Community Based Education
By: Brad Cole


In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln stated the American ideal of a "government of the people, by the people, for the people"; this was his vision of a de-institutionalized, locally controlled America. I would like to use this model for my ideal school. Because education is a reflection of the intelligence of a whole community; it is a way to mature its use of expression in a variety of forms, provide critical assessment and promote intellectual and spiritual growth. In cultivating human potential in the community as a whole, it will teach us how to maintain what is good, strengthen what is weak and know the difference between right and wrong. The united will of the people needs to impress upon the youth the importance of not just good citizenship as institutions do, but of strong leadership, irregardless of one's position; of having leaders who set good examples, are knowledgeable, courageous, insightful and compassionate. Real leaders lead by virtue of example. Through education a community experiences its potential for growth by the way it shapes those who will lead humanity tomorrow. If education comes from the very fabric of communal solidarity, its leaders will show respect and care for the people who served to shape their lives. They will say and feel as natives do, "These are my people". But if schools, which are separate from the community, shape their lives then leaders will only have respect for institutions and their staff and not the surrounding communities. Institutions center only on their hierarchy and tend to scorn the world outside. As history has shown repeatedly, people often pay the price for the rich and powerful ambitions of bureaucratic leaders.

A weak community is one that is dependent on outside assistance for its daily goods, political and legal institutions and educational policies. A strong community can educate and take care of itself even during adverse times. A good education should teach a community how to become strong, learn to take care of and develop itself. It can do this by giving people in the community the tools and skills they need to become self-sufficient. From this self-reliance will come a self-determination that follows the pathway of culture. All people want the freedom to live their own lives and be their own bosses. They just need the right education and opportunity to make it happen. Having this flexibility in education they will be able to develop technological, spiritual, artistic and intellectual insightfulness and progress within and for the community as a whole. Much of this progress and innovation will stimulate new businesses. Some of the money these businesses make should be reinvested in the community to spur future economic, technological and cultural growth. The best investment people can make is in their own communities. Though the fundamental concepts of a culture should not change, the techniques and context of expression will change through time. With enough local talent and cultural showpieces the community may experience a "cultural renaissance" and become a regional if not international place of distinction drawing in tourism for generations to come.

Community Education Mission Statement

These are objectives that should be targeted by a community education system (rather than a separate school) in order for it to achieve and maintain health and prosperity.

Learning objectives for youths are:

  • To think with their hands
  • To learn by doing
  • To understand the importance of "balance".
  • To understand the value of "harmony".
  • To know the difference of right from wrong.
  • To have the tools needed to live a good life, whichever pathway they choose to follow.

These objectives will be accomplished by the following means:

The LEA (local educational agency) is guided by local Elders consisting of an informal council with community input. Education is held in a variety of home-based, neighborthood classes and the community center where there is technology, conference rooms, library, gym, basketball court/multipurpose room with sound stage, snack bar museum, clinic, plus a medical training center for the village.

The community center is made from local materials using renewable energy. This building needs to be the best of quality; it should look like its structure grew from out of the earth.

LEA supports families and the education of their children. It provides for occasional outside visitors to make local observations and to hold town meetings. The educational system is deeply involved in community health training and development. It provides for the life-long learning of the community, so it can take care of itself well for many generations.

This is not a traditional school system which trivializes subject matter in classrooms, but rather the promotion of the "educational" experience in the community as a whole in order to maximize the potential benefits that it harbors. The school system is to be replaced by a well-organized and informed community of parents/teachers/learners working on real lessons in real environments.

People will teach by example using relatives, siblings and peers. Children are natural learners and will absorb whatever they encounter. Parents and relatives just need to structure their learning experiences appropriately.

The emphasis will be on native language, culture & crafts; they will build strong expressive verbal skills in the young, reading, writing (analytical and expressive), math (theoretical and applied), native cultural philosophy with comparative studies and public debates. There is to be plenty of physical movement through a variety of settings during the day. Hands-on training is important. The emphasis is on learning "tools" for one's life, rather than acquiring knowledge for college.

It builds strong commitment to community with real life lessons. They teach a sense of balance and harmony with personal, social and environmental forces. They learn how to work with people as equals and to understand (insightfully) the elements of nature that surrounds them.

The authority of the teacher needs to come from love rather than intimidation and punishment; schooling is to be held within an extended family setting using siblings and relatives as trainers/teachers until student's knowledge and/or skills grow too much and they may seek further education from local specialists or at a university. Social structure is extended out more horizontally (family/equality) rather than vertically (authoritarian/inequality). This provides for more opportunity for the people to learn from each other and to form their own groups which represent their interests.

A community has the right to defend itself from unwanted outside intrusions; this includes the way the people decide to educate their children and to have the opportunity to become their own bosses so they can make a living plying their own trade(s).

