Our main area of research: Democracy education in child and youth welfare and community settings
Where and how does a (young) person become democratic? (Helmut Richter). Our preliminary assumption in the question posed is that democracy must be actively learned by doing. Along with Dewey, Bernfeld and Korczak, we find that this can and should be achieved by means of implementation of fundamental democratic practices – that is essentially the right to co-decide - in educational institutions, youth associations and local communities. Since we deem democracy to be an acquired trait, we also consider it to be an essential part of self-development or self-education (in particular that of children and young people), hereby alluding to the term “democracy education” (Demokratiebildung) previously mentioned within the context of our principle area of research. In order to assure that the opportunity to practice political participation and civic engagement among children and young people does not solely rest on the discretion of adults, educators and mentors, we recommend that children and young people be given entitlement to inclusive decision-making processes thereby understood as collective processes with collective responsibilities. Young members of youth associations founded upon a democratic constitution are already entitled to take part in decision-making processes, and in other educational organizations children and young people can likewise be ensured participation rights by means of a “constitution” modeled after the concept of participatory democratic practice in child and youth daycare settings (the “nursery of democracy”).
Within the field of Social Pedagogy at Universität Hamburg, we continue to follow in the tradition of the theoretical concepts concerning education in youth associations and organizations as well as community education (Kommunalpädagogik) and the methodical approach to action break research (Handlungspausenforschung) developed by Prof. Dr. Helmut Richter, professor emeritus at Universität Hamburg. A primary focus of our work at present involves discerning and defining various theoretical foundations of democracy education, examining the implementation and impact thereof in child care facilities and youth associations as well as developing models for further promoting democracy education in the area of youth centers and political education among disadvantaged youth. This work is part of the faculty's key research area Participation and Education (Coordinator Democracy Education: Lutz Peters).
“The very idea of democracy, the meaning of democracy must be continually explored afresh; it has to be constantly discovered and rediscovered, remade and reorganized; while the political and economic and social institutions in which it is embodied have to be remade and reorganized to meet the changes that are going on in the development of new needs on the part of human beings and new resources for satisfying those needs”. John Dewey: The Challenge of Democracy to Education (1937).