On Community Education

“To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak. The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself.”

-bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress (p 11)

I am inspired, in my community education practices as much as in my work in formal classrooms, by the insights of scholar-practitioners like bell hooks. She hits the proverbial nail on the head when she notes that teachers themselves have to shift their understandings of their own work when they teach across different communities. She also, later in this text, refers to teaching as an “act of radical love.” The ability of the teacher–or, perhaps better, the facilitator of a learning experience–to both be flexible and to also be present enough with her students to learn how to use love, deep care, as the ground of her teaching, is key.

Key to what, you might ask? To many things, I suspect, but I am thinking here of two in particular. First, deep care as a mode of being in a classroom, and the willingness to flex in teaching approaches, has a far greater capacity to build relationship with students. And it is through relationship that learning, true learning, happens.

Second, and perhaps more radical, is the notion I hold dear that when we engage in the process of teaching (and learning from) one another, we are opening up a space of huge potential. That space is not merely full of the possibility of more people being familiar with certain content–the date of the formalization of medical education in the United States, for instance, or how anthropologists think about “terrorism” in the aftermath of the Cold War.

More importantly, the potential spaces of teaching and learning can allow us to hear each other, to recognize each other, across dramatically different life experiences. These acts of hearing and recognition are, many activists and social scientists hold, the beginning of processes of healing the various hurts that individuals and communities sustain in this dramatically difficult late-capitalist world. And if this hearing one another is possible in a classroom, it is possible in the wider world.

These are the key elements that I bring with me into community education:

A desire and willingness to be flexible, meeting the learners or participants where they are at when they come in.

The capacity to hold space for the kinds of openness and vulnerability that are required on my part as an educator in order for a space of deep care, of love, to be a central part of how the learning space plays out.

A commitment to listening to the needs of the group at hand, and learning with them along the way.