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  • Teaching Democracy in Postcommunist Countries
  • Krzysztof Stanowski (bio)

In Poland there has been a very strong tradition of independent civic education. Underground education was conducted by the first Polish youth organizations at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and informal educational cells were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This was a crucial element of Poland’s independ-ence movement, enabling Poles to preserve their language, culture, and national history in spite of well over a century of partition and foreign occupation. Later, during the period between the two World Wars, informal “peasant universities” forged an elite group of peasant activists. Under the Nazi occupation (1939–44), the Polish underground state included a clandestine educational system that involved thousands of students throughout the country. Similarly, the democratic opposition to communist rule during the 1970s and 1980s gave rise to “flying universities” and other independent education groups. The imposition of martial law in December 1981 only led to a new burst of underground educational activity. [End Page 157]

The Foundation for Education for Democracy (FED), established in 1989, is carrying on the tradition of independent civic education in Poland. It was created out of the conviction that educating citizens to assume responsibility for their families, their local communities, and their country is essential to the creation of an open society. The FED’s mission is to improve understanding of the rights and responsibilities that go with democracy and a free market. Through its training and publications programs in Poland, Eastern Europe, and the New Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union, the Foundation promotes the skills necessary to perform civic duties in a democratic society among teachers, students, and democratic activists.

The FED is the outgrowth of a joint program, created by Polish and American teachers in 1982 as a response to the introduction of martial law in Poland, that became one of the first grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Workshops in union skills organized since 1990 by trainers from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) led to the creation of a team of Polish volunteer trainers, which then began conducting independent training courses based on the AFT model. Finally, the Polish team established its own organization and began producing its own programs and training materials. Over the past eight years, the Foundation for Education for Democracy has recorded the following accomplishments, made possible in large measure by NED financial support:

  • • Organized over 300 workshops, three to six days in length, in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia;

  • • Educated more than 5,500 participants, including teachers, students, and activists from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs);

  • • Produced, translated, and adapted 52 publications and hundreds of pages of training materials for workshop participants in Polish, Russian, English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Crimean-Tatar, Albanian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Mongolian; and

  • • Trained over 100 teacher-trainers from Poland and eight NIS countries to run workshops and seminars that are either organized jointly with the FED, or independently, using FED models.

Structure and Activities

The Foundation for Education for Democracy is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization based in Warsaw, Poland. Its founders included Jan Piotr Lasota-Hirszowicz; Andrzej Janowski, former minister of education; Wiktor Kulerski, former deputy minister of education; Janusz Onyszkiewicz, minister of defense; Edward Wieczorek; Jacek Woznikowski; Albert Shanker, Sandra Feldman, and Herbert Magidson of the American Federation of [End Page 158] Teachers (AFT); and Diane Ravitch of New York University. The FED is registered as a Polish NGO, and is run by an elected board of directors. Its day-to-day activities are conducted by a director and a staff of six.

The first programs undertaken by the Foundation were courses in leadership training for union activists from the local structures of Teachers’ Solidarity. In the years that followed, the FED’s activities grew to embrace wider audiences both within and beyond Poland. The Foundation is currently conducting six types of programs:

  • Democracy in Schools—a training program for teachers, students, and parents that seeks to disseminate democratic culture in schools and to raise the level of civic education being taught;

  • Philosophy for Children—a training program for teachers that uses an educational...

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