The field of Community Education should:
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:
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.