Monday, October 8, 2007

Does Community Matter in Education?

Nick Longo’s recently-released book, Why Community Matters, is an important contribution to the dialogue about the relationship between citizenship and education. Longo, currently the director of the Harry T. Wilkes Institute at Miami University, argues that it’s not enough to teach about citizenship in schools; we must “rethink where education takes place,”and reimagine the relationship between community and schooling so that the school becomes the center of the community, and in turn the community becomes central to the school.

In making this argument, Longo turns to several great educational practitioners of the late 19th and early 20th century: John Dewey, a leading advocate for education reform; Jane Addams, founder of Hull House; and Myles Horton, founder of Highlander Folk School. Longo points out that these practitioners weren’t working in isolation as they developed and implemented their ideas---they were in dialogue with one another, and their ideas in turn influenced a nascent movement of community-centered education.

One area in which that influence has taken root a century later is in the West Side of St.Paul, Minnesota. Through two interrelated initiatives, the Neighborhood Learning Community and the Jane Addams School for Democracy, the principles of community education are playing out in powerful ways. As Longo says, “the ghosts of the past, from places like Hull House and Highlander, are alive in contemporary efforts, like those of the Neighborhood Learning Community.”

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