Understanding community: A comparison of the tasks of community in four school settings

Patricia Ellen Calderwood, University of Pennsylvania


A prevalent belief that the presence of community is a positive factor in schools is frequently coupled with a related prescriptive to infuse schools with community. In response, it is important to closely examine the process of community in diverse school settings, in order to better understand both the process and the feasibility of carrying out the above prescriptive. This paper finds that intrinsic to the process of community are specific tasks that must be accomplished: the maintenance of symbolic borders and boundaries that demarcate group membership and social identity, and the construction of the significance or insignificance of internal differences and diversity. The descriptive analysis of participants' words, beliefs and practices examines the carrying out of these tasks in four school settings: a public middle school, a private Catholic elementary school and high school, and a public college. The study demonstrates that the idea of being in community was valued by the groups under study, that the two entwined fundamental tasks of community were carried out at all sites, and that the process of sustaining community was vulnerable at all sites. However, the distinctiveness of how and why the tasks were accomplished indicates that proposing a single generic prescription for the building or sustaining of community in schools is not possible. Recognition of the vulnerable nature of community leads to the postulation of a third task of community: Attending to this vulnerability in ways that lead to outcomes of resilence rather than fracture. School-based reflective inquiry, carried out by group insiders, that examines existing or desired social relations, practices and feelings about these is suggested as a possible next step in the response to the call for community in schools.

Subject Area

Educational theory|Social psychology|School administration

Recommended Citation

Calderwood, Patricia Ellen, "Understanding community: A comparison of the tasks of community in four school settings" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727202.