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One of the main questions I have been asking in this study has been the role of community in an education. How much did participation correlate with successful educations?
The History cites four main ``successes that deserve to be shared with those interested in American education:''
[First, the way graduates] conducted their working professional lives. Egalitarian politics in operating an office or a business was mentioned most frequently, followed by the interdisciplinary, problem-solving style of education and related internships...Graduates experienced real carry-over from their undergraduate experience to their ``real-world'' living...
Second, the Johnston experience makes clear that separatism within a small institution [the University] finally fails....
Third, the Johnston experience is one among many that confirms the importance of learning communities for humanistic education. Much of Johnston, admittedly, was shaped by negative affirmations; we were against impersonal education, hierarchical politics, the perceived tyranny of the University. But this had little to do with the academic commitment which, after the first year, took hold in the beleaguered community. That commitment arose directly from shared enthusiasm among faculty and students for the intellectual enterprise they designed together. Both were committed, without snobbery or defensiveness, to developing the best in one another. As we have noted in several places, it was peer pressure as much as faculty urging that gave so many seminars their intensity. The same sort of commitment obtained in fieldwork and in experimental learning; psychodrama groups, or a class of interns at Indio[SEE FOOTNOTE] developed a commitment out of shared experience that had demonstrable effects on their immediate learning. The Center in 1987 continues to thrive on just this sort of commitment; it is a legacy shared by alumns, faculty, and current undergraduates.
[Fourth,] Johston has contributed, like the individual member of a species, to the persistent life of intentional communities in America. This contribution is nebulous, even romantic, but nonetheless significant. The line from the Oneida Community, from Brook farm, indeed, from the Shakers and the isolato Pilgrims themselves, through Mecklejohn and Black Mountain, to Hampshire and Santa Cruz, to the Paracollege at St. Olaf's or Fairhaven at Western Washington, is a line, now underground, now dramatically visible, that has sustained humanistic -- and humane -- education in our country.
What does the History mean by an educational community? And what really makes it ``deserve to be shared with those interested in American education?'' Clearly, the authors do not mean the simple geographical proximity of the learners to one another, for that has been tried far and wide, and the Johnston story has much more interesting about it than simply proximity. They are speaking of an attitude; The attitude is the attitude of the students and the faculty, an attitude of ``academic commitment which arose directly from shared enthusiasm among faculty and students for the intellectual enterprise they designed together. Both were committed, without snobbery or defensiveness, to developing the best in one another.''
They are speaking of a new kind of learning relationship -- the kind we called ``prefigurative'' in our summary of classes -- based not on power and production/consumption but on mutual discovery. They are speaking about that same kind of learning and egalitarianism in their living environment.
I asked a number of seniors involved in the Johnston Community what it is that is most special about Johnston. For each, the answer was the people and the social learning community they were able to create together.
Much of that community remains, and its struggles and triumphs are similar to those that it has been having for 25 years. Yet still something is noticeably missing from Johnston, something that was there for its first six years. Indeed, much of what combatted the apathy and listlessness present in many student and faculty minds was the ongoing creation of new programs within the college. Once the Community ossified in the mid-seventies (in large part due to external financial and political pressures from the University), it was inevitable that the experience became less interesting and rewarding to faculty, and, as Owada suggests, that feeling is all-too-easily transmitted to students.[SEE FOOTNOTE]
Johnston faculty have a great deal of trust in the students, and faith in the future of the college. They continue to sponsor student-run classes, including the January-term ``experiments in education workshop'' which I was invited to participate in. One evening, Johnston Director Owada invited me (a guest studying the Center), a freshman, a recent graduate, a senior in her last week or school, a junior, and a recent graduate out to dinner. That dinner became a mission brainstorm session, a policy meeting, a storytelling session, and a preparation for a presentation the next week. That presentation was a half-hour lunch talk to University staff about Johnston.
Since I left Johnston in January (during the time I have been writing this report), Johnston has continued to reinvent itself. Owada has set up a meeting for a Johnston alum and student to meet with the new Dean of Faculty of the University, Glotzbach, to discuss the future of the Johnston-University relationship. Three ideas are coming together for the fall of 1995: ``lump-sum'' semesters -- an experimental idea to create a more flexible structure than classes; reorganizing some residential staff positions; reinvigorating community service in a new form.
It is this community, working together to create itself, that is the essence of what I think Johnston has to share with Higher education and the world. The way the specific relationships are played out within the attitude of mutual creation will be determined by the members of a particular learning community. Johnston's success lies in one of many routes to a true living-learning community, and sharing in its successes means not adopting the structures as much as the attitudes.