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Abstract

Public schools in the United States are charged with facilitating public deliberation of controversial school curriculum. This often entails managing the negotiations between multiple stakeholders who have very different positions on the proper design and implementation of curriculum. To maintain legitimacy as caretakers of the public interest in a liberal democracy, public schools are asked to recognize all legitimate perspectives in such disputes. But what happens when a perspective is not considered legitimate or in the public interest by the dominant community? When disputes over curriculum ensue, the rights of individuals to have their perspectives included in the curriculum must be considered in tandem with the public school’s primary responsibility—to teach students to nurture a democracy. This essay synthesizes frameworks from deliberative democracy theorists to better understand the ways that the process and outcome of public school curriculum deliberation can increase in legitimacy and responsiveness to issues of social justice. To develop and illustrate this theoretical framework, I examine the case of a small group of activists who challenged a curriculum’s claim that the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was clearly a mistake. Activist wanted the curriculum to say that the internment was done out of military necessity. I conclude that Gutmann’s guidelines of non-discrimination and non-repression must be synthesized with Habermas’s guidelines for a proceduralist model of deliberation.

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