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Others and the Problem of Community

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Community building has been a key concern for a wide array of educational projects. Recently, educational theories concerned about social justice have begun to challenge assumptions about community in U.S. education by criticizing its tendencies toward assimilation and homogeneity. Such theories point out that a communitarian agenda excludes the Other, the stranger, or the person of difference. This paper analyzes various conflicting constructions of community in current U.S. education literature, including the establishment of common values in schools, the attempt to integrate racially diverse views into educational discourse, and the exhortation for political solidarity within underrepresented groups. I analyze the construction of community and suggest that community has three distinct strands of meaning: the appeal to “third way” kinds of compromise, the appeal to solidarity for empowerment, and the appeal of emotional bonding. After providing examples of these three strands, I argue that current definitions and assumptions about community building can be politically dangerous insofar as differences are appropriated, assimilated, or excluded. Finally, by bringing some examples from feminism and postcolonialism into conversation with education, I suggest that problematizing the idea of community allows for critical appraisal of the meanings of community and difference, commonality, and diversity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI, USA

Publication date: 01 September 2006

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