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Community work in capitalist society; IMPOSSIBLE!

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First of all, what is a Community Work? Through this article I would like to try to create a greater understanding of the term ‘community work’. I will follow this by an explanation of the various approaches which can be used in community work, both in socialist and capitalist societies. I will highlight the importance the community and voluntary sector have in social partnership in South Africa today.

I will also discuss how funding, or a lack of it, impacts on essential services. Whether or not volunteers are an essential part of community work. I will also debate the possible consequence of losing some of these organisations as a result of cuts in funding. Finally by looking at the work of community platform in democracies; socialist and capitalist democracies, through a shared vision they hope to create a better South Africa through their work in the community.

To understand what community work is, it is first necessary to understand the various definitions of community. While this may seem apparent initially, upon closer inspection one will discover that there is no clear consensus. What we do know is that as Hillery, a sociologist working in the 1950s pointed out, all 94 definitions of community referred to people (Mayo 1994). Varley (1988) defines these more concisely into three categories. 1. Communities defined in purely special or geographical term. 2. Communities defined as relationships that occur within a specific locality. 3. Communities defined as relationships which may occur within or transcend conventional geographical boundaries.

But in all these different explanations of what the community, we find community workers.  Working within these categories community workers seek to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the resources, opportunities and skills they need to effect change in their own communities, through the followings; 1.Community action, 2. Community development programmes, 3. Social Planning,  4. Community Organisation, and 5. Community Care.

Community Action: this requires people from a community to come together, recognising the problems that their community faces and taking action to reduce these problems. This approach can have a range of benefits. It helps those individuals involved to develop skills and claim ownership of the outcome. An example of this is when residents come together to campaign for speed bumps or lower speed limits in the area.

Community Development: this requires people coming together to develop a range of practices to help improve local conditions, especially for people in disadvantaged situations. It helps people to participate in public decision making and thus achieve greater control of their circumstances through a coordinated programme of action. An example of this is when residents turn an area that was once used for anti-social behaviour into a playground for children. This creates a safer environment for local people.

Social Planning: this is a process that is carried out through identifying strengths and weaknesses in a community. This is done by designing and implementing programmes, which help to improve the quality of life in that community. It usually involves the action of a political, legal, or recognized voluntary body. An example of this is when an area is identified as having a very large increase in children. This information is acted on and a new school is built in the area.

Community Organisation: involves various community or welfare agencies working with or without the involvement of statutory authorities, supporting joint initiatives. An example of this is when organisations connect through managing, sponsoring and improving the work of various bodies. This may be carried out at a local, regional or national level.

Community Care: primarily focuses on the area of healthcare for the disabled, the elderly and the very young. It is a model that encourages members of the community to be active participants in helping themselves. In some cases community care may use professionals in conjunction with volunteers.

But in all these facts above, if the education system in society is structured to such extend that it cannot prepare people to become an organised community, nothing would be done in community work. You need to prepare these people first to lay a foundation to enable them to become a community, so you need a relevant kind of education. What kind of education do we need?

Community education, also known as Community-based education or Community learning & development refers to an organization’s programs to promote learning and social development work with individuals and groups in their communities using a range of formal and informal methods. A common defining feature is that programmes and activities are developed in dialogue with communities and participants. The purpose of community learning and development is to develop the capacity of individuals and groups of all ages through their actions, the capacity of communities, to improve their quality of life. Central to this is their ability to participate in democratic processes.

Community education encompasses all those occupations and approaches that are concerned with running education and development programmes within local communities, rather than within educational institutions such as schools, colleges and universities. The latter is known as the formal education system, whereas community education is sometimes called informal education. It has long been critical of aspects of the formal education system for failing large sections of the population in all countries and had a particular concern for taking learning and development opportunities out to socio-economically disadvantaged individuals and poorer areas, although it can be provided more broadly.

There are a numerous of job titles and employers include public authorities and voluntary or non-governmental organisations, funded by the state and by independent grant making bodies. Schools, colleges and universities may also support community learning and development through outreach work within communities. The community schools movement has been a strong proponent of this since the nineteen sixties. Some universities and colleges have run outreach adult education programmes within local communities for decades. Since the nineteen seventies the prefix word ‘community’ has also been adopted by several other occupations from youth workers and health workers to planners and architects, who work with more disadvantaged groups and communities and have been influenced by community education and community development approaches.

