What kind of community do you want? I am coming to think that this may be one of the most important questions that we can ask ourselves and discuss with each other.
As our nation is openly cracking apart on many sides (this has been happening for a while now) and it’s not clear if we will recover, what kind of national community do we want?
Our classics organizations are having to reexamine their very roots and core of meaning. That’s never easy, and doing something that plummets us so deep into the essence of an organization (yes, that’s a fancy word for community) makes it unclear whether we will come out the other side of that process renewed or finished. (One thing is clear to me. If we come out of the process unchanged, we will be finished.)
Our classrooms ought to be open invitation to all kinds of learners, but when that begins to happen to white teachers (the vast majority of us are white) we cannot demand that a cosmopolitan assembly of students in our classroom form an otherwise white community. That’s actually what we have done for generations, and it has created exclusive tiny enclaves of what students and white teachers studying “the classics.” What kind of community do we really want our classrooms to be?
These times are filled with fear, anger, sadness, depression and pains and wounds that we don’t even have words for. What kind of a community do you want?
We belong to many different communities all at once. Some are religious. Some institutional and subsets of institutions. Some are professional. Some are built out of neighborhoods that we live in. I wouldn’t do the list justice if I tried to be exhaustive. You understand. Each of us belongs to many different communities. As a teacher and as a professor who teaches teachers, I also want to be very clear that classrooms can be communities. I think they ought to be communities. Too many classrooms at various levels never become communities. They begin and remain space for information exchange where the power sits in the hands, mind and mouth of one person. Creating community out of a classroom requires work. In fact, all communities that not only survive but thrive require work.
They require work either to create them or to renew them–like classical associations that have been in existence for generations, maybe even centuries. What ties all of this together is this: when we begin to talk about the kind of community we want, we begin to articulate what will become the guiding principles of such communities. Some communities may express their guiding principles with “rules.” I would suggest that behind the rules are the implicit principles. This is common in religious communities. For example: in this community we do not eat XYZ food. Behind that rule is an implied principle: we don’t eat XYZ food in order to honor the sacred as we experience it in our midst. So, the guiding principle is “honoring the sacred as we experience it in our midst.” Once we see the principle behind the rule, we begin to see that communities of many kinds share some common principles. One religious community honors the sacred by not eating a certain food, another by offering prayers at a certain time of day, another by acts of compassion to others, and so on. The same can happen across other kinds of communities, but we have to ask the question, actively, out loud, regularly. What kind of community to do we want to be? However we answer those questions establishes in some way or another, directly or indirectly, a set of principles of community. Here’s the kick. We are answering that question whether we do it actively and out loud or not. We can (and do) gather in our communities silently and implicitly saying at every gathering–this is the kind of community we want. Over the years, I have cultivated in myself the practice of looking at any gathering I join, and I ask myself: is this the kind of community we want? I see a sea of white faces, older faces, male faces. Is this the kind of community we want? It’s certainly, right now, at this gathering, the kind of community we are silently proclaiming.
As any of us begin to describe that community we want, the principles will be articulated. Each person with a stake in a particular community who answers the question will add substance or nuance to those principles. If a beginning or renewing community takes careful note in these conversations they can have in hand, very quickly, the guiding principles of their community.
We who belong to the various communities of classicists can ask the question as a means of renewal. To be such an educated bunch, we have subscribed to and perpetuated some really ignorant and harmful stuff in our past around racism, gender and gender identity issues, ableism and socio-economics. After we own that past and offer sorrow for that past, what sort of community do we want to be? That strikes me as a most exciting, most important, most soul-supporting conversation that we could possibly have.
I invite you to ponder this question. I invite the leaders of SCS, CAMWS, ACL, CAAS, and CANE as well as local and state associations to find a way to set up this conversation among your members. What kind of community do you want to be? Invite all the voices with interest to answer the question. Take copious and careful notes. Write a charter–a renewing charter for a new day in your organization.
For now, let’s be clear: it’s way past midnight on these issues. What sort of community do you want? I would love to hear how you answer the question, so I invite two kinds of responses here in the comment section of the blog. What kind of classroom community do you want? What kind of classics organization community do you want? You can answer either or both, just make it clear what you are answering. None of the comments will actually show up, but I’ll gather all of them and offer a follow up post based on what you say while keeping your names anonymous. What kind of community do you want?
In the search for truth, may we be just; in the search for justice may we be loving; and in loving may we find peace. Elizabeth McMaster