Community education

What is community education? A guide and booklist.

Broadly, we can approach community education as ‘education for community within community’. In other words, something called ‘community‘ is not just the place or context in which education is to occur, fostering community is also a central concern. The process of becoming part of an existing social network in order to encourage dialogue and learning is sometimes labelled as informal education in UK discussions or as community education in Scottish debates. For example, CeVe (Scotland) have defined community education as:

..a process designed to enrich the lives of individuals and groups by engaging with people living within a geographical area, or sharing a common interest, to develop voluntarily a range of learning, action and reflection opportunities, determined by their personal, social, economic and political needs. (CeVe 1990: 2)

However, this particular definition does not put ‘education for community’ at the centre of the work (although some practitioners may interpret it to do so) – and this dilutes the concept somewhat.

Community education in its stronger sense has parallels in the tradition of community organization in the USA, sozial pädagogik in Germany, animation in France and socio-cultural work in Belgium. Furthermore, it links up with the thinking and practice of those who have worked for community-based, and democratic schooling – and for child-centred education. If approached in many Southern countries, then our focus would most likely be non-formal education or community participation. It could be seen as close to the Latin American tradition of popular education or the French tradition of la vie associative with its emphasis on association.

Different practice traditions have arisen in various contexts – but there are some important points of contact and exchange. They have not grown in isolation. For example, in recent years the work of Paulo Freire has been influential in each. We can also draw lines historically – for example from Rousseau through key thinkers in the social pedagogy tradition to Dewey and then on through Lindeman and others to community organization and informal education. Each tradition of practice provides a way to the others – and it is perhaps most helpful to think of them as always existing in relation to one another.

Further reading

The listing focuses specifically on the idea of community education. I have done this avoid too much duplication with the other elements of the bibliography. This is a guide to the texts that explore and theorize community education practice rather than a comprehensive listing of all materials in the area. Questions of process, work with different groups, the impact of social division etc. are best approached through the other sections. For example:

  • informal education,
  • community development and community participation,
  • adult education, and
  • youth work

I have devoted a special section to the development of community education in Scotland where it has taken a significant organizational form.

We lack a full-length text that explores community education (as education for community) in a robust and coherent way. The closest UK texts are Informal Education (Jeffs and Smith 1996) which is really an introductory exploration, Lovett et al (1983) which focuses on adult education and popular social movements, and Local Education (Smith 1994) – which looks to localness. Brookfield (1983) is strong on ‘education in the community’ and McConnell (1996) provides with a diverse but useful collection of key documents in the making of Scottish community education. Bidwell and McConnell (1982) is an edited collection that hails from an earlier period of Scottish community education The two collections by Poster and Krüger (1990) and Poster and Zimmer (1992) contain some useful explorations of practice and one or two helpful discussions of the idea of community education (see, in particular, Cyril Poster’s chapter in Poster and Krüger 1990). Most of the other texts with community education in their title are rather school-centred (for details see the Community Schooling listing. I have included Lindeman (1926) and Yeaxlee (1929) because of their strong concerns with education for democracy and local forms of practice.

Bidwell, L. and McConnell, C. (eds.) (1982) Community Education and Community Development, Dundee: Dundee College of Education. 131 + v pages (A4). Contains 15 chapters exploring different aspects of community education. These range from reviews of definitions and models through discussions of work in different settings to areas like feminism, and participant control and community education, and community arts and community schools. An important overview of the Scottish scene at that time.

Brookfield, S. D. (1983) Adult Learning, Adult Education and the Community, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 229 + x pages. An investigation of adult education in the community with sections on individualised approaches, group approaches (including community adult education) and themes around supporting adult learners in the community.

Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. (1996, 1999) Informal Education: conversation, democracy and learning, Ticknall: Education Now. 72 pages. Introductory discussion of informal education that places the fostering of democracy at the core of informal education. Explores the nature of conversation and reflection, organizing the work, contrasts with formal education and the moral authority of the educator.

Keeble, R. (1981) Community and Education. Some relationships and some issues, Leicester: National Youth Bureau. 141 pages. Examines the educational elements found in community work and the community work elements that are or could be a part of educational activity. Chapters on community work – a style of social change?; neighbourhood work; education and the shaping of change; community education and democracy (with a focus on schooling); social change (and youth work, community adult education and community work); renewal; and LEA policies.

