Recent events have pulled our human and educational need for community into sharp focus. I asked my IDEA colleague, Sharon Trautwein, to comment on the role that community plays in enriching lives and learning. Her thoughts:
Community. Currently, our society has many definitions for this word. There is a school community, a church community, the Global community, etc... And now with social media people have Facebook and Twitter communities. They belong to human rights communities, "We Hate Obama" Communities, "We love Obama" communities, pro-gun communities, anti-gun communities, hate groups, dance groups, theatre groups, groups that promote positive thought... We have created a world where community is something you choose with the intention of being exclusive and single-minded.
No one is accountable to those who think differently because it is easier to surround yourself with people who "think like me". Technology is wonderful and it is amazing that someone may be connected with people across the globe. We really do have a growing Global Community. But, we seem to have forgotten that a community should also be about shared geographic boundaries like neighborhoods, towns, even apartment buildings. We communicate with people in Africa and we don't know the name of our next-door neighbor.
So--when thinking about how we can change education to be more equitable and actually promote learning verses testing we must look to our communities. We must first begin with those who share our geographic boundaries. But that is not enough. We drop our children off in one community (school), we go to another community (work) and the two communities will almost never interact. It is time we made schools community centers where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate. People need to learn how, and be forced on a regular basis, to interact with other people who may not think the same. We need to look to what we share versus how we are different.
Why can't we create communities where school and work interact on a regular basis? Let our students enter the "real world" as they learn English, math, social studies, science. Let us re-think the Common Core be about learning versus testing. Students will use their skills and learn more skills while participating directly in the community, the whole community. Businesses can partner with schools to develop projects that create practical learning environments. This can happen at the grade school and high school levels.
It is also important to remember that non-profits are the cornerstones of communities. It is vital that schools and non-profits, especially the arts-based non-profits are partnered together. Students learn to appreciate the arts when they are exposed to and are given the opportunity to participate in the arts. We know that the arts are an important and necessary part of the learning process. Many, many, many studies have been done that prove, without doubt, that arts build creative and critical thinking skills and improve math, reading, and reasoning skills. We also know that funding for arts has diminished in both the schools and the non-profits across the nation. Partnering schools with arts-based non-profits will benefit both organizations.
If schools, businesses, and non-profits are interacting with one another it will become more and more apparent how much each benefits from the other. Communities will be stronger. And, as geographic communities grow stronger, money will be available to allow internet and global communities to grow within the schools. There is a lot to be learned from others and the internet and social media have opened a space for inter-cultural learning. These communities will grow stronger as well.
If we want to change education we must first look to our communities. No national policy can have as much of an effect on education as a community can.
Sharon Trautwein is a theatre professional and educator whose eclectic background ranges from teaching at-risk children in Laramie, Wyoming, to building a hostel for women in the Everest region of Nepal. She is a staunch supporter of arts education programming and currently works as the Regional Director with the Mentor Artists Playwrights Project (MAPP). She is a community organizer with IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America).