It Takes A Village to Educate a Child

Throughout the United States, local school districts are cutting back on teachers and curriculum while increasing class size.  With our current economy, it doesn’t appear that this trend will soon be reversed.

This grim prospect depends upon whether we have the novel belief that it takes a school to educate a child. Historically, the primary source of education was the knowledge and wisdom of the villagers. However, as the power of schooling grew, the neighborhood knowledge got devalued and unused. And so it is that local people often feel cornered as schooling recedes.

Supposing, on the other hand, that we looked again at the neighborhood knowledge. What would we find? 

In one African-American, working-class neighborhood in Chicago, they’re finding out what their neighbors believe they know well enough to teach the local young people. When they interviewed 19 adults living on 3 blocks, they found that they were prepared to teach 37 different topics. Here they are:


Mathematics | Black history | World history | Geography | Etiquette | Gardening

Cooking  | Painting | Parenting | How to have faith | Sheet metal work

Plumbing | Carpentry | Skating | Real estate/business | Reading comprehension

Sewing | Typing | Reading | Knitting | Computer technology | Real estate

Good neighboring | First aid | Self-esteem | Life styles for youth | Marketing

Strategic planning | Physical fitness | Basic accounting | Reading a credit report

Banking | Diction | Grammar | English | Public speaking | Journalism for beginners


It appears that 19 neighbors may be able to teach more topics than the local school. So it is clear that the neighborhood, like the village of old, has much of what is needed to educate the children when the school reduces its role.

The work ahead is to revive our neighborhood capacity to be responsible to, and for, our young people. The initial steps are simple. Find out what your neighbors are willing to teach. See which of these topics the local young people would like to learn. And then, make the connection.

Together, these new connections are the beginning of creating a village that raises a child, and a community that really cares about its young people.

If you would like to begin a neighborhood initiative like this, email me at [email protected]. I’ll send you a set of tools that have been used in neighborhoods to create a powerful community that uses its own talents to prepare its own children for the demands of the 21st century.

~ John ~

Home page photo: Wonderlane

About the Lead Author

John McKnight
John McKnight
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

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