Friday, December 5, 2014

Community vs Networking

I lead a homeschooling community here in my area.  I have done so for about eight years now. When at first it began, it was definitely a networking space. As I got to know other families, mothers specifically, in the area, I used my education background to assist them in making their choice for homeschool.  One of the books I suggested they read as an encouragement for homeschooling was Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto.

About three or four years after leaving the classroom I read the book. I read it one afternoon while my littles played outside in our back yard. I couldn't put it down and was blown away by all the truth about the system I was trained to instruct in--the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling. I remember talking to my husband about it all. Even with all our good intentions and adjustments that we made daily--weekly--monthly--yearly, we were still part of passing on the destructive practices taught in school that leave us all disconnected, disjointed and discontent.

Fast-forward to last month, nearly eight years later, when I reread it again for a book discussion within the homeschooling community to which I belong. What jumped out at me during this read had everything to do with community. I've been working and striving for this for a good number of years. Rereading this book gave me better words in which to communicate what I've been building and what makes it different from what we're used to being a part of.

For years I've wondered why so many people are drawn to our community yet are unable to or choose not to remain. Of course there have been lots of valid reasons for this. But at the end of the day, I am often surprised by what I have heard, seen and experienced. Here is what I think about things now. Most all of us, whether we've chosen to homeschool for a year or a few or all the way through with our children, attended school. (Yes, there are those who were homeschooled but there will always be exceptions. I am not speaking about those.) We were taught this "hidden curriculum" of which Gatto speaks in his book. Hence the need to 'de-school' and 'un-school' ourselves.

During my reading and then discussion with other mothers this week, I noted that we are taught how to network. This is the way in which many of us move in the world. We have a network of people whom we know that we can give and receive information. We group ourselves based on these networks--we even call them communities. Take a moment to think about the communities to which you belong. You may belong to a faith community, a school community, a mom's group, a book club, an outdoor club, a traveling group, a buyers' group, a foodie group, etc. You may connect with networks online that are specific to the type of homeschooling you do or curriculum you use, the business you run, the hobbies you have, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, etc.

We are so accustomed to this departmentalization that it's natural to have nice neat places for each of our individual likes, interests, needs, wants, and the lists goes on...  Community, real community, the community to which I speak, is not a network. Many times this networking takes place online so it not only lacks true connectedness but no real personal contact with another. Screens with words have taken the place of the interpersonal interaction we get when being in person (i.e. eye contact, body language, tone of voice).

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times. Too many of us are busy and engaged in different networks. We believe we're connected an often see this as community. But once we disengage and head back to our homes, we speak about being lonely and feeling alone. I spoke recently with a mother who has a large online following, she stated that although she has a "voice" in that space she lacks real connections, friends for herself and friends for her children. She also shared that she isn't as out-going as she comes across in your blog/vlog. Many of her followers comment but can't offer her any more than that. While she is offering them a service--giving them advice and recommendations--what she actually needs is found in community, not a network.

We are wired to be connected to others. When you feel alone in a crowd it's a sign that you are participating in a network instead of a community.

Here's a list of a few of the things Gatto shared about what a network is. As you read through this list, think about your 'communities' and see if any of these speak to you as they did to me.


  • drain vitality from communities and families
  • don't require the whole person--only a narrow piece
  • center around a specific, rather narrow, spectrum or subject
  • lack any ability to nourish their members emotionally
  • divide people
  • make people lonely
  • what you get at the beginning is all you ever get
  • grow until the individual becomes "lost" in the sheer number of participants
  • competition is its lifeblood
  • friendships and loyalties are transient
  • problems are universally considered to be someone else's problems
  • the end goal is to get out to a better place--to "trade-up"
  • lying for personal advantage is the unspoken standard
  • appear strong but actually weak; seem close-knit yet only loose bonds; suggest durability by usually transient
  • allow for and praise short-cuts
Over the years I've asked those who have been part of this homeschooling group what drew them to it, what has kept them, what has caused them to move on.  This has been very enlightening for me. The group has moved from being a network, to a support group to a community. The numbers have changed as a result. Community demands a certain level of commitment. In today's society, many of us don't have the time to give. There are so many things we want for ourselves and for our children. We've all been trained well in the "hidden curriculum" and so, whether we know it or not, although we may be drawn to the idea of true community, we feel better suited for networks. It's easier to be unknown than known. Easier to drop-in here and there getting quick fixes than investing oneself and resources over a longer period of time.