Lindeman, E. C. (1926) The Meaning of Adult Education (1989 edn.), Norman: University of Oklahoma. 143 + xliii pages. A classic statement of adult education principles. He argued that education is life; that it should concern itself with non-vocational ideals; that the approach should be via situations rather than subjects; and that the highest values should be placed on the learner’s experience. Lindeman paid particular attention to community-based forms of education, the central significance of groups and importance of democracy.

Lovett, T, Clarke, C and Kilmurray, A. (1983) Adult Education and Community Action. Adult education and popular social movements, Beckenham: Croom Helm. 163 + x pages. Uses models familiar to community workers (community organization, community development, community action and social action) as a way of approaching community education. After a review of radical adult education developments in the UK and North America, the writers focus on education and community action in Northern Ireland. An important attempt to conceptualize ‘radical’ community education (as against ‘remedial/consensus’ and ‘liberal/reform’ approaches). See also Tom Lovett’s exploration of earlier work with the Liverpool EPA (1975) Adult Education, Community Development and the Working Class, London: Ward Lock. 176 pages. (Republished by the Department of Adult Education, University of Nottingham). Among other things it examines the process of ‘community’ adult education.

Mayo, M. (1997) Imagining Tomorrow: Community adult education for transformation, Leicester: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. 172 pages. Paperback ISBN 1-86201-006-4. A readable and very useful overview of education for transformation. Argues that community and workplace-based adult education is increasingly important in first and third world contexts. The book examines globalization and restructuring, and presents a case for the possibilities of local development as part of longer term strategies for transformation. Chapters deal with competing perspectives; the histories of adult education for transformation; the experience of education for transformation in the South; economic restructuring; adult education and training; analysing political power and building alliances; adult and community education; and cultures of resistance.

McConnell, C. (ed.) Community Education. The making of an empowering profession, Edinburgh: Scottish Community Education Council. 372 + viii pages. This book is a collection of 32 readings dealing with the development of the community education profession in Scotland. It is divided into sections dealing with the challenge of change; the boundaries of change; training for change; measuring change; and changing challenges. McConnell provides a substantial introduction.

O’Sullivan, D. (1993) Commitment, Educative Action and Adults. Learning programmes with a social purpose, Aldershot: Avebury. 210 + viii pages. This book sets out to explore social programmes dedicated to bringing about change through educative action and the people involved in them. Chapters examine the biography of commitment; the discourse of commitment; educative action; learning encounters via associative forms.

Poster, C. and Krüger, A. (eds.) (1990) Community Education in the Western World, London: Routledge. 207 + xvi pages. This collection provides a flavour of work in a number of countries – thankfully organized by themes rather than nations. Part 1 deals with defining community education; part 2 with learning in the community; part 3 with business enterprise; part 4 with new challenges, new structures; and the final part is concerned with the experiences of two national centres.

Poster, C. and Zimmer, J. (eds.) Community Education in the Third World, London: Routledge. 253 + x pages. This book follows a similar format to the previous text – although without the opening discussion of definitions. It could equally have been an exploration of popular education. There are three substantive sections dealing with survival and self-realization; changing economic structures; and developing frameworks for the future. A number of chapters provide good insights to forms of practice that are developing within southern countries.

Smith, M. K. (1994) Local Education. Community, conversation, action, Buckingham: Open University Press. 192 + viii pages. Examines the work of community educators, youth workers and community workers. Has a locality focus. Includes chapters on being local; being an educator; engaging in conversation; organising the work; curriculum and direction; embedding practice; reflecting in action; and dialogue and praxis.

Yeaxlee, B. (1929) Lifelong Education. A sketch of the range and significance of the adult education movement, London: Cassell and Company. 166 pages. Important first exploration of the idea of ‘lifelong education’. I have included this book as Yeaxlee approaches adult education as a movement ‘democratic in its inspiration’ (p. 23) – and with Lindeman, views it as inseparable from ‘normal living’. [Out of print].

Acknowledgement: Picture “Lifelong Learning”, 2 Franklin Town Blvd.(the Fountains at Logan Square, 18th and Callowhill St.). Photo by Micael Leone. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence.

Prepared by Mark K. Smith
© Mark K. Smith
First listing: July 1996. Last update: July 08, 2014