In this crazy political season, it is important to review what brings us together and what draws us apart. Each of the candidates is employing their messages and resources to persuade the public to vote for them. Each candidate takes their message and tweaks it at groups of voters—blocks of voters who think the same—and tries to persuade that block to vote as a block for them. So far so good. The resulting dissonance, the clash of these tweaked ideas, is making us think more than we usually do. And that could be a good thing as it is potentially very powerful to wake up to new ideas.
How can we wake up to new ways of thinking about community? Community means different things to different people, and of course it gets defined differently in education, from classroom to school to district to state. Politicians try to define it differently depending on which voter block they are speaking to, or at, or with. Is there a candidate out there who wants to help us define community in new ways that help improve our country?
Classrooms are not perfect, but they could serve as examples of what is good about community and what needs improvement. Classrooms are really safe communities, except from outside aggression, so could we find a candidate who would work on that? Random violence in our country at large and against our classrooms in specific needs help in re-defining what is a safe community. What about collaborative community—yes classrooms foster that in spades—from project work to teams to integration of subjects. What about equal opportunity—well classrooms and the military are pretty good on that, but not as good as we need them to be. There is nothing schools can do to prevent the harm instilled in a child who has grown up in poverty, sickness and isolation. That prevailing condition limits the child on the way into the classroom, and the process of educating, drawing out the best in the child, is compromised.
Candidates could take a page out of what classrooms do best in their communities. Perhaps the most powerful definition of community in classrooms is the ethic of caring (Noddings, 2012): no matter where you come from or what your previous circumstances, you are welcome here, and we want to help you learn. That is a powerful definition of community.
Could we find a candidate who understands that schools do a great job at fostering community and classroom teachers are remarkable at implementing community as a caring relationships. Could schools and classrooms filled with hopeful kids get some help from a candidate who wants to attack previous limitations such as poverty, loss of opportunity, sickness and isolation? If we could we get a candidate who constructs national capacity-building policies—that directly address and support students and families at risk—we could graduate all students in communities built on caring relationships.
Noddings, N. (2012). Philosophy of Education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.