There is a movement afoot to turn every public school building into a “community learning center.” Use the buildings to supplement day school with programs in the afternoon and evening for children and adults. Nice idea. The question is what kind of programming gets offered.
Programs are fine, but there is a greater possibility that is available in walking distance of every school. That is the gifts and talents of neighbors. More programs do not build a neighborhood which is the village we need to support every family and raise our children.
Someone in every neighborhood knows how to sew, garden, fix things, write, pray, listen, train a dog, dance, sing, cook, play an instrument, hang wallpaper, make a birdhouse, do poetry, make money from the home.
In Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, a community organizer named John has been knocking on doors, block by block, and asking people about what they know how to do and are willing to teach. He is a neighbor and discovered some with the skills of empathy, good listening, and faith. He also asks local people what home businesses he should know about in the neighborhood.
He also made a list of what people want to learn. The next step is to bring these people together. What John is doing is what schools themselves could do with a little local help. This would be a better way to make a school a community learning center. It would help children and neighbors become more useful to each other, and have all the other positive side effects that building neighborhood relationships have.
There are many communities who are getting involved and taking control of their future. If something like this is happening where you live, let us know.
Peter Block co-authored the book “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.” He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops to build the skills outlined in his books. He is the author of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, The Answer to How Is Yes, and Community. He is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Organization Development Network’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.