Community Vision for Education of Children
By | Amy Ferrell, PhD
Education is the process of becoming ourselves. On this journey of becoming, individuals come into contact with the inner sacredness that affirms their supreme worth, doing so in community through the driving force of love (hooks, 2012; Vanier, 2008). The group fosters each
person’s agency with intentional negotiations of power, affording all the gifts of freedom necessary to move through liminal borders of opportunity for growth. Story matters, and no story is finished. In community, everyone belongs, just as in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of the beloved community, where power lies at the intersection of justice and love.
Yet, as the voices in the article attest, these key components of education—supreme worth, love, freedom, justice, and community—are severely lacking for many who enter into the schooling system. Instead of dynamic movement in and out of spaces that show the individual agency of each child, forced movement works as a mechanism for control over the bodies of children, fracturing sacred bonds of relationship and each child’s discovery of themselves. Highways replace houses, and markets displace people. Schools, which once served as markers of cultural history by those who formerly shared proximity, now disintegrate into the pockets of reformers and developers.
For people of color and other marginalized social identities, access to equitable educational systems often means entry into an unwelcome and dangerous space (Baldwin, 1963). Contemporary stories of Denver families echo the century-old stories of sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois (1903), especially the story of John, whose Black community viewed his educational aspiration as a border of opportunity, while the local white community discouraged it, saying, “It’ll spoil him – ruin him” (p. 230). Borders of inadequacy that restrict the educational process of becoming oneself ultimately result in the pain of rejection that accompanies separation. Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) describes the struggle toward wholeness when social life is persistently organized into hierarchical divisions of identities.
In these corroborating stories across space and time, power is less negotiated and more imposed, continuing the legacy of theft: stolen land, stories, language, education, and lives.
Community is the antithesis to oppression. Through mutual and unconditional giving, walls that serve only to deny the truth of one’s supreme value deteriorate in community. Individuals not only contribute to the collective, but they also become themselves through the education of their own belovedness.
Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (2010) suggests that community often garners space for social affinity among members of marginalized groups, creating a sense of togetherness from shared experiences. Though not monolithic in beliefs, people in community together can resist a common threat to their lives, as a personal and political tool for protection.
Of course, any kind of sustained human togetherness yields tension. According to community scholar Parker Palmer (n.d.), conflict is in fact necessary to the creation of community. Without it, we repress the capacity toward understanding our own unique contributions. However, dissonance must not emerge as a mechanism toward singular self-importance, but out of relations of care and the continuous effort of commitment toward reciprocity among members. Educational scholars Nel Noddings (1996) and Angela Valenzuela (1999) suggest that through caring relationships, community counters the pervasive schooling practices that subtract, or steal, from students’ full identities. As forms of community, schools hold the potential to operate as democratic spaces in which learning is not imposed, but negotiated and co-created, reflecting the values and lived realities outside of the school walls (Dewey, 1938). Democratic processes of debate, even argument, allow for the group’s values to emerge and crystalize, as long as truth engulfs any niceties of social convention that protect the oppressor.
In the quickly changing landscape of the city and its schools, a great need exists for intentional connections across various kinds of community: schools, neighborhoods, and affinity groups. Where two or three are gathered in relationship, the seeds of community plant potential for conjoining the disparate and seemingly contradictory identities within the self and within a group, moving toward wholeness and healing (Anzaldúa, 2015). As reflected in the article, hopes of societies lie at the doorstep of schooling institutions, where the process of becoming might coalesce with that of belonging.
Whether in or out of schools, education only occurs in community, where a multitude of stories are told and where inferiority, inadequacy, and rejection are overcome by agency, sufficiency, and belovedness (Nouwen, 1992).
Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Light in the dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting identity, spirituality, reality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Anzaldúa, G. (2012). Borderlands/La frontera: The new Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Baldwin, J. (1963). The fire next time. New York: Vintage Books.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of Black folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg.
Hill Collins, P. (2010). The new politics of community. American Sociological Review, 75(1), 7-30.
hooks, b. (2012). Writing beyond race: Living theory and practice. New York: Routledge.
Noddings, N. (1996). On community. Educational Theory, 46(3), 245-267.
Nouwen, H. (1992). Life of the beloved: Spiritual living in a secular world. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co.
Palmer, P. (n.d.). Community, conflict, and ways of knowing: Ways to deepen our educational agenda. Center for Courage and Renewal. Retrieved from: http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/community-conflict/
Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S. – Mexican youth and the politics of caring. New York: State University of New York.
Vanier, J. (2008). Becoming human. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.
Amy Ferrell, PhD, is an assistant professor of special education in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver, where she studies community, discourse, and literacy.