by Justin Miera
Many powerful personalities such as political pundits, technological prophets, and religious luminaries have both castigated and complimented communities in the contemporary United States of America. Their intentions to change or conserve communities have been both selfless and self-serving. Still, regarding children, the implementations of their ideas have had substantial implications. Many policies and ideologies set forth by our society's powerful people assume that what is good for one community will be good for all others. In the economic and political fervor to homogenize and categorize individual communities, many have lost their unique identities and their self governance. Those communities who have not conformed to or abided by these policies have been penalized or ostracized by those with paternal or coercive intentions.
Penalties in the political realm often take the form of money and control. If a local community does not adhere to certain political requirements then they may lose funding. For example, a recent education proposal by Bill Owens, governor of the state of Colorado, requires that children's scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) must be above a D or F grade (Bartels, 2000, p. 10A). If they do not exceed the failing grade after three years then the school will be taken over by the state and converted to a charter school. His intentions may be to improve education, however, the application of Mr. Owens' proposal does not take into account the varying factors surrounding each community's school such as economic or cultural priorities. Representatives of political districts do have the opportunity to modify the proposal before it becomes law, but within a given district there may be dozens, if not hundreds, of schools and their corresponding communities. These communities may therefore lose a certain degree of self determination. Some charter school projects do offer the chance for community driven support and ideas, but these schools depend on community members that are not itinerate, apathetic, or self-motivated. In the absence of strong communities corporate profiteers sell the possibility of absolution.
Bill Joy is the co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems Inc., the leading internet technology manufacturer. Recently, he published an article which detailed the possible course that this unsupervised and unconscientious technological development could take (Joy, 2000). He foresees not only the disassembly of communities by anonymous technology, but also the dehumanizing of people through robotics and genetic engineering. He claims all of these innovations are moving ahead unchecked. Mr. Joy actually found himself agreeing with many of the points raised by Kaczynski in his Unobomer Manifesto, which was published jointly on September 19, 1995, by The New York Times and The Washington Post:
They will see to it that everyone's physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes "treatment" to cure his "problem." Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them "sublimate" their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals (Kaczynski, 1995).
Who are they? Joy proceeds to describe the centralized power structure and it's hunger for profit and science, in the religious sense, that is driving us to an uncertain future. He sees this movement as unchecked by even the most casual of conversations or inquiries because most people are unwilling to engage each other, and their community in a meaningful way. Again, those in power may be motivated by the best of intentions, to provide "happiness," but what are the unintended, or even maliciously intended consequences? Joy quotes Thoreau as saying, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us (Joy, p. 9)."
At the other end of the philosophical spectrum is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He contends that to change the world a person must manifest their actions on an individual basis, in their community. The goal that Thich Nhat Hanh aspires to is love, in the sense of harmony, compassion, and human understanding. In order to create a loving world "...we have to go back to our community and renew it (Hooks, 2000)." He goes on to conclude that "Anything you do for yourself you do for the society at the same time. And anything you do for society you do for yourself also."
Given these varied perceptions of community it is difficult to find one cohesive point of focus. In a way, that is the rub. For each community is motivated by preservation, protection, and propagation. The attributes to be saved, guarded, and developed are different for each group of people. To micro manage the smallest aspects of several communities for the sake of preserving a single private motivation leads to irrelevance. To ignore threats to greater society and shirk the duty of protection endangers all the component communities. To inspire communities to envision and then create their own destiny allows their further propagation far into the future.
The Great Law of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy states that "In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation." This philosophy truly increases the proliferation of one's community into the future. When this idea is manifested then individuals no longer work for self gain, but rather the gain of their children. Not only that, but because we can not see the exact future then our children's lives may become inexorably tied to the future of our neighbor's children. Therefore, our actions need to benefit the whole community so that all our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will have a beautiful world to live in.
The African proverb, "It take a village to raise a child" also speaks to sustaining communities by benefiting children (Clinton, 1996). It is not simply the parents who socialize and educate children, nor is it the sole responsibility of the schools and teachers. Rather, children develop and learn based on their interactions with everyone they meet. Obviously those who have more contact have more impact, but the impact can also be felt from collateral and unintended actions. If a mortal crime is committed against a parent then there is a collateral effect on the child's physical, emotional, and mental health. If an industry pollutes the water to save clean-up costs there may be an unintended effect on the health of the children who drink it. When a neighbor challenges a child on destructive behavior, and is supported by the parents, their action is primarily directed at helping that child learn universal respect and responsibility. When a shop keeper takes time to apprentice teenagers on proprietorship then she intends to help build the next generation of business owners.