Community educators have over many years developed a range of skills and approaches for working within local communities and in particular with disadvantaged people. These include less formal educational methods, community organising and group work skills. Since the nineteen sixties and seventies through the various anti poverty programmes in both developed and developing countries, practitioners have been influenced by structural analyses as to the causes of disadvantage and poverty i.e. inequalities in the distribution of wealth, income, land etc. and especially political power and the need to mobilise people power to effect social change.

In South Africa during the liberation movement, the South African Communist Party organised massive afternoon lessons to communities to teach them about basic skills and literacy. The campaign was also used as political consciousness to illiterate people who had no idea of the apartheid oppression in South Africa. The basis of this campaign was nothing but to enlighten the people and improve their living conditions – first by making them aware and second by initiating them to take their own steps towards improvements.

These worked wonders as thousands of rural and semi-urban areas in South Africa started to be active in politics, to enroll in formal schools and become active citizens, from 1960s up until 1990s. The SACP conducted this campaign to educate the people on a socialist perspective, not on a capitalist perspective. If the SACP could have had conducted the community education on a capitalist perspective the education could not have had the people on the streets fighting apartheid oppression. This is simply that capitalist education teaches people self-centeredness rather than community patriotism. People are grow individualistic than a united, their learn competition instead of cooperation.

In consumer-capitalist society ‘education’ has little to do with Education.  In capitalist perspective of education the purpose is nothing but turn workers into productive forces for profits. This perspective holds that, currently, schools and universities: 

  • Train workers, very well. They develop the skills and more importantly the dispositions required to staff the industrial machine with obedient, diligent and skilled workers who will accept hierarchy and authority turn up on time, work hard and do what they are told, consume, and not expect to have control over their situation.
  • Legitimise social position and inequality. Those who fail at school learn that they d not have brains and therefor do not deserve good jobs and life chances. These helps make inequality in society seem inevitable and legitimate.
  • Turn out competitors; people who believe in and love competition, and therefor accept winner-takes-all society; see themselves as deserving their heart hard-earned privileges, and see losers as deserving their fate; focus on advancing their own welfare without much interest in the public good or collectivism and who see as legitimate a system which allows the super-rich to thrive.
  • Help to produce enthusiastic consumers, people who are keen to get ahead, succeed and get rich, who identify modernity and progress with affluence and see Western ways as the goal for the Third World, and who accept the market system and think technical wizardry will solve all problems. Just as they have passively consumed the activities, work and decisions presented by their teachers, so they passively consume the products, services and decisions presented to them by government, corporations, and professionals.
  • Produce masses of political passive, compliant, docile, uncritical citizens, largely by devoting almost none of the standard 15+ years of education to serious examination of their society’s fundamental faults. After that much schooling in intensively authoritarian conditions it is so surprise that they leave functioning of their society to leaders and exports, show no inclination to take control over their collective fate, and do not question let alone protest the social injustices that their rich-world comfort inflicts on the rest of the world. They are well disposed to staff hierarchical organisations and do what heir superiors tell them, to think in power terms, to strive to rise and then boss inferiors around.

There are not the only outcomes of schooling and they are not effects but they are outcomes of the ‘hidden curriculum’ to which radical education theorists have pointed. This kind of education, their institutions and the way it is pushed into the society is very dangerous to the livelihood of the society and its future prospects.

Communities need to prepare their own in terms of community knowledge, relations and mobility. Community education is very key; in the perspective of a socialism or communalism. In socialist society where the government provides for the majority of the people, and not the other small elite group communities feel compelled to work as a group for communal benefits. In capitalist society where the government provides solely for the tiny of elite group (less than 1%) the majority of the people (99%) are left to fend for themselves in divided social groups such as race, religion, tribal, privilege, gender and so on. It is impossible to mobile people in this kind of the society for community work.

No goal of education is more important than to foster a strong fundamental desire to do this, to understand, make sense of, question, think about, interpret and find out more. The supreme goal of education is therefore not intellectual; it is effective. It is to develop an intense and lasting intellectual curiosity which will motivate a ceaseless quest to understand the world, oneself, one’s society – more adequately. There is therefor no such thing as an educated person, as if the task could ever be completed, let alone by graduation day. The goal is a personality that derives deep intrinsic satisfaction from continually increasing the capacity to make sense of the world.