Community requires tending.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a story mostly about tyranny and the corruption of utopian ideals, but in the very beginning there is a passage that means something very different to me. It deals with the leadership of Mr. Jones before the rebellion, before the animals decide to take the farm into their own hands.

“The fields were full of weeds, the buildings wanted roofing, the hedges were neglected, and the animals were underfed.”

This quotation represents all of the things that happen when Mr. Jones gets too distracted to work, to maintain his environment, and to make life better for all those involved. To me, this is about not tending the community. It is about letting things lie fallow which must be uprooted and overturned to see what is underneath them.

Our communities are just like this I think, both in our classroom and outside of them. The communities within our classroom, especially the collaborative ones that we are all striving for, require an immense amount of tending. The Discovery Utopia wiki that my students are working on (and the reason that we are reading Animal Farm in the first place) is not an exception. If I do not constantly draw attention to the great things that are going on there, the community seems to just pass right on by them. If I do not look for the troubling points, the issues that nearly every student seems to be struggling with, students stop using the community. They find other ways to occupy their time. And that is one of the most interesting parts about our communities. They are communities of choice.

All communities of choice are ones that can be thriving in one minute and vacant in the next. So, how do we tend for consistency? Well, we feed the animals (is it weird that I am referring to my students as animals). We put up new buildings for them to play in. We design the space so that it is inviting and provokes the best kind of authentic creativity: their own.

I think that the lesson is pretty clear. If we do not tend to our communities, they will fail. The inhabitants will rebel and either stop using them, or turn them into something that rejects their purpose. And, if Animal Farm is any indication, the inhabitants of a untended community will become just like us and not tend to their communities. I mean that in both a virtual and real-world sense.

I hope this comes across as something other than a Language Arts teacher’s metaphorical analysis.

0 Comments

  1. What causes humans to disregard that which is good for us? Why do people not automatically tend our communities? What is it that keeps the tending from being intrinsic? What makes it need to be deliberately conscious work?

    Every single person I know neglects in varying degrees. Is it because we have too many communities? Is it because guilt forces us to create or participate half-heartedly in communities that are not intrinsically motivating? Are those communities like the spinach, liver, broccoli, lima beans on a child’s plate? (eat them, you may not like them, but they’re good for you!)

    Are we forced into the “wrong” communities by societal norm, and therefore that devalues the truly important communities for each of us? For all of us? Do all of us suffer due to artificial or superficial communities that we think we must tend? If so, why do we choose those?

    I’m asking why because if we can get to the root of it, we can decide what to do about it.

  2. The online communities, where people can find like-minded people across the world, cause certain Renaissance to happen – in some areas. Children write more than ever, for example. In other areas, like the one I consider my own (mathematics), we still don’t see enough communities even online. Some practical questions for community tenders are very simple, yet few people ever pose them before designing educational (or “educational”, if the community of learners fail as a result) activities.

    – When we do what we do, where is “togetherness”? What will the learners do WITH OTHERS? (pair, group, distributed collaboration work)
    – How is the activity promoting communication? Does it? (The tools for communication, taking turns, integrating and analyzing other people’s ideas have to be built into activities)
    – Collection (of artifacts, histories, previous day’s work) is hugely important for cultures, because people keep contributing to a common collection that provides continuity with the past. Will the activity promote accumulation of artifacts into collections and their easily accessible display?
    – Connection with other human endeavors already important for existing cultures to which participants belong (food, holidays, history)
    – Forming these entities that make a culture: history, common rituals, holidays and memorial days, common language and so on; there are lists among historians (Pi Day, anyone?)

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