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Author Biography

John Landesman, a Senior Associate at Everyday Democracy, coordinates the Montgomery County Public Schools Study Circles Program, outside Washington DC. The program engages parents, students, staff, and administrators in dialogue to address racial and ethnic barriers to parent involvement and student achievement in a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic school district.

Abstract

American school boards, parent teacher associations, and other school forums are crucial sites for participatory and deliberative democracy, yet they often involve debilitating inequities of power among school officials and parents, adults and students, and parents from more and less privileged backgrounds. In this interview, John Landesman, a Senior Associate at Everyday Democracy, discusses how he addresses power differences in dialogues aimed at improving parental participation and student learning in a diverse school district outside Washington, DC. Landesman argues that developing a robust equity strategy from the start is the only way to meet the aims of dialogue that strives to include a variety of perspectives. Landesman also shares insights into how to practice equity at each stage of organizing a dialogue, from inclusive recruitment and retention of participants, to forum design and facilitation, to evaluating and implementing the group’s plans. Like many contributors to this issue, he argues that specific equity strategies should flow from the goals of a particular dialogue. He also discusses how Everyday Democracy has employed affinity group discussions, which create safe places for members of non-dominant groups to speak with each other as one stage of a community-wide dialogue.

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