The cause of democracy is the moral cause of the dignity and the worth of the individual.
John Dewey, 1946
In this blog post I would like to introduce to the debate the brilliant work of Margaret Ledwith, Emeritus Professor of Community Development and Social Justice at the University of Cumbria. Ledwith’s work is largely inspired by that of Paulo Freire (1921-97) and Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Freire emphasised and demonstrated the power of transformative praxis (a unity of theory and practice capable of social change). Ledwith’s work and ideas unfold through stories of everyday life experiences (narratives). Narrative is so defined:
People’s personal stories contribute to collective narratives, which express the hopes and fears, needs and strengths that are the basis of community development and practice.
I am hoping that we may be open to sharing our own personal narratives with regard to home-school-community partnerships and determine where praxis sits. Hence the questions put forward. In a previous blog post I offered a guiding definition for relational power as defined by Warren and Mapp (2011):
If unilateral power emphasises power “over”, relational power emphasises power “with” others, or building the power to accomplish common aims.
Neil Thompson (2007) extends this further in offering a model of four types of power.
- power to
- power over
- power with
- power within
‘Power to’ can be understood as personal power to achieve our potential in life. Self-esteem and self-belief are fundamental to it. It also helps us understand how domination leads to a ‘culture of silence’ by diminishing self-esteem and pathologising poverty, that is, convincing people that their social status is due to their own failings.
‘Power over’ is related to relations of dominance and subordination that get acted out at structural, cultural and personal levels. Change has to take place at all levels before empowerment and equality will be cultural norms that replace disempowerment and inequality.
‘Power with’ is particularly important to the power of change. It implies not only solidarity among groups of people who identify with each other, but also alliances across difference in mutual commitment to change for the greater good of everyone.
‘Power within’ is a personal resilience that connects the individual to the collective. ‘It is the basis of self-worth, dignity and self-respect, the very foundation of integrity, of mutual respect and equality, a dislocating of ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ in order to create a world that is fair, just and equal.’
Q1. Reflecting on the home-school-community dynamic that defines your particular community, where and with whom would you say power lies? How so and why so?
Q2. As an individual in that relationship, do you feel connected to the collective? If indeed a collective exists.
Why my focus on community development? Put simply, I think the power of ideas associated with it offer up a lens through which we might usefully view and analyse home-school-community partnership. Ledwith says it is critical pedagogy (a form of popular education based on people’s life experience) that gives community development the potential to bring about change for social justice. The process begins by simply questioning everyday life’s taken-for-grantedness to see the contradictions we live by more starkly. This leads us to seeing the world through a new lens – seeing power in action and co-creating new knowledge, a new story of the world that forms the basis of action for change. As said in my first blog, I contend that the mood of the country so far as the UK is concerned, and, arguably, further afield, is such that a challenging of the status-quo is in train and burgeoning.
Ledwith highlights the values that are fundamental to community development, thinking from a human rights perspective. Everyone has the right to trust, dignity and respect formed out of experiences that are equal, reciprocal and mutual. Ledwith says that this is built into cooperative relationships that work together to connect people in ways that build towards participatory democracy. This leads to people perceiving that they are part of a greater unity, a more coherent whole, rather than alienated fragments without the power to change the issues that are effecting their lives.
I discussed in my last blog social interactions across the school community and how the building of relational trust might address issues around relational power. Bryk and Schneider (1996) task leaders with taking actions that reduce parents’ sense of vulnerability in social interactions that take place in and around school. They see trust very much as a precondition for authentic participation in partnerships. Relational trust is based on perceived respect, competence, integrity, and personal regard for others, and depends on reciprocity.
I trust this is all making some sense and there is a coherence to the threads I am pulling on. What I know for sure is that it is incumbent upon school leaders to think on relational power and how that impacts social justice and democracy in and across the school community. I strongly suggest that we despatch the notion that some parents are ‘hard to reach’ to Room 101 and work on fostering a climate that sits at or towards the end of the spectrum recognised and defined by Warren and Mapp as “power with” and by Thompson as “power with” or even “power within”. Empowerment involves a form of critical education that encourages people to question their reality: this is the basis of collective action and is built on principles of participatory democracy.
The evidence is convincing; families have a major influence on children’s achievement in school and through life. When schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.
(Henderson and Mapp 2002: 16)
Q3. Thinking on the content of this blog and the definitions provided by Warren and Mapp, and Thompson, is there something that has struck a chord with you, something that you intend exploring in your school community? If you are happy to do so, please share.
Henderson, A. and Mapp, K. (2002), A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
Ledwith, M. (2011) Community Development: A critical approach, Bristol: Policy Press.
Ledwith, M. (2016) Community Development in Action: Putting Freire into Practice, Bristol: Policy Press.
Warren, M. R. and Mapp, K. L. (2011) A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organising as a Catalyst for School Reform, Oxford: OUP.