions and noting relevant criticisms of them. The authors dedicate the last part of the chapter to defining key factors in the resurgence of character education: the applicability of Aristotelian philosophy at present (integral education, common framework and vocabulary, consideration of emotions in moral action), the ethical commitment of the educator (teacher as model), and the need for intellectual virtues in moral formation (support of habit, critical and political dimension, link between flourishing and happiness).

In the third chapter, Hogan reflects on how tradition affects the experience of human comprehension, drawing on key authors in the field of phenomenology such as Heidegger, Gadamer, or MacIntyre. Inevitably, the understanding of reality is linked to a series of filters (preconceived ideas, prejudices, etc.) that situate it historically and socially. Therefore, didactics should not take a neutral perspective regarding tradition, but instead should go out to meet it, from a conversational perspective that invites rival traditions to the critique. This active and enquiring interaction will result in revelations about personal identity and renewal of the tradition from the hospitable encounter.

In chapter four, Luque, Igelmo, and Martínez Cano try to lay the foundations for a dialogue on religious education (RE) to flourish in Spain. To do so, after defining the current religious context in which this education should be considered, they suggest three areas for debate where RE seems to make significant contributions. Firstly, they highlight the importance of reincorporating in the curriculum the spiritual dimension, which has been replaced by content of a technical nature in recent decades. They also explore how, from the concept of moral conscience and the encounter with the intranscendental, the moral dimension of RE can be considered in more depth. Finally, they consider the link between religious education and political action aimed at social transformation, emphasising the interrelation with the other and the examination of ethical and democratic aspects from the phenomenon of religion.

In chapter five, Canales illustrates the process of approval of Spain’s General Education Act of 1970, which ushered in comprehensive education under the dictatorship, and the revolutionary repercussion of this at the social level. Having considered in some depth the factors that enabled the implementation of this law, the author reflects on the disquiet that attributing the milestone of comprehensive education to the Francoist government generates among researchers to, finally, cast light on its socialist origins.

In chapter six, Gozálvez, Buxarrais, and Pérez analyse the loss of quality of the democratic system, based on two focuses that are critical of liberal democracy: notions of post-democracy and of illiberal democracy. The authors then explore a variety of strategies that seek to tackle the political disaffection and the loss of ethical-civic commitment of current young generations. These include educational action driven by the European Union centred on three large fields: political literacy and civic attitudes and competences. Moreover, they recognise the family as a driver of democratic settings and experiences in everyday life. Finally, they note the role of ICT in the problem in question, arguing for the need for digital literacy and underlining the benefits of the maker movement.

Chapter seven is situated in line with this same concept. In it, Alonso Díaz and Hernández Serrano consider in depth the conceptualisation of maker culture, which promotes the collaborative construction of responses to social challenges through the use of technology. Based on active learning (Dewey’s learning by doing) and adopting an informal, social, and anti-capitalist perspective, it enables the development of entrepreneurial competence with a democratic focus. The authors argue that it is a social movement with a democratic basis by nature and they list concrete experiences at all educational levels, such as fablabs and changemaker schools.

Finally, the book concludes with a text by Santos Rego, Sáez-Gambín, and Lorenzo Moledo, who administer a questionnaire to students involved in university service-learning projects and obtain a series of results that give rise to interesting conclusions about SL: the ideal moment to do it, who should participate in it, and what it aims is. Accordingly, their principal argument is that continuous and collective reflection is recommended with the aim of sharing ideas about experience and linking service to curriculum content and the development of attitudes and values.

As a whole, the direct and in-depth nature of the analysis of the different questions, which goes beyond the circumstantial, as well as the mixture of theoretical reflections and more practical proposals, make this work a key point of reference in its thematic field. Reading Democracia y tradición en la teoría y práctica educativa del siglo xxi is, ultimately, necessary for any reader and researcher who seeks to build a solid comprehension of the essential questions that shape the debate about democratic education and, especially, for those educators who aspire to lead the move towards an education that responds to contemporary challenges and meets the needs of our time.

Marta Ambite Pérez

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License