As members of a community our actions have both primary and collateral influences as well as intended and unintended consequences. In almost everything we do there is an influence and a consequence on a child. In that respect, the burden to socialize and educate children does not lie solely with parents and teachers, but with everyone in a community.
The Latin term "In Loco Parentis" means "in place of a parent (Webster's Dictionary, 1975)." Teachers are commonly held legally responsible for the well being of children, and therefore in loco parentis. To another degree, contractually obligated functions like scout leader or soccer coach are also legally in loco parentis. To extend the concepts of "the seventh generation" and "it takes a village to raise a child" the obvious conclusion is that everyone is in some way, at sometime throughout any given day, morally in loco parentis. This does not necessarily hold legal obligations, but it does hold an ethical duty. It is through this social contract that we owe our resources to the community, to the children, and only then can we expect benefits in return to the individual.
This paper will examine how contemporary communities operate in relation to their children. The author will explore the positive influences and consequences of community action, as opposed to criticizing the motivations of others, for any impetus to encourage community communication and facilitate community collaboration is a constructive endeavor. Influences will be categorized as primary and collateral. Primary influences are those directed specifically at children and collateral intentions are those directed at other members of society, but have an impact on children. Consequences will also be divided into two self explanatory categories: intended and unintended.
The two primary influences explored will be community and society. Community are the people who have consistent and substantial interactions with each other. Most people in cities and small towns belong to several communities: work, school, religious, recreational, etc. In some sparsely populated rural areas there may only be one community to which everyone belongs. Society is the broader collection of many communities: the city, the state, the country. When members of society take action it can be in the form of an individual, organization, or agency.
Community development usually takes on two forms: conscious development and social change (International encyclopedia of the social sciences, 1968). These can manifest materially, such as a new community center, or nonmaterial, such as developing an appreciation for the arts. Many community development projects intended for children focus on youth with economic, emotional, or physical difficulties: those at-risk (Bankston, 1999, p. 297). There are many factors that contribute to these difficulties including loss of family, separation from divorce, and isolation because of differences. There is no way to thoroughly resolve all hindrances, nor, arguably, should we. Still, compassion and the social contract compel us to alleviate the suffering around us.
In some cases their are statistics to evaluate the effectiveness of a community of societal action. These statistics are based around quantifiable measures such as crime rates, test scores, or school attendance. Many of the examples that follow were not meant to address one particular problem, but rather cultivate community cohesion. While there may be tendencies towards a positive affect, it would take a greater exploration to find the measurable causal relationships.
This author defines society to be people outside of a specific community that do not have consistent and substantial interactions with members of the community. Societal organizations fall into three categories: governmental, for-profit, and non-profit. Governmental organizations are those that have their decision making and organizational members outside of the intended community. This could include city initiated programs without community input, but more likely refers to state and federal agencies. Likewise the for-profit and non-profit organizations are classified as societal if their decision making members reside outside of the intended community. The following organizations have children, or children and their communities, as their primary concern.
Some of the more successful government programs are those which direct large amounts of capital to locally operated agencies. One example of this is the Community Development Block Grant, CDBG. The grants have been administered by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, since 1974. Block grants are awarded through the Small Cities program to locations who comply with the primary objective: "Decent housing, suitable living environment, and economic opportunities for persons of low and moderate income; community development activities which may be supported by Federal assistance (Community Development Block Grants, 1999)." Activities are tailored to some specific objectives such as benefit to low and moderate income families, aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight, the expansion and improvement of the quantity and quality of community services, and the reduction of the isolation of income groups within communities. The recipient cities have a certain degree of discretion in awarding funding to projects. In the city of Ft. Collins, Colorado, there is a CDBG commission which reviews applications and passes its recommendations on to the city council for approval (Ft. Collins CDBG, 2000). Ft. Collins receives over $1 million annually and pursues four basic categories of work: a) acquisition of land and buildings for affordable housing, b) public facilities, c) public service contracts, and d) planning activities.
These are some specific projects funded by the Ft. Collins' CDBG: (a) $45,826 awarded to the Child Care Collaborative for the purpose of Sibling Scale Tuition Assistance, (b) $20,000 awarded to Healthy Start, Inc. for for the purpose of Medical and Dental Care, and (c) $16,000 awarded to Disabled Resources Inc. for for the purpose of a Supported Youth Employment Program.
The primary objective of the CDBG is clear: to help communities and people of low and moderate income. Because children do not make the actual applications for assistance many of the projects affect them collaterally, such as storm drains at a safe house or a repack area at a food distribution center. The health and growth of communities and their members is the obvious intention of the CDBG. While many of these projects go under acknowledged the impact on the lives of children is clear.
