Communal Learning in the Socialist Context of Jonestown

By Cromarty, Edward | Communal Societies, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Communal Learning in the Socialist Context of Jonestown


Cromarty, Edward, Communal Societies


This article reviews communal learning in the Jonestown Agricultural Project. Inspired by socialist ideals, education in Jonestown adhered to a progressive culture in which learning took place in nonlinear, community-based programs that valued active participation and the growth of good citizenship. It placed emphasis on the practical applications of work- based and activity-based learning. The Jonestown school, which was designed to accommodate the accreditation guidelines of Guyana's cooperative socialist government, served the diverse population of Jonestown without the boundaries of traditional education.

Communal Education

An explanation of communal education may vary with time and place; therefore this review will consider communal learning in the socialist context of the 1970s, the time period in which the Jonestown Agricultural Project existed. The essence of communal learning is in the nonlinear, community-based programs of socialist education systems, which place value on development of traits such as socialist morality, citizenship education, and working for the benefit of the community. It contrasts with the neoliberal concept of education, which objectifies and categorizes learning by placing emphasis on material benefit and standardized forms of easily quantifiable, high-stakes testing. Communal learning takes place through our social interactions with the environment as well as in the classroom, helping to integrate academic education with community need and culture. Activity-based group learning applied using practical methods, for example on-the-job training, provides an example of communal learning as it was employed at Jonestown.

Communal learning views education as a means of inspiring the personal growth of responsible human beings and the development of an equitable society. With its emphasis on human and social development, it leads to the expansion and democratization of education--making learning accessible to the entire community, improving inclusion, and fostering human rights. In socialist education, development of social morality and intellect, also called the "red mind," implies the true knowledge and socialist values that education is meant to produce. (1) Moral education included both ethical and political lessons to create a responsible socialist citizenry and nation. (2) While this may extend education and job training to the entire community, it creates a conflict in that moral values are often communicated through the community, whereas socialist education tends to be centralized in government systems, which attempt to transfer moral education through the schools. (3) Successful integration of the schools with the community through inclusive communal learning, in which the school becomes part of the community, helps to resolve this conflict. The Jonestown school was an inclusive form of communal learning that integrated the school and community and embraced the entire Jonestown community through classes, community projects, adult education, and on-the-job training. Communal education involves social learning, and in Jonestown education was a holistic concept involving the entire community.

Education in Guyana in the 1970s

A brief review of the changes taking place in Guyanese education in the 1970s will help provide a background for the educational developments taking place in Jonestown. Guyana inherited a strong tradition of Christian education based on the British colonial system of education. However, in 1978 Guyana was still a developing nation that had earned its independence twelve years earlier and was attempting to rebuild its education system to support its economic and cultural national interests. (4) The shift from an elitist colonial to a socialist educational concept involved expanding equality of access for all groups without discriminatory barriers. (5) This included providing free compulsory education from primary to secondary levels and providing the knowledge, technology, teacher training, and values to achieve freedom and equality. …

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