I was holding a small group breakout session in Puerto Rico with educators and organizers when it happened.
Domingo challenged the entire premise of the conversation by saying in accented English far better than any Spanish I still possess, “I don’t think democracy is the right word or even the right concept. And I’m not sure I want, no offense Scott, to hear you talk about it coming from the United States. You have used democracy as a weapon to colonize and to control – and I’m skeptical about linking it to the kinds of educational practices we want and need. It could be dangerous.”
And while I tried hard to listen and not be defensive and also keep Domingo and others engaged, inside his words rang many bells. In that moment I was the director of an organization that positions democracy as a foil to looking at failed education reforms and the lack of student, parent, educator, and community voice in both decisions and the vision of public education.
Domingo’s critique was not unfamiliar to me, but it was more personal. Did I have room inside myself to consider abandoning democracy as a guiding premise? For how and for whom education is arranged? As the guiding ideal for communities big and small?
I knew I didn’t want to be accused of being a socialist. Though I noticed I was more afraid of the accusations then the big “S” label.
That moment took place in 2012 and I’ve been pondering and exploring the questions ever since.