reforesting the commons

ForestImage via WikipediaI was reading an article by Raj Patel in Utne about the commons. Patel is the author of the excellent book, The Value of Nothing, a very good book in which he said this BTW:

"Primary education is considered so valuable for society and for the future benefit of the children involved, that it is mandatory."

That is the thinking and it starts with societies requiring attendance for, maybe, the primary years only.  But it gets extended once a society puts this bureaucracy in place and that bureaucracy becomes quite entrenched.  Allowing the nation-state to override families and control children may stop child labor initially and guarantee quick compliance with economic improvement schemes but it then turns into child labor in schools especially in very large nation-states who cannot easily maintain cohesive schools systems due to sheer size and population issues.

Charter of the Forest
Patel is a talented writer and he discusses in his article a bit of history and background on the idea of the commons.  He writes about this bit of history I found fascinating:
To understand the commons today, it’s worth starting in feudal England—the birthplace of modern capitalism—by looking at the Magna Carta’s twin charter, the Charter of the Forest. Now largely forgotten, the Charter of the Forest guaranteed the right of commoners to access pasture for their animals, to till land, to collect wood, harvest honey, use medicinal plants, forage, and so on. Historian Peter Linebaugh observes in The Magna Carta Manifesto that a commons right guaranteed freedoms in perpetuity over local resources for everyone. This did not mean that everyone could take as much as he or she wanted. To have a commons isn’t to license a free-for-all, as Hardin suggests, and it is not what happened historically. The precise shape of commoning was negotiated in a particular place and time, dependent on the ecology and the community. Common rights evolved over time, shaped by the relative power of those around the table as well as the changing geography of the physical commons itself. The commons was, in other words, both a place and a process of freedom in which people fought for the right to shape the terms on which they could share the commons.
Read more: http://www.utne.com/Politics/Commons-Reclaiming-Shared-Resources-Raj-Patel.aspx?page=2#ixzz1GyisPDMu

The Charter of the Forest.  Amazing thing, that.  It is clear that the forest at that time was a part of the social safety net that could not be stripped away without causing so much system stress that citizens found it intolerable.  The people had a right to access the forest.

Is there a commons today? Today the commons might include physical spaces, called schools, and access to learning services and the Internet.

Physical School Buildings Could Play a Big Role Greening Our Communities  
Closing local schools, as is happening all across the US, rightly angers people. Even though charter companies open other schools elsewhere, people are angry about this manipulation and transfer.  The US invested mightily in the physical infrastructure of schools and seeing the wasteful mis-management of that physical infrastructure often adjacent to every neighborhood is frightening and sad.  These physical buildings are valuable to the communities they are located in in many ways especially if we want to move toward sustainable communities.

Empowering corporations to sell off assets and move the schools elsewhere defeats a longer term strategy of having walkable facilities in every neighborhood that families can use.  These neighborhood schools should remain vital centers for communities.  As we seek to lessen our carbon footprints, having physical resources nearby is a big plus for people,  Physical structures could facilitate far more than classes:  they are natural sites for gardens, common workplaces and small business incubators, and recreation and fairs and markets.

Abandoning these physical sites may help the bottom line of a big corporation and help generate test scores that fill a spreadsheet in another corporation.  But it is a blow to the communities that surround these buildings.  Many communities paid taxes for many long years and the investment in facilities is not something a tiny school board of five people should be able to throw over.  Perhaps Detroit can tear down entire areas and re-green but most places cannot afford a plan like that nor would they want to. But allowing these facilities to be shuttered and sold is not in the long-term interests of communities. These buildings could provide space for rebuilding some of the lost social capital that sustains us.

We Need a Forest of Social Networks 
I think in the 21st century, the idea of the commons should include access to learning services and learning centers for families.  Mass compulsory attendance and schooling where children are ranked and graded is an undemocratic and harmful process that is unnecessary for most communities. But access to learning centers where people can share and access services outside the home offer the additional strength of helping people build new social networks. If we can alter the negative socialization practices of mass coerced schooling (to non-hierarchical social networks), we have the possibility of creating chances for positive social networks if families can work together by choice with control of their interactions.

The command and control format of mass coerced schooling doesn't really allow for much social networking or change. In spite of what passes for socialization in most schools, homeschoolers know how negatively our children are socialized in large scale peer structures now that we are not all on farms or small towns.  Changing schools could mean developing more positive social experiences for not only children but entire communities. And the physical structures could be valuable in many ways.

There is no place where people can meet and connect socially in modern isolated, road-dependent communities.  Franchises, corporations, and large institutions dominate and we have no social vitality or networks that would sustain changes on the scale we need.  Like the microorganisms in the soil which are foundational to health, so our underlying social networks must be strengthened and grown strong to sustain stable and healthy communities in the face of change. But other than public libraries, there is no common space for social activities except for community centers that vary greatly in distribution and quality.  The internet can provide communication but at some point, we will need spaces.

Our physical schools could be important places to nurture and create social networks and this is critical if we are to move toward green, local economies.  That means people have to work together somehow and somewhere.  This access to the physical spaces already present in most neighborhoods, could help grow wider, denser, more multi-nodal social networks  and begin to replace the lost social capital of many communities.And that should enable a lot of small scale sharing and conservation to occur as we rebuild the social networks,  like soil structure, at the smallest level.  These networks would enable communities to cope with climate change as well as social change.

Transforming schools from factories to community centers that offer learning services to families could provide that start.



via Daily Finance
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