Does community-building start in school?

I think it is important for me to begin this post with a disclaimer: I don’t work as a teacher and I have no children in school. Therefore, what I pose are ponderings and questions. I am particularly curious this week to receive your thoughts in the comments stream below…

Several of my good friends have sent some of my littler friends (their children) off to school for the first time last month. I had discussions about this with them and was possibly more on the alert to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations on the subject too. I heard people talking about their concerns that their child was not going to be “pushed” enough. I know others fear that their child will fall behind or struggle with what they are being taught. And so, of course, some people believe that classes should be streamed according to ability.

Enjoying community life from an early age (I am the one laughing hysterically on the front bench)

You can see the logic, but to be frank, this horrifies me. I see the classroom and the playground as the places where children really get the opportunity to build their own community and – to me – diversity is what makes community. I also think there is an opportunity here. Say we have one child in the classroom sitting bored, having finished the task they have been set within minutes; and another child, head in hands, staring at a problem with no idea where to begin. Could the first child be invited to coach the second? I am no expert in child development so I wonder how early that might be possible. Given my lovely 6 year old nephew has for several years been explaining to me how I should be playing certain games, it seems to me there would be scope for this pretty early on!

I am a strong believer in inclusive education. I think if we invested the money we spend on ‘special schools’ into additional support within the ‘mainstream’, we could have great success. Children seem to me to know how to adapt and inlcude; it tends to be the adults who can’t figure it out. I know this works in primary schools but often falls apart in high school. But perhaps if we created the space for more interdependence between students (coaching and helping one another for example) early on, a culture would emerge that would promote inclusion throughout school life. And it would stretch the more academic students too.

One of the most enriching learning experiences I had in high school was doing ‘paired reading’, where I sat with a younger boy a couple of lunchtimes a week and read a book with him. I learned important things about patience, empathy, and valuing the opportunity this young man had given me by accepting my help. And here’s a thing; I remember the book we read together and I even remember some of the characters and aspects of the plot. I have a terrible memory! I really don’t remember many other books I was reading at that time. But sitting with another young person and trying to help him get through that learning, things stuck for me.

5 year old girl (me) starting school

I’d rather be interdependent than independent, clearly!

The reason that I care about this so much, despite not working in a school or having children who go there, is this. If we created the space for children to teach us how to really, truly make this work, I believe in twenty years our communities would be more connected, inclusive, interdependent and hospitable. And that is a community I long to be a part of.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Does community-building start in school?

  1. Heather

    I totally agree with how you say that community building should start in schools. To me it makes sense. As a college student, I noticed that in some of my classes we are pushed to think outside of the box when it comes to projects, papers, or other assignments. It occurred to me that we aren’t taught how to do this when we are in elementary, middle, and high school.Sometimes, it is a struggle with my classmates as I work with them. We are conditioned, in some aspects, just to do what is given to us, with out input from others. We aren’t given enough chances just to learn how to “be” with each other. If we are given those opportunities, like you said, we learn how to be together. Being together creates relationships, then creates communities, then we flourish.

  2. I remember my school days with dread and misery! Always pushed out and expected to watch – not participate. I’m still waiting to be asked back in. It was like a big club in which I wasn’t really wanted. I was endlessly criticised for no being able to write and walk, these were used as reasons for not allowing me to learn. Still bitter?? probably, because I don’t think things have change. My experience of doing a Masters recently was grim. Uninterested tutors, unwilling to adapt their teaching, unhelpful and unavailable… it was so far from the learning experience I so wished for. Ok! I’m a freak, but it doesn’t make me a bad person or deserving of such disrespect.

  3. Stella B

    I think this all makes sense, it’s just the logistic part of it that would be the problem. Overworked parents who just want their kids to get through school in a way that they would recognise as successful, overworked teachers who are expected to teach 33 (33!) odd children with varying needs. Parents that are active in schools are expected to fund raise because the schools don’t get enough money from the government to run with everything that would help a child get a rounded education, so even those with spare time aren’t encouraged to get behind objectives like this, which really would give their children a rounded education. But you are definitely right Linda, if we built it in from the very beginning, then it would come naturally. Although children are really cliquey already in Will’s class, and he is four!

  4. Donna McGlynn

    A lot of what you say really does make sense Linda, and I broadly agree. As a secondary teacher I personally encourage pupils to explain things to their peers (or show them – my subject is art) and I believe my classroom to be an inclusive environment, as much as I can make it.

    Sadly, Scottish education is in crisis. This, among other things, involves Learning Support positions being cut, class sizes not getting any smaller, and one council *alone* intends to make a saving of 2.5 million pounds getting rid of Support staff. Which is an indication of how little inclusion is valued here.

    Sorry – went off on a slight tangent there – I know that instilling a sense of interdependent learning at a young age is the main gist of your article, but I still think outside factors and resources come into play. I’m not happy with (Scottish) education right now. 😦

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