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Issue 3: Education for Community Building

Editor's Introduction

Quietly replacing the fearsome myth of a Darwinian world is the gentle consciousness that we survive not because we are fitter or superior, but because we cooperate. All natural systems seem to demonstrate that working together for the collective good—working in community—is what actually pulls us through. Cooperation of many cells runs the sap up the trees and the blood through our veins. Every living being is in fact a complexity of collaborative elements, functioning within a larger framework of collaborative systems.

What skills, then, would serve a society that depends on community? What could schools be teaching to encourage a cooperative culture? When so much of our previous education has been in service to the role of dominator, single survivor, and competitor, it is hard to know where to start. The words of my youngest child's third grade teacher still ring in my ears; "We do not help each other in this class!" she announced at the beginning of a test period I happened to be visiting. I understood the euphemism for not cheating, but ached for a setting that would engage the children in finding answers together, to experience the joy of sharing, and eliminate the oppressive structure of grading and ranking and eventually separating the "successful" from the "unsuccessful" student. The teach and test method, itself, places emphasis on regurgitation of codified knowledge, and gives scant encouragement, if any, to creative endeavor. And, so, the very method we use to teach and learn, let alone the content, is ripe for rethinking.

Compiling this issue on education for community building has been a joy. The quantity and maturity of educational programs I found that are driven by compassion was a wonderful surprise. It leads me to believe we are essentially a caring creature.

We have assembled in this issue of New Village examples of educational programs that contribute in significant ways to the enhancement of community—programs that show the transformation of competition-based learning into compassion-based learning, textbook learning into experiential learning, and rote learning into imaginative learning.

Many of the programs documented here, such as university/community partnerships, offer not only progressive curricula and enlightened teaching methods, but exhibit in their very structure a model for healthy community teamwork. Such teams are cleaning up their local river, planning a park, or effecting economic turn-around in their town. These are not isolated case studies; rather they are representative of a new outpouring of focus, by centers of education, on serving their local communities and fostering true citizenship. Increasingly the immediate neighborhood is becoming the classroom, and, in many university programs, community members are participating as full partners rather than being treated as research subjects.

Partnership with nature, too, is a theme this issue addresses. The interdependence of all living systems is being taught through activities such as harvesting food from a school garden or restoring wildlife to a local creek. School facilities that integrate the surrounding natural ecology, instead of shutting it out, are supporting hands-on, count-the-real-chicken curricula that engages students more fully than reading or chalkboards alone.

Learning, also, is not limited to the young. Nor is it limited among adults to college or university. This issue offers examples and how-to for grassroots, popular education methods, such as study circles and community story-telling.

I am grateful to our contributors who bring us news of so many varieties of learning communities. They offer hope that our previous faith in the science of survival is soon to become but the trellis for a flowering faith in community.

Lynne Elizabeth, New Village Editor

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