Community Education Today
The field of Community Education should:
- Be part of the development of strong and sustained communities;
- Include in its set of values the need to respond to the economic, social and environmental needs of individuals and their communities;
- Acknowledge that “informal learning” is occurring through cultural and family traditions and that it is a crucial part of the educational process;
- Recognize that education and learning are major tools and strategies for transformation;
- Design systemic structures and processes that nurture relationships with others involved in community education locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and with those resources with similar missions;
- Establish structures to learn from one another through various forms of sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences, not only within the United States, but to connect to community educators globally;
- Engage and support those population groups currently beyond the focus of what our field is currently doing, to those who remain disenfranchised within their communities;
- Fully develop the lifelong learning aspects of community education; connecting learning to workforce development and other intersections whereby through an educational process, people are able to succeed in their communities;
- Understand the reality that most schools cannot respond to the complexities of community life and address the multiple needs of their students, and therefore a community collaborations need to be developed;
- Provide leadership to alter the cultures of schools and other educational institutions wherever possible to adopt the principles of community education;
- Promote the understanding that for “education” to truly succeed, the socio-emotional and other “non-academic” needs of students and those who impact their lives must be addressed;
- Work with and establish centers of community learning that focus on a wide spectrum of community needs;
- Reflect on the history of the field and explore opportunities for greater cooperation and growth; and
- Recognize that if our communities are truly to survive and thrive, we must create a mobilization of people and resources across this country and internationally, and identify common goals and processes of collaboration.
We are in the Information Age, the Age of Knowledge, shifting beyond Industrialization. Education must also move beyond its purpose of preparing people to work in disappearing workplaces, and to be dependent on institutions. Education should be about creating optimal levels of success for individuals, but is also about strengthening their communities. It is about focusing on the humane, economic and social development of society at all levels. In this era of awakening about climate and other environmental changes, education and learning should also be focusing on creating environmental sustainability. It must provide the knowledge and skills for people to not only be self-sufficient and independent, but to create and utilize the interdependencies that must also exist in civil society.
Community Education is about creating a participatory learning culture that incorporates principles and practices of respect, mutual aid, inclusiveness, lifelong learning, skill building, self-appreciation, entrepreneurship, and leadership development. It means joining with others outside the field and those that historically have been associated with Community Education, but who have lost their affiliation (or did not know they ever had it). We need to recreate these linkages and build connections between the myriad incarnations of Community Education and to the broader mission of sustaining communities through education and learning.
In partnership with all institutions, (education, government, business, service organizations, neighborhoods, families, philanthropy and civic associations), community educators can be instrumental in guiding the process of collaboration, and leading the efforts in the transformation of communities. This is what Community Education is all about. It advocates for the creation of multiple educational and learning services and programs to support community members and strengthen their communities. It is through the development and implementation of a comprehensive and wide range of innovative strategies that use knowledge, community building and sustainability as central drivers, that we can create true linkages and avenues of change.
As part of this process, we must accept that schools alone are not responsible for, nor able to educate the public, and many may never adapt to the ideals of life-long learning. Many schools remain distant from community life or haven't the tools or resources to develop necessary partnerships. The hopes of community educators to have all schools as the centers of communities may never be realized, and so other settings where people gather, and where they feel accepted and comfortable will need to be recognized, supported and further developed. In addition to those schools that are community-centered, other settings are collectively providing the array of academic, recreational, health, spiritual, social service, and work preparation practices – preparing people of all ages for community life.
Community Education represents the many fibers of a community’s learning fabric. We should embrace this while recognizing that each of us or each of our programs cannot do everything for everybody. Our position in the community is therefore to foster collaboration and resource connections while working with others to fill in the gaps. There will always be after school programs and adult learning centers working with their specific populations, but the role of community educators is to formulate a unified purpose, and create the linkages across communities so that we ultimately are working together for common goals.
We are all strands of that learning fabric. We are the adult basic education counselors and teachers, some of whom work in prisons, some in museums, and others in family resource centers and other community-based agencies. We are the youth workers and the youth leaders. We are the preschool and out-of-school time instructors and supporters who work with children and their parents. We provide GED and career preparation services. We are those who train in workplaces, continuing education programs and senior centers. We are those who inform the public about the risks to the environment and its beauties, and what we need to do to sustain healthy lifestyles. We are the muralists and local media producers that educate and engage people about local issues.
Community Educators are change agents adept at working with community members to identify needs and resources, and then using the tools of education and informal learning, help create transformation. We facilitate cooperation and collaboration among those involved in the participation and delivery of multiple resources. We provide training in leadership and curriculum development that tie formal to informal learning. We offer help in strategic planning, communication development, public relations, and program evaluation, among other transformational activities.
We recommend the following specific steps for those involved in assessing our field's direction and looking at the future of Community Education:
- Look at the trends that Gary Marx and other futurists present to guide us as to identifying who we should be supporting and where to focus our energies.
- Determine ways to collaborate internationally, nationally, regionally and locally with other organizations with similar goals and mechanisms
- Tap into and share the knowledge and expertise of various community education organizations and establish a clearinghouse and distribution process so that we are benefiting collectively what we individually have experienced
- Create new services, products and professional development to enhance the work of community educators at the local level
- Reach out to population groups not currently being supported by formal education institutions
- Reach out to those informal “cultural” learning systems that could inform community educators about their traditions and knowledge that shape people’s lives and values
- Identify potential new structures that expand outreach and advocacy, bringing people back under the umbrella while introducing new people to the concepts and practices of Community Education
- Establish the means to educate communities about the field and incorporate the principles that we follow within the K-12 and higher education structures
- Constantly review and adapt to the political, economic, societal, technological, environmental, and demographic shifts occurring in our communities, nationally and internationally
- Provide assistance for people at the local level as to how to engage their communities in creating a better future for education and their environment
- Connect to and work with global Community Education systems
- Continually ask and answer these and other questions as we further develop our field:
- Issues of Clarity: What is community education? Who’s doing it? Where? How? How can Community education be understood as both distinct from, and in relation to, community development and community organizing?
- Measurement Issues: What is it that Community Education is trying to do? What are the best ways of learning/knowing whether and/or how well it is getting done?
- Partnership and Accountability Issues: How can and/or should we refashion the relationship between communities and funding sources, and others in related fields in order to make it a true partnership of shared goals, joint responsibilities and mutual accountability for the results?
- Sustainability Issues: What are the critical questions that relate to the long-term viability of Community Education as an approach to community change? How can we create new funding sources and alternative currencies so that we are not reliant on the same sources of support and can become self sufficient?
- Research and Policy Issues: What are the research and policy issues that are most critical to the future of community education?
How can we celebrate our history, who and where we are today, and where we are going?
We believe it is critical that we continually monitor and question ourselves, not only as to who we are working with, but to check on whether our mission is clear and that we are adjusting to the changing needs of our communities. It is also essential to wonder whether our field has become fractured to the extent that people, including those doing the work, no longer recognize Community Education as a multi-faceted process for community change across a wide spectrum of learning services.