in their school buildings, which are now
resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of
savings for their districts.
Such learning opportunities provide young
people with the chance to apply literacy, mathematical, and analytical skills to significant
problems. Unfortunately for most students,
projects like these are the exception rather
than the rule. We have been involved for more
than a decade in an effort to make this kind of
learning—what we call place- and community-based education—more common.
photo courtesy of stefan aumack, al kennedy high school
There is nothing new about teaching and
learning grounded in local concerns or
experience. It’s how most children were
inducted into adulthood before the creation
of the common schools. In schools, however,
children have experienced a growing disconnect between their lives in communities
and what they encounter in their classrooms.
We are not the first to note this downside
of public education. John Dewey (1959) aimed at making the
wall that had grown between schools and the communities
that support them more permeable, as did William Kilpatrick
(1918); George Counts (1932); and Harold Rugg (1939)
before him. More recently, we have seen a similar motivation
in the efforts of environmental, civic, and workplace educators as well as supporters of service learning. What distinguishes place- and community-based education is its focus
on learning experiences aimed at incorporating local issues
or knowledge into the curriculum and offering students the
chance to do valuable work.
This era requires more people
who believe they have the
capacity to make a difference—
and who step forward to do so.
Why Make Room for the Local?
When the educational push is toward increasing standardization, why should teachers concern themselves with the
local? There are four good reasons to do so.
To Engage Students
Motivating students to want to learn remains one of the
most profound dilemmas that educators face. U.S. studies
suggest that only 40 to 60 percent of students are engaged
in classroom learning (Blum, 2005), a plausible proportion
given the number of students who drop out before graduating
and the persistence of mediocre performance on measures of
student learning like the National Assessment of Educational