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Using public education to spur a strong, healthy democracy


The League of Women Voters of New Mexico (LWVNM) believes that education is the foundation for a strong and viable democracy and that the public education system should impart to students an understanding of the nature of democracy, the ability to think critically and the skills to function successfully in a complex society.

One approach to this goal involves democratic learning communities -- groups of people – students, families, educators and the public -- working together to provide relevant learning.

In the May 23, 2021 Las Cruces Sun News, Mesilla Elementary kindergarten teacher Aimee Parra described it skillfully. The young learners/leaders in her class shared responsibility for a well-functioning community, working together to achieve learning goals. Their experiences included planning and resolving issues, engaging them in meaningful communication, empathy, teamwork and self-reflection.

With attention to social and emotional learning, students practiced skills of self-confidence, friendships, problem solving, curiosity and responsibility. This appears to be in line with the Equity and Excellence for All Students Policy (JBC), that the Las Cruces Public School Board recently adopted.

The JBC Policy commits the school district to fairness, equity and inclusion as principles of the system and to modification of “negative stereotypes of historically under-represented, underserved and marginalized student populations, cultures and languages.”

High expectations for all students and everyone involved will advance leadership skills. With the violence, abuse and suicidal patterns found in our society, developing social and emotional skills is also essential. In other words, the policy can be seen as a response to the court findings in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. In the court decision, the judge ruled that New Mexico was violating the constitutional right of students to “a sufficient education” for all students, especially those living in poverty.

According to the court’s judgments, schools must: 1) expand multicultural curricula, 2) provide learning experiences involving family and community, 3) supply equitable enriched resources, 4) use multiple, relevant assessments, and 5) provide relevant, ongoing professional development for educators. Multicultural education is identified first because it is so significant.

Multicultural education is basic education that includes curriculum, learning strategies and interactions among teachers, students, families and the community. It is evident everywhere, from bulletin boards to lunchrooms, sports events and assemblies. The curricula and learning are based on affirming social justice, critical thinking about historical records, cultural and language diversity and a broad range of knowledge.

In the JBC Policy, the word “equity” means using fair learning processes to meet the strengths, interests, and needs of all students. A fair education system uses learning resources where students see people who look like them. We can all benefit from having a broader, more inclusive view of history, learning about how people are similar and different and how different individuals and groups overcome challenges they face.

Providing relevant, real-world learning experiences in democratic learning communities gives students more choices and greater responsibility for and engagement with their own learning. The League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico supports the JBC Policy Equity and Excellence for All Students for the Las Cruces Public Schools.

League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico