Building Education for the Commons

The Lost Skill of Community Making

from the cover of Robert D. Putnam's book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

from the cover of Robert D. Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Here are some reflections inspired by recently reading, Robert D. Putnam‘s book, Bowling Alone

The social body is suffering and struggling for survival.  As global populations continues exploding, our communities are eroding.  We need to address this, but how?

In the past, communities were forced to be together basically because it was necessary for survival.  Communities, such as towns, neighborhoods, and villages were dependent and inter-dependently stitched together for protection against external threats from bandits, unjust Lords, to being able to feed themselves through the dark, cold days of winter.  By contrast, contemporary beliefs hold that it’s a sign of weakness to be dependent on anyone outside yourself.  How did this morality emerge?

To count on your neighbor, to need your community for basic materials for living has strangely become a social sin.  Again, where did this morality come from?  For example, it’s possible for many of us, to spend an entire day without talking to anyone (face to face), and yet we do our jobs, go shopping, eat and so forth.  Historically speaking, it would be unheard of to procure food without knowing where it comes from or even what’s in it.  Today we even have genetically modified foods such as soybean, yes, soybean.

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We have our own jobs, we make our own income, we have our own homes, cars, laptops, and so forth even to the degree that no one outside ourselves are needed.  In short we are isolated, like an island.  And if we’re not an isolated entity, we are guilt of breaking some law.  But why?  Again, where did this anti-commons morality come from?

The Neighbor

Neighbors from time immemorial have always been something of a thorn in the side, but ever increasingly we are able to ignore that thorn, and even pretend it doesn’t exist.  The more independent we become, the less our neighbor matters to us; indeed doesn’t the neighbor become even more annoying the less we need them?

There are some examples about when communities come together, but this is prompted by natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like.  But we have something, in a manner, far more ominous afoot and threatening our communities than hurricanes.

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Also it’s important to note that just because we don’t materially need our communities, it doesn’t mean we don’t need people’s interactions on other levels of our lives.  Studies repeatedly show that people are most happiest when they have frequent contact with others, even those they might not get alone with.  Yet, as new generations mature into adulthood, as impersonal communications continue to expand, we either haven’t learned how to relate to others well (owing to an education system that reinforces the ideology of the pure individualism) or else we don’t exercise our social muscles.  Our social muscles allow us to interact with others well, even when we disagree with them.  This is a crucial skill to possess for citizens of a democracy, but more and more, as we shrink out of our public existence and into our cocoons we lose the crucial ability (our social muscles) to unite against perils that may threaten our very existence including tyranny.

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We’re unable to perceive the real, perennial and immediate threat posed against us namely the very structure and logic by which we become less dependent on each other and more independent from others.

To struggle against this is a monumental task, to be sure.  But to fail to identify this toxic, anti-communal ideology only feeds it all the more.  The main front for this “battle for reclaiming community” is, of course, education and participating in communal activities.  And since the birth of universal teaching standards peddled by programs like, “No Child Left Behind” our children have been treated more like computers in need of updated programming, then like dynamic beautiful vessels who harbor the promise of a better future.

For example, they are uniformly taught to perform in isolation and not in groups.  Public schools’ curricula increasingly cuts group problem-solving activities in which different minds learn to work together for a common aim.  The reason, according to some teachers and managers is liability.

Liability?, yes, that’s right, the insurance companies and lawyers have dictated the terms in many respects about what kind of education children can receive in school.  If the average teacher must teach 30 students, having six small groups of five students each, is just too much for one teacher to handle, especially as younger folks are just starting to develop their social-skills.  Such a scenario would be chaotic according to many teachers with whom I have spoken.

If children aren’t given these important, social, democratic skills in schools, we can hardly expect them to become engaged citizens who care and will fight for the community as a whole.

So, the picture looks daunting, but we must do something.  We must do something together and begin to stand up for our communities and the principles of equality and freedom on which they should stand.

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Creston Davis


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This entry was posted on January 9, 2015 by and tagged , , , , .
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