There are businesses throughout the country that provide educational and entertainment services to children, families, schools, and communities. Many people in business provide programs and activities that are intended to entertain such as Disney and Pokeman. This is not to admonish their efforts, but to distinguish them from for-profit business that provide primarily educational and empowerment programs. Some of these businesses are sole proprietorships; individuals who present programs, workshops, and speeches for a living. Each of these people have a unique talent or perspective to share.
Peggy O'Neil-Laise presents workshops and assemblies for school children throughout the country. She stands three-feet eight-inches tall, "a little person," and uses this unique life perspective to address issues of diversity, difficulty, and dignity (P. O'Neil-Laise, personal communication, Fall, 1999). O'Neil-Laise is a practicing psychotherapist and uses this background to help provide both the outlook and skills that can help children navigate social challenges. In a promotional flyer she lists four benefits that are passed on to students: (a) "Increased social awareness concerning the feelings of others; (b) Increased capacity to be accepting toward those who are different; (c) Skills in handling difficulties and harsh emotions; (d) Skills in finding confidence in themselves." These ideas are shared through role playing games where children act out positive and negative behaviors, classic stories with a moral, personal inspirational anecdotes, and humor.
O'Neil-Laise primarily influences children. Her intention is to give awareness and abilities to children regarding social conflict. The unintended consequence is the strengthening of these children's communities brought about by their increased communication and cooperation skills.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, BBBSA, is a national non-profit mentoring organization that has been matching volunteer adult mentors with children since 1904 (Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 2000). The primary commitment of the volunteers is to be available as listeners and companions for children of varying ages. Many of their traditional match activities occur outside of school time like "playing sports, seeing movies, cooking, going over schoolwork, visiting museums, washing the car, taking walks, volunteering in their communities, or just hanging out."
BBBSA also provides a School-Based Mentoring Program which takes place an hour and a half a week, either during or just after school (J. Davis, personal communication, April 6, 2000). The primary stated goal of this program is to improve the literacy skills of participating children. There are currently 8 participating schools in Denver and Aurora, Colorado, with 300 matches of volunteers and students. The children's levels range from 2nd-5th grade. Volunteers are trained to teach reading to students "falling behind a bit," as well as how to interact and what to expect from students at-risk from emotionally delicate family situations. Most of these volunteers are recruited from "adopted" corporations. The teacher liaison and BBBSA administrators work together to match individuals. The BBBSA case manager maintains an overview of the match for the school year by helping with difficulties and coordinating logistical issues. The local BBBSA chapter is also responsible for marketing and development. The national parent organization establishes parameters and guidelines for the program and performs research to monitor the effectiveness. In the Denver/Aurora program 78% of students showed a better attitude toward school and 90% had improvement in academics. The true demonstration of this program's power comes from the personal contacts between mentors and children. Jim Davis said, "It is amazing to see a child with a huge smile on their face for five minutes after the mentor has said "good job." This program is even more effective because most of the volunteers live in the community where they mentor. Volunteers progressively show greater interest in their match by participating in activities like parent/teacher conferences and book fairs. Mentors feel such a sense of connection and accomplishment that they return to the program at a rate of 78% every year. At one school the liaison teacher and the volunteers go out to dinner one night a month after the tutoring session. The School-Based Mentoring Program has shown such significant growth that there are plans to merge with General Colin Powel's program America's Promise, and thereby expand the Denver program to over 50 schools and 5,000 students.
Children are unequivocally the primary motivation of BBBSA. The intended outcome of their program is to improve literacy, but the unintended consequence is an ever strengthening community. A community where corporations encourage their employees to become involved, the employees become threaded into the school and the lives of the children, and the children believe that someone really cares about their spirit and future.
Community members are those that have consistent and substantial interactions with each other. The following activities or organizations have their decision making members as residents in the intended community. These also include governmental, for-profit, and non-profit entities.
Parks and recreation departments are local government entities that operate throughout most cities in the USA. While parks and recreation departments receive funding from city, county, state, or even federal funds many of their administrators maintain a large degree of self determination. This is true in the city and county of Denver, Colorado. There are 25 recreation centers each with its own characteristics of facilities, programs, and staffing, but all receiving money from the city and county general fund. The Harvard Gulch Center is in South Central Denver and serves a population of around 2000 people (D. Bruning, personal communication, April, 4, 2000). The staff at Harvard Gulch maintain and supervise a variety of activities including arts and crafts, a weight room, and adult sports leagues. They also administer several youth sports teams including flag football, pee wee soccer, basketball, and summer baseball/softball. The basketball and baseball/softball teams comprise the bulk of their youth participants with around 300 people in each sport. The ages for these team members range from 5-14 years old. Harvard Gulch administrators align with other recreation center coaches and supervisors to form leagues for inter-community play.
