Democracy is a broad and far-reaching idea, and carries with it a specific set of relatively vague values. This becomes especially evident when attempts are made to transform the ever expansive interpretations of democracy into actual, tangible practice. An idea - however widely admired in theory - remains only as effective and representative as the mechanisms and persuasions in place to implement it into practice. How people interpret an idea and manipulate its indefinite principals - however self-serving at times or benevolent at others - will determine the subsequent outcomes.
The otherwise seemingly rigid, authoritative value structure with which our culture tends to affiliate democracy - underpinned with notions of freedom and liberty - is instead, and in distinct contrast, an evolving entity intertwined in perpetual transformation, by way of unending reinterpretation. A likely reason for this is the fact that values - the likes of freedom and liberty -typically revolve around one's unique concept of fairness, followed closely by one’s unique concept of the manner in which justice is best served. Thus, given the fact that any number of socioeconomic, spiritual, and cultural factors can shape a diverse range of opinion on what is and is not just, it becomes less certain that one nationally-accepted democratic ideal exists.
Some might argue that perhaps a stronger consensus on the ideals of democracy is more likely to surface from the process in which such innumerable interpretations are reconciled. Yet, even our nation’s earliest leaders exhibited fundamental divergence in their understanding of the ideal democratic process. A key example can be found in the matter of education. In American Education, historian Joel Spring (2008) explains how a strong base of our country's forefathers, including the likes of George Washington, "argued that public schools were needed to create a national culture and to educate qualified politicians for a republican government" (p. 12). In fact, George Washington proposed to Congress in 1790 the establishment of a national university for this specific purpose (p. 12). However others, including Thomas Jefferson, contended that such an institution would predominantly serve only to perpetuate elitism, as only the wealthy had the means to afford higher education (p. 12). The fear was that political power would therefore continue to favor the affluent, and disproportionately function to further promote their high social status (p. 12).
In the following century, it was Horace Mann who expanded on Jefferson’s unease, by championing equal educational opportunities for children of all socioeconomic status. Spearheading the Common School Movement into mainstream government policy, he argued that "without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School...may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization" (“Only a Teacher”). Mann envisioned a...