“The Person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer’s quote is one of my favorites about community. As a leader, who is a visionary and a very enthusiastic one at that, I need to hear this quote regularly. There are two primary aspects to this quote. First, the aspect of loving those around you. Second, the aspect of the leader’s dream of community.
What is Bonhoeffer telling us? Is he saying that it is somehow harmful to dream about your community? What does Bonhoeffer mean by ‘love those around you’? Is he saying that we need to have lots of friendly gatherings and bring each other meals when someone is sick? We know the Scriptures tell us that without a vision, the people perish. We also know that without love, things fail. So how do we think about these ideas in light of all of this?
Loving our dream can be in opposition to loving those around us because a dream’s nature is imaginary and abstract, whereas the people around us are real and concrete. Dreaming can be an energizing place to begin, but those dreams must be articulated in a vision, purpose, and real plans. Our plans for our community need to be as concrete and real as the people around us. The way we love them needs to be specific. Loving the people in our communities is not relegated to common acts of Christian service. While these are noble endeavors, I want to suggest this is not the primary way we as leaders love the people in our classical learning communities. Rather, it is in how we communicate the community’s purpose and live that out in plans and particulars. It is a tremendous kindness to our families to tell them precisely what we are all about so they can form their expectations truthfully and know we are a good fit for their family. If they do not know these things, frustration, disappointment, and high turnover rates result.
It all starts with the purpose. The number one way we can love our people is by being clear about our learning community’s purpose and central point of unity. Where do we begin in crafting a clear and cohesive statement of purpose?
In my experience, there are two significant questions to ask and answer to identify your community’s purpose so you can communicate it to others. First, decide whether your central point of unity will be a religious tradition or an educational philosophy. Second, what kind of teaching will occur in your community? It is up to your group to determine where they want to direct their focus. For example, a community whose central point of unity is a religious tradition, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox, etc., will first and foremost make sure they align their group with their chosen church tradition. This group will also have to make decisions about educational philosophy and teaching goals, but it is the aspect of unity in religion that becomes the primary lens through which they make their decisions. This also means that the group may treat group differences among educational philosophies with more flexibility.
If, on the other hand, the educational philosophy is your central point of unity, that will be your primary lens for decision-making. To illustrate, if you use the curriculum and guidance of Paideia Academics in forming your school or community, then you have committed to pursuing the classical liberal arts course of study, with a focus on coaching the skills of the language liberal arts. You also probably value reading the classics and studying great art globally, not just from the West. This is what makes Paideia Academics’ groups distinct. Therefore, when we communicate with potential families about what we are all about, we can say that upfront. In our community, because this is our primary focus, the Christian tradition one identifies with is less important. In our online academy, parents at Paideia know that their child could have a Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic teacher. That also means that our statement of faith does not assert beyond what we all share in common.
Second, each group needs to decide what is the purpose of their group. Do you want to get together, share the teaching responsibility, and enjoy fellowship? Do you want to have class discussions? Do you want to dig in and teach the core skills of the liberal arts? Generally, you see three kinds of homeschool communities relating to purpose, teaching goals, and structure. The first kind of homeschool community is the homeschool cooperative, more affectionately known as the homeschool co-op. In this model, every parent must teach, assist, or be involved in some significant volunteer role. Second, the experience-centered community is probably the most misunderstood of homeschool communities and is somewhat unique to the Classical/Charlotte Mason models. The goal of most communities like this is three-fold. First, to offer community; second, to provide accountability; and third, to do things together that are more difficult or much less enjoyable when done alone. The teacher/mentor/tutor is there to be a leader in the experiences the class encounters. Lastly, there is the homeschool “school” community. This group offers tremendous help to parents who want to homeschool but do not have the time to invest in teaching their children and cultivating their teaching skills. Homeschool “school” communities also offer great fellowship opportunities for students to develop friendships with other students. Additionally, teachers coach students in the various skills related to their classes. If you are a director, I recommend you read the article ‘Three Kinds of Homeschool Communities‘ to see a full explanation of each kind of homeschool community and the pros and cons of each.
Once a community knows what its central point of unity is and how it will structure its group, it will be well on its way to defining what its group is all about and being able to articulate that in written form. Doing this allows us to love the parents in our groups because they will know what to expect and can make an informed and intelligent decision about whether our group is the right one for them. Doing this allows us to love the teacher/mentor/tutor because it clears up their responsibility and the parent’s responsibility. It helps prevent burnout and frustration on all sides. Doing this allows us to love the director because they have a firm ground to stand on as they communicate with parents, students, teachers, and potential families. Doing this allows us to love the students because they, too, will know what to expect. All in all, having a clear purpose and point of unity creates an environment of peace that is free from the anxiety of not knowing what to do, an environment where you know you belong. I can not think of a better way to love our communities than to offer them such an environment.