Through education the community emphasizes the importance of culture, arts & crafts, architecture, science, hunting, fishing and military service to community. There would also be music, storytelling, public discussions and locally written news and investigative reporting on a community owned radio station. Regularly there would be mature discussions on relevant issues. This would promote thoughtfulness in the community, and assist in the verbal and musical expression in the people. A culture of mature thought should prevail, not crass commercialism.

Certified outsiders can teach subjects and skills not found locally but still deemed important.

Technology is to assist in personal and community growth and independence and not a habitual source for personal distraction or dependency. Personal centering (calming or balance) needs to be a central theme in a lifelong education.

Regionally social, environmental organizations and monasteries will be assisting to strengthen families and to create new learning experiences for the people (scheduling events & trips).

The military wing (much like a National Guard) is to promote strength, vision, technology, search & rescue, acts as a village guard, conducts military style training and covert operations (war games with neighboring regions); it also sets up local cultural ceremonies, teaches that tolerance of the cold develops maturity of spirit and insightful vision comes only to those who seek it. Its main mission is to promote meaningful development in the character and spirit of the people. They sponsor wilderness camps to be used as solo "vision quests" and life changing "rites of passage". Though unconventional I see military training as an important part in turning a youth into an adult. This is not an eight-week Army course but years of grooming, strengthening and the honing of physical, mental and spiritual skills that will pull the adult out of the child. It is a way to make the dependent more independent and shape them into wholesome future leaders.

Each individual should be encouraged to spend sometime in the regional monastery and studying with the monks. This may be done at various times in their lives. Regional monasteries should study religious practices and apply what is best for themselves and their communities. They will use these practices to assist individuals through stages of spiritual development. Academic subjects like science and literature may also be studied there.

The way to educate for "sound judgment" is by holding public debates, publishing locally written essays, conducting research, and discussing philosophy. Subject matter needs to be questioned and probed, not merely memorized. The adults need to set the example and demonstrate soundness of mind by not caving into emotional judgments but recognizing cause and effect (logic).

Teach the reasoning process but aim for the art of insightfulness. By teaching what is rational (to identify cause and effect) you are assisting in building a public dialogue that can see things from another perspective so agreements can be made. Through education you want to create a rational public, but you have to teach reasoning skills to do this. This should include the scientific method - natural inquiry/philosophy. The adults need to do this - it is a way to see things more clearly and will lead to insightfulness. First you teach them to become rational beings and then later they may grow to be insightful and wise.

Recognize and respect that much of early pre-historic human thought and culture was centered on animals, as though humanity was struggling to differentiate itself from the surrounding wildlife. The animal kingdom is the forebear of humanity and it would do us well to return and exam these original concepts. If not mankind maybe haunted by delusions of grandeur and show disrespect for the very nature it stands upon.

Locally built universities are regional collaboration centers for advance studies and research and development in a variety of fields. They are central to the growth and developmental of the region in a variety of ways. Their findings can be used to build better businesses. The products from these businesses should be a point of pride for their respective communities.

The LEA promotes public meetings (talking circles) and the young need to feel comfortable talking in public for a variety of reasons. They need to feel that they are in control of their own destiny. That self-determination starts with self-expression and it has a moral purpose which is the promotion of the public (not just personal) good.

Monasteries serve the spiritual needs of its people. There is a great reservoir of spiritual strength in the monastery that can stream into the local communities. Each monastery needs to be a self-sustaining community, setting the example for other communities and teaching the importance of "centering" or "balance". It should teach that meditation develops your ability to scan and interpret both your inner & outer experiences with increasing accuracy and objectivity, thus promoting wisdom in its people. They learn by integrating meditation into daily routines and to be centered in all they do. From this should come peace and from peace comes prosperity for individuals and communities.

Finally, youths will learn how to build a small cabin from local materials. This will include mastery of various tools, learning self-sustaining electrical systems (wind, solar, hydro. etc) and satellite communications technology. They should also know how to survive alone in the wilderness, in case of an emergency.


What I have discussed here is nothing new; it is only an outline of how communities have educated and taken care of themselves for the last 40,000 years up to the Industrial Revolution. I have tried to describe what I believe is the only real practical way a community can exist; now and in the future and even on Mars when a colony starts there.

Unfortunately, the politically motivated institutionalization of education has occurred. Public schools have become a way for outsiders to plunder a communities most important asset - their intelligence and self-determination. With the advance technology now in use there is no excuse for communities to not be doing what they need to take care of themselves. But first they should be educated in such a way that they can think critically and independently and just do what is right for their own people.

On an even more serious level, I see community education as a way for people to seek and heal by rediscovering the magic of nature. This is why natural settings are so important. It is not the knowing that is critical to personal development but the wondering. Like in Plato's Cave Allegory where people are sitting beside a fire seeing playful shadows dancing across a rocky wall; they should not think that what they see is real, making them full of want, but rather they should wonder and question the nature of this shadowy world and seek a greater and more critical understanding of it. This is how leaders of humanity are born.

Thank you.