American political leaders and editorial pundits routinely decry the demise of democratic life in the nation. Voting, at all levels, remains at abysmally low levels. Public rhetoric routinely is shrill, often unseemly; it lacks civility. Political discourse in such an environment is clearly impoverished. Combatants for public attention and approval war over visions of the public good. They stand entrenched and immobile, refusing to yield or shift positions. Their ground of disputation frequently is neither level nor common. These tortured circumstances of civic reality are viewed much too often and like so many past and present social problems, as the singular responsibility of the nation's schools. In this view, simply, critics scream their conclusion: schools have failed America. The American democratic fabric is unraveling, so goes the charge, and American schooling is responsible for the mess.

Education professionals, too, recently have waded back into this inflamed rhetorical fray. These educators appear unwilling to accept as accurate the vicious allegations of schools' ruin and worthlessness. Moreover, they seek to contribute to the restoration of democracy in America. Only recently has the concept of democratic schooling reemerged in the educational dialogue after several decades of dormancy. The rhetoric of the profession now promotes if not lauds democratic administration, classroom teaching, and teacher and student decision making. Books and articles revealing this rhetoric appear with greater frequency. Why has this dialogue so recently reappeared in educational discourse?