Are you in a network or are you in a community?

You might wonder if these two words, network and community, are not synonyms. People, together, the way they are supposed to be. Am I right?

I am reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (buy it), and Gatto is getting under my skin. At a scant 120 pages, some of which are postscripts, you may wonder how it has me questioning this particular distinction. You may also wonder why, at page 52, it is bringing me to tears; the kind of tears Truman (spoiler) may have secretly cried as he stood with his back to the camera and facing the open door to the big, wide world beyond the set.

This book is essential reading for everyone, and especially so for educators. How has it stayed under my radar, apparently our collective radar, for so long? I suppose it is because many of us are very good products of the factory model school system; well-oiled machines in the “game of school.” It was only once I started teaching that I realized this traditional “game of school” isn’t fun for everyone.

It is true that the game doesn’t end when you graduate from Grade 12. The pawns change, the draw cards get more complicated, a few more dice are added, yet the play itself remains the same. We are all chained to the rhythm. So let me ask you:

Have you ever lamented at the lost connections between you and your classmates from high school, college, or university? Have you ever felt lonely despite being surrounded by people? Have you ever prided yourself on your ability to handle complex problems with efficiency? Have you ever felt empty inside even when your day was overly full with what many would call great things?

You don’t have to tell me that you have answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these questions. I am not ashamed to admit that I did and often still do answer ‘yes’ to all of them. Gatto has helped me to better understand why a life that appears fulfilling externally can feel so hollow and meaningless from within. It is about those network connections that we use as substitutes for community.

I have been in one or more networks for most of my life; they do not take the place of community, no matter how hard we try to make it so. If you do read this book, trust that I will be here for you when you read through and beyond page 52. Though I am now uncertain that I will ever be more than just a part of your network, I can surely try. Perhaps there is method in the madness of making your Cohort 21 blog website an online version of Hotel California. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” Because of this, you can never truly become just one more lost link in a network that you used to know. Keeping each other around in perpetuity is arguably Step 1 of how we build an authentic community.

How do we change a bloated, outdated system from within? Perhaps the only truly transformative option is to “kill it with fire.” Here’s hoping we figure it out within at least some of our lifetimes.

Thank you for reading.


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