Democratic Writing

Before you begin reading about democratic writing, first, read the following few sentences. Take your time and read it slowly. We will visit it again.

“Democratic Interchange feeds on evolution. As those affected by powers, We require abundant time to optimistically labor and endeavor through a political process. We demand more than an instant so we may protect Our rights and powers and testify Our experiences. And, with time, We struggle to perceive injustice in order to abolish parts of Our government in favor of a new whole.”

Two months ago I read Danielle Allen’s book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. I recommend that anyone who teaches social studies or those interested in our democratic processes read this highly insightful book. Allen writes in marvelous detail on how the 1,337 words in the Declaration of Independence impact our democracy, especially when we search for the relationship between equality and freedom. 

My favorite aspect of this book was the description of “democratic writing.” This writing style focuses on students reading a section of brief texts, or at times a few words, together and determining its meaning. It also entails students writing joint paragraphs, and obsessing over the meaning of words. Most importantly, democratic writing focuses on taking all experiences as holding truth. As a writer, reader, and discussant, democratic writing encourages participants to listen more than they speak and to shape their writing based on all perspectives.

“Group writing is not easy, but, when done well, it heads the ranks of human achievement. It stand even in front of words of individual genius, because it involves a far greater degree of difficulty” (Allen, 2014, pp. 49).

Allen used democratic writing in her own classroom curriculum and spent hours with students obsessing over the meaning behind the words in the Declaration of Independence. Since I was interested in a democratic writing exercise, I set out to do this with my friends, teachers, and peers.

With two peers working on a book summary of Allen’s book, we wrote a brief synopsis on the importance of what we first called Democratic Discourse. We wanted to focus on why discussions among democratic participants were important. The first draft was completed as the following;

“Democratic Discourse takes time. We must have freedom of time to work in a democratic process, be the authorities to protect rights and powers, identify our happiness, and if we determine it necessary, abolish our government in favor of a new whole.”

The first draft was passed around by dozens of hands, and the revisions that came about were delightful, tedious, exciting, and exhausting. Currently, the most up to date copy reads as the following;

“Democratic Interchange feeds on evolution. As those affected by powers, We require abundant time to optimistically labor and endeavor through a political process. We demand more than an instant so we may protect Our rights and powers and testify Our experiences. And, with time, We struggle to perceive injustice in order to abolish parts of Our government in favor of a new whole.”

A picture can show how messy democratic writing is. This was during one of the earlier drafts.

The two drafts are obviously different and what is missing is all of the work that went into that difference. Hours were spent by dozens of people to create the changes. Also, the differences represent a multitude of perspectives. Those who contributed to this perspective were Native American and white, Christian and atheist, man and woman, heterosexual and gay, retired teachers and those still in college, close friends of mine and people I had just met.

These were not the only identities present, there were many more, and many more that could have been there. My favorite part about this exercise is that I had to make revisions, additions, and deletions of words and phrases when they represented an altering perspective. It forced me to listen to the perspective behind word choice, to better understand the experiences that form a rationale.

Now we are towards our end, and looking at the two version of the democratic writing, what changes do you notice? Why do you think those changes happened? Would you revise anything?

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