Teaching the Commons: Place, Pride, and the Renewal of Community

Teaching the Commons: Place, Pride, and the Renewal of Community

Teaching the Commons: Place, Pride, and the Renewal of Community

Teaching the Commons: Place, Pride, and the Renewal of Community


"A timely & important book for those seeking to move beyond the numbing instrumentalism that dominates the current discourse on the purposes of education in our time.... Educators -rural, urban, & suburban-in search of direction for renewal & hope for the future of public education will find it here." Don Ernst Director of Government Relations, Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development "The best analysis of what has gone wrong in the countryside & what might be done to save it since Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America." Paul Gruchow Author of The Necessity of Empty Places & Grass Roots: The Universe of Home


Real reforms are, in the beginning, impractical by definition.

--Paul Gruchow, 1996

This is a book about the role that schools can play in the promotion or, regrettably, the dissolution of community. The suggestions it contains apply to all types of schools in all kinds of locales. A central argument of the book is that wherever a school exists, the professionals who work within it must focus their pedagogical energy on the immediate place inhabited by the school; that is, they must make the word "local" in the phrase "local school" mean something if we are ever to be successful at elevating a sense of community in this society. In Teaching the Commons the reader will find systematic attention to the circumstances faced by rural schools, for that is what I know and that is, in many ways, who I am. The analysis used in this book, however, can illuminate and direct educational work in other contexts as well: urban or suburban, coastal town or border town, and so on.

This book is premised on two assumptions that I believe are well warranted. First, rural schools ought to have a place in the educational landscape of this country. They have an indispensable role to play. Second, schools ought to attend more consciously to their physical place on earth and the social, political, and economic dynamics that surround it. Doing so would render the entire school experience more meaningful and, in the process, would contribute in a small, though not insignificant, way to a cultural healing desperately needed in American society. We need to foster a sense that community is a valuable societal asset, something to be promoted rather than destroyed. Rural schools, through concerted pedagogical and curricular attention to the dynamics that impinge on their particular place, can rekindle community allegiance and can nurture that suppressed part of us that finds fulfillment in meeting community obligations.

By attending to their place, rural schools can begin to set a new institutional trajectory for formal education in this country. Rather than promot-

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