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January 13, 2005

"community as text"

Last night and today, I'm attending a meeting organized by the Coalition for Community Schools. The Coalition has convened representatives of six movements:

  • service learning: community service combined with academic work and reflection

  • environmental education: studying environmental science and applying the knowledge to understand local ecosystems

  • place-based education: studying local communities in order to increase appreciation (as well as knowledge) of disparaged places, such as poor rural areas

  • civic education, which should include the study of local issues and structures of government

  • work-based learning, as defined in the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1990, which supports programs that place students in job settings for academic study.

  • community youth development: which treats young people as assets in community development, and trains and supports them to participate in local organizations and networks.

  • Each of these movements or philosophies of education treats the local community as a "text" for students to interpret--and, to some degree, "rewrite." There are many examples and stories of truly exciting results. For example, students in a Texas border school district conducted oral histories of their elderly, immigrant relatives, translated the results into English, and used the resulting English/Spanish narratives as textbooks in their schools. On the other hand, using "community-as-text" is hard and often frustrating work, especially when communities do not embrace the participation of students.

    In the end, I think that using the "community as text" is one of several strategies that can bring coherence, purpose, and passion to education. It is not better than an arts focus, a global-cultures focus, a history focus, a tech focus, or various other choices. I do believe, however, that it implies its own set of principles and values, which can be particularly attractive in certain settings. For example, we are motivated to use the community as text in Prince George's County, MD, because the students are growing up in a fascinating jurisdiction--diverse and rapidly changing--yet people of all ages tend to overlook or discount it as a community. Thus studying the county and disseminating the results is a means of (much needed) community organizing.

    Posted by peterlevine at January 13, 2005 07:52 AM

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