Is the experience of belongingness important for students in an educational setting?
How do schools influence students' sense of community?
Do students currently experience school as a community?
When I was reading Wenger, I had to keep reminding myself that I was to apply what I reading to students and the educational system. I had a hard time equating a community of practice to the school community. Why is this? Did anyone else find this to be a problem? I had absolutely no problem relating the readings to my own experiences as a member in a work community, but as a member of the school community...what? What does that mean? Maybe it's just me. I don't ever remember thinking of myself as being part of a community while I was moving through my K-12 education.
This paper really spoke to me in the sense that it focused on community through the lens of a student. "...one of the most fundamental reforms needed in secondary or high school education is to make schools into better communities of caring and support for young people." Treat students like human beings? What? Why should we care about their comfort in school? Aren't they there to learn? These thoughts can be attributed to "an institutionalized set of beliefs about schooling." The culture of school, and the practices within, lend themselves to nurturing the individual and promoting competition, rather than collaboration and community building. Dewey stated that the quality of education is "realized in the degree in which individuals form a group." When teachers and students collaborate in an educational community, learning occurs.
Focusing on individualism and creating competition among students can create an environment where there is an immense amount of pressure of a student to do well. With the wide range of student skills and abilities that can be present in a single classroom, how can this practice be beneficial for everyone? Doesn't this practice further divide the students in a class instead of building a community? Imagine if you were one of the "below average", or even an average student, and you were in classes with advanced students and made to feel as though you need to be competitive with them. How would this affect your self-efficacy and subsequently your performance as a student? The counter argument is that students' need for belongingness is, or should be, adequately covered in the home and social environment; that it is not the responsibility of the school to make the students feel all warm and fuzzy. So then why are we so surprised when our students are disengaged in the classroom? Taking them out of their "normal" environment and throwing them into this school environment is like blindfolding them, spinning them around, and expecting them to be able to hit a moving target with a stick; except it's not as fun and there is no candy reward.
This paper was structured as a literature review of studies done on the subject of students and feeling a sense of community in an educational study. Here's the conclusion they came to: "belongingness is an extremely important concept...it has a far reaching impact on human motivation and behavior." Really? It seems silly to me that we needed a study to tell us this; it seems like such a basic concept to me. So, why do we need studies like this to tell us what we already know? A part of me feels that articles like this are not really geared toward teachers. I think these papers are written in the hopes that those in charge, whoever they may be, will see this and start to rethink the way the educational system is designed, or that teachers may read this and become inspired to try to make a change. One of the many things that nags me about the educational system is the fact that students are driven to be so competitive with one another and are singled out by their individual achievements and talents. When does this happen in the work environment? Aren't we expected to be a "people person" when we apply for a job and work with other members in that community of practice? So why do we not design schools to be managed this way? I think about these things and I keep coming back to the same answers...assessments, standardized testing, meeting AYP...uuuggggghhh!! Why?!?! Realistically, where do we start if we want to make change? Who are these all powerful people in charge? Teachers? Administrators? Society?
I know that I raised a lot of questions in this "summary", but these are all things are are bugging me and I would like to hear what other people think. Maybe there is someone out there that can clear all this up for me; after all I have never taught in a classroom before so maybe I'm missing something. Besides, who really wants to read a loooong boring summary of a paper? I'd rather have a discussion about the issues raised within the paper.
Happy Easter Y'all!