Community is alive, well and as nosy as ever

11th February 2011 at 00:00

"A community grieves" is a phrase usually associated with a tragic story in the news. It is also tragic that grieving seems to be the only thing "a community" is allowed to do collectively. We rarely hear the phrase "a community rejoices", and never "a community giggles".

If a lot of newspapers are to be believed, parents are fearful to let their kids play in the streets because of all the asylum-seeking paedophiles; the elderly are in fear of everything; neighbours actively avoid contact with each other - except occasionally to set fire to each other's fences; and the concept of the friendly local bobby is as laughably quaint as The Famous Five.

Whether one believes this depressing view or not, what people either forget or don't know is there remains a very powerful form of community in the UK: schools. Schools are micro-worlds in which everyone has a meaningful part. The school community operates as a hierarchy, where the teachers are - rightly - in charge, but the students are just as important.

What is interesting is how much pride students take in their school community. When a slight is committed against the community by a student, the guilty party is usually rumbled, not because teachers have a sixth sense (shhhh!) or kids are snitches, but because the internal school justice system seems to work. Petty crime in the outside world seems to leave the police scratching their heads. But in schools, wannabe pyromaniacs, Banksys and thieves tend to last as long as supply teachers with nervous dispositions.

Class forms tend to be rather family like. They argue, but are usually very close and look out for each other. I know of a teacher whose form constructed an entire fake census of everyone's dimensions, just so they could get her shoe size to buy her a pair of boots as a gift.

When asked to raise money for their community, or another's, students rise admirably to the challenge. Charities are making a mistake hiring graduates. If they were to enlist some Year 7 and 8 students they could have the Third World debt sorted in months.

Schools are hives of gossip and intