Is the importance of a school as an integral place for the community being neglected? I ask because in these times of frugal spending most of the discussion about schools focuses on ‘education’, yet surely the role of a school as a ‘cohesive agent’ in communities and society is just as important, if we are to survive as societies?
So how does a school make real the notion that it is a place for the community at all? Four things come to mind.
First, simply that by their nature schools are communities. A school is a place where as groups, children socialise and learn to live together, sharing common aims, interests or ideals. They are places where students develop skills and character vital for living in and contributing to society. Schools are places where children begin to learn and understand their role in society as a whole. For most children, school will be the first community outside their family in which they will directly engage.
Second, schools bring adults in the community together – most often the parents, grandparents or siblings who meet each other at the school gate or school sports day. For some dispersed communities it may be the only way many families get to know others. The very act of meeting others reinforces their place as a member of a community – something wider and bigger than just their family. Indeed in many countries schools as places are used to provide a range of other community services from healthcare to parent support.
Third, schools connect people not only in the present day but over time through history. The history of a place can provide a potent narrative that reinforces a sense of community and belonging. Even the buildings themselves may come to represent a vital spirit of a community – they may be just physical objects but like any totem in human culture it is the association that gives them meaning.
Finally, in time of crisis school buildings are often used to provide refuge. Sometimes they are the only places large enough to accommodate the number of people. They may well be owned or run by government and so be part of a government response to an emergency. Sadly though, as recent events in Gaza have shown, even schools may not always provide the safe haven so often assumed.
How does your school provide a focus for your community? What good examples are there?