Engagement, Opinion, Pathways, Policy, School Community

Let’s get serious about community-based education

It does not take much persuasion to grasp that engaging high school students in the everyday activities of the community is terribly important to their maturation. A list of reasons pours out of my fingertips:

  • An escape from the school cocoon – its boredom, repetitiveness, irrelevance, passivity.
  • Innovative power of involvement in community activities where imagination is tempered by practicality.
  • Hands-on activity as a supplement and relief from textbook learning.
  • Adult role models to stoke the admiration of teenagers.
  • Interaction between teachers and the world of economic and social activity around the schoolhouse.
  • Career counseling from the grass roots.

The obstacles are nearly as numerous and much more formidable:

  • Personal safety anxieties in a fear-ridden society.
  • Professional jealousies.
  • Curriculum erosion, which might devalue the graduation diploma.
  • Job security fears among teachers.
  • Loss of monopoly power over schooling by the politicians.

Any one of these obstacles could strangle a proposal for community-based education at birth. But the ways and means of a democracy are ingenious and quite durable. A start-up committee broadly representative of the community (i.e. inclusive of the public and private sectors) would likely need a year or more to explore the multiple possibilities for implementing the idea. After that it would be a matter of trial and error for another year or longer to get it right. A myriad of questions would bedevil the committee:

How to gain the approval of the central education authority?  Recruit the support of the municipal council? Engage the private sector in the planning? Respond positively to media curiosity and criticism? Assure the teachers and administrators that community-based education is a well-tested idea that will not cause the sky to fall.

It is obvious that the committee would need to do a lot of homework. The question will be asked a thousand times: Why bother? We’ve got a good working system now. My answer: the publicly supported schools of Canada and the U.S. are under threat. Home schooling and private schooling are undermining the walls of the public system. Changing the system to foster civic enthusiasm, democratic enhancement, and vocational excitement can reverse the slide.

Meet the Expert(s)

Peter H. Hennessy

Born in 1927, Peter Hennessy walked to a red brick schoolhouse where the teacher taught all the subjects to all the grades at the same time. After sailing through the eight elementary grades in four years and completing high school, he studied history/political economy at Queens University and graduated with honours in 1948.

Based on these early life experiences in the Great Depression, underlined by the horrors of WWII, set him on a mission to bring more fairness and equity into all aspects of society. From 1949 to 1968, he was a high school teacher and administrator, followed by 16 years as a professor of education at Queen’s. Officially retired since 1984, Peter has dabbled in sheep farming, writing, and prison reform. He has written six books, a slew of newspaper columns and journal articles.

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