Coaches throughout the recreation center program belong to the National Youth Sports Coaches' Association. The association provides training, materials, and insurance coverage for participating coaches. The initial training lasts about four hours and is paid by the recreation center. Subsequent refresher courses are paid by the coaches. They receive a journal as well as materials such as those used to educate parents and participants. The association publishes a code of ethics which Harvard Gulch parents, participants, and coaches all sign. This helps establish and maintain the norms and expectations for the community focus. To further solidify community ownership parents volunteer to coach most of the teams from ages 5-10. Teams themselves act as a communal focal point for parents and children before, during, and after practices and games. These are times for varied and unstructured conversations and connections. Many of the coaches socialize together diminishing the animosity of competition and increasing the camaraderie of collaboration.
The primary goal of these youth recreation leagues is to provide healthy interactions in and out of the community such as sportsmanship, teamwork, and discipline. The consequence is a consolidated community maintained over the years by consistent dedication to these programs.
There is a collection of small, decentralized groups that generally go by the name Dances of Universal Peace (B. Heideman, personal communication, March 31, 2000). Many of these local groups operate with little budget, but do not formalize a non-profit status. They are, therefore, mostly classified as a for-profit venture. There are dance leaders who sponsor gatherings across the USA, and internationally, with varying degrees of frequency. At these gatherings there is a core group of presenters who perform on diverse musical instruments. Depending on the group, there may be from 10 to 50 dancers present. The participants sing and move around a circle in accordance with various folk and religious songs and dances. The dance group has an open attendance and is often made up of families with children. Because of the inviting and nurturing quality of the gatherings, children are supported and encouraged despite the difficulty of any one movement or song. The sponsor, or leader of the gathering will direct the overall flow of the event. She will decide upon the songs and dances, will provide various invocations, and teach the words and movements. The organizational aspects differ widely with each presenter. Some leaders will charge a fee for entrance with which they pay for the space rental and musicians, and may then keep the net for profit. Other leaders ask for donations to recuperate overhead costs or even develop scholarship funds for camps and retreats. To be a certified leader, one must be a member of an umbrella organization called Peace Works. Peace Works provides training and inspirational camps with varying frequency. They also publish to sell books with dances and songs. While half of a leader's repertoire may come from these resources, the rest come from other leaders, personal experiences, and ongoing research. If a leader uses the Peace Works logo in their advertising they are asked to tithe to the organization.
The participants of a gathering are quite diverse in their intentions and characteristics. Some attend consistently to the point where they establish the event as a community focal point. Bernie Heideman, a leader in Western Colorado, regularly draws upon a group of 40-50 people with an average attendance of 20-30. Of those, only a handful are first timers or from out of the area. Many of his core group socialize together outside of the official gathering. Some who attend are simply interested in the entertainment of participation. Others use it as a regular opportunity to commune with their friends. There are also some people who look to the gathering for either healing or spiritual transformation. Because of the eclectic blend of influence there may be ceremonial dances and songs from such traditions as Hebrew, American Indian, and Sufi. The Dances of Universal Peace have a collateral influence on the children and families of their community. While children and families benefit, the gathering is not directed primarily at them. The intention of community building is quite successful.
The Arapahoe Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is based in Englewood, Colorado (Nan Kortz, personal communication, April 6, 2000). They are a non-profit organization and an offshoot of the Arapahoe Philharmonic. There are over one hundred student members between the ages of 11-18. The students must belong to an organized school music program to participate in the orchestra. They rehearse once a week from September through May. 65% of the group resides in Arapahoe County and the remainder come from the neighboring Denver Metro area. There are four concerts performed each year to an audience of over 300 people. The audience consists of primarily the parents and family members of the performers, but the concerts are advertised to the greater adult orchestra audience. The concerts and rehearsals of the youth orchestra take place at Smokey Hill High School in Arapahoe County. The adult orchestra performs and rehearses at the Orchard Road Christian Center. There has been an effort to consolidate these two groups at the same location, but most facilities in the Denver area designed for large groups are booked as much as a year and a half in advance. The youth orchestra administrators are trying to build a second orchestra; unfortunately this issue of space may force the second group to rehearse and perform in the community of Arvada, over twenty miles away.
The organization and administration of the youth orchestra is primarily directed by the parents of the participants. While the organization is non-profit, most funding comes from student tuition but also receives support from grants and fund raisers. These fund raisers range from sideline sales (e.g. tee shirts, lanyards, pins, etc.) to cabaret style dinner performances. The administrative aspects are very organized and well maintained through committee delegation and a deep supply of volunteerism. The strength of these parent volunteers is based on their "commitment to the cause:" music education. There are three main salary positions: (a) conductor, (b) educational director, and (c) assistant to the director. The primary influence of the administrators and volunteers in the Arapahoe Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is on the youth of their community. They powerfully succeed at their intention: to provide music education and performance opportunities for young people.
There are many people across the USA who actively participate in the interests of society. They work hard to save valuable human and cultural assets to be handed down to future generations. They protect not just the property, but more importantly the people of communities from harm and suffering. They establish opportunities for communities, family, and their children to grow and build a bright and happy future.
These committed perseverent people are found in the governments, businesses, and organizations of both our greater society, and our familiar communities. In truth, it is not the organizational structures, nor the financial resources that empower and strengthen communities. It is the individual passions, skills, and commitments of the people in action that make the difference. These people live the social contract. Whether or not they have consciously and philosophically devoted themselves to selfless work is not the issue. It is that their hearts compel them to service.
To initiate this synergistic community action, focused on our posterity, we need to begin where the children live and grow. In early childhood this often happens in the home, although less frequently in recent years. This intent can be seen in the Community Development Block Grant when monetary support is provided for decent housing. During the initial school years children begin to blossom as learners and benefit greatly from the academic and social lessons that come from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, and Peggy O'Neil-Laise. As young adults mature they begin to find inspirations that are relevant to their interests; and it is through their interests that community-minded adults can still make constructive contacts. The recreational sports leagues at Harvard Gultch and the artistic opportunities at the Arapahoe Philharmonic Youth Orchestra are relevant, positive influences. Still, children learn primarily from how we act, not from what we say. When children see adults socially interacting with joy and cohesion they learn how to act in a like manner. This is the model of the Dances of Universal Peace.
The question then arises, "How can others be inspired to be so magnanimous connected?" Never mind benevolence, "How can others be deterred from destructiveness and separation?" There is a saying about those who behave disrespectfully, "He acts as if he has no family." Maybe by creating a universal family can we build stronger communities. This must happen through individual contact, not by societal reprimands and pontifications. By embracing each of those in our community with loving kindness we can develop an environment which encourages, not dispirits; which nurtures, not neglects; and which builds, not destroys.
Bankston III, C. L. (ed.) (1999). Encyclopedia of family life. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, Inc.
Bartels, Lynn (2000, March 21). House backs bill to grade schools. Denver Rocky Mountain News, pp. 4A, 10A.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (2000). [Online]. Available: http://www.bbbsa.org/ [2000, April 3].
Clinton, Hillary. R. (1996). It takes a village. NY, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Community Development Block Grants (1999). Subpart C -- eligible activities. [Online]. Available: http://www.hud.gov/cpd/cdbg/subc.html#570.201 [2000, April 5].
Dietz, Michael J. (ed.) (1997). School, family, and community. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.
Eggen, P. D. & Kauchak, D. (1992). Educational psychology. New York: Macmillan Publishing.
Ft. Collins CDBG (2000). Community Development Block Grant. [Online]. Available: http://www.ci.fort-collins.co.us/COMMUNITY_PLANNING/CDBG/CDBG98Projects.htm [2000, April 4].
Garreau, Joel (2000, March 12). From internet scientist, a preview of extinction. The Washington Post, p. A15.
Harris, Judith Rich (1998). The nurture assumption. New York: The Free Press.
Hooks, Bell (2000, January). How do we build a community of love? Shambhala Sun, pp. 32-41.
International encyclopedia of the social sciences (1968). USA: Crowell Collier and Macmillan, Inc.
Joy, Bill (2000). Why the future doesn't need us. [Online]. Available: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html?pg=1&topic=&topic_set= [2000, March 23].
Kaczynski (1995). The Future of Industrial Society. [Online]. Available: http://www.freespeech.org/james/klf/unaba.htm [2000, March 31].
Lynch, Debbie. Personal communication. April 3, 2000.
Webster's Dictionary (1975). USA: Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc.
A review of literature in partial fulfillment of the course Community Roles in Education, MLS 654 J; Course Consultant is Patt Linden, Ph.D.; REGIS UNIVERSITY, April 7, 2000
Justin's Regis Papers Page