We often share, among homeschooling families in particular, the tone or vibe of different groups. We've all been in spaces where we've felt judged and/or criticized; unwelcome and even ostracized. We've been on the 'outside' of things and may not have connected well with others who were already a part of the group. Not every network or community is for everyone. This is understood. Yet where are we finding those real connections--the space where we can be fully human--for ourselves and for our children?

Here's what spoke to me, from the book, about what community is:

  • begins with the family
  • requires intimacy
  • allows for the slow, organic process of self-awareness, self-discovery and cooperation
  • requires engagement from everyone
  • must be "all-in"; whole person
  • has authentic relationships
  • requires honesty
  • requires commitment
  • connects people on thousands of invisible pathways
  • is rich and complex
  • can contain people across generations
  • requires accountability
  • is local
  • has natural limits--they stop growing or they die

Since rereading and seeing this information in a new way, I've had several lively conversations with those in a few of the networks to which I belong. Each of the people I've spoken with desires community over a network. We now have better language with which to communicate what we are seeking to share with others who may also be looking for the same.

Networking has its place. One cannot be in community with everyone. There are benefits in knowing who to contact when issues and problems arise; who to reach out to when you need further information; who to connect a friend or neighbor to when they need something. I am not against networks at all. I am simply in need of community more. Community that is local and "in my face." (smile)

What about you?

Perhaps you already have this community to which I speak, and if so, what a rich life you're already enjoying. Perhaps you, too, after reading this, now see better what it is you're in need of, what you're seeking. I would encourage you to go after that. Start with those closest to you--your family and friends. But don't just stop there--reach out to others near you: neighbors, co-laborers, other persons and families in spaces you're already a part of. You may be surprised to find others waiting for your invitation.

Let me hear from you about your thoughts on community. I'd love to read your comments below.

Be well.


Ree B said...

I have been longing for community also ( although I also often long to be alone :)

Homeschooling has afforded me the opportunity to get as close to feeling connected as I ever have (outside of my secondary school experience… I know…) or perhaps it is my child whose openness, interest in others and basic needs have forced me into relationships that I would not have considered prior and do not want to give up now !

I should also say that so many people are so inherently judgmental and unable to accept the whole person if one part is not in alignment with what they think that person should be and that often makes it challenging to connect fully.

Jamillah Karim said...

Thank you, Leslie, for extending the conversation. Your words leave me to reflect on what facilities community for a small group of women in my local faith community: 1) our likemindedness (Gatto discusses how you don't let anyone and everyone in your community; 2) our mutual respect and trust, nurtured by the aspiration to embody high ideals such as generosity, humility, compassion, forgiveness and good will (in practical terms, avoiding ill practices like backbiting); 3) living in close proximity (we all live within a 5 minute drive); 4) our intentionality to create community; 5) a commitment to meet weekly (rotating dinner preparation in our case); 6) our significant others--husbands, ex-husbands, and children-also connecting among each other; 7) conversations in which we share intimate struggles and joys, be they related to parenting, marriages, or careers.I'm really proud of our community in progress. We just scheduled a women's slumber party since we have such a hard time parting the nights of our weekly dinner. Other factors working in our favor are that outside our weekly collective meet up, individuals in our group meet up; also there are family ties within the group.

~Leslie said...

I hear you! This is so true. Unfortunately we learn to judge in these competitive spaces. It takes some intentional re-learning to offer something that is truly inclusive.

Glad to know this resinates with you, too. Thanks for stopping by, reading a commenting. :)

~Leslie said...

Jamillah, I'm thrilled to hear that you are already partaking in such a community. I'm sure you are learning of the benefits of living life together.

I'm hopeful that I, too, will soon have this as well.

Thanks for your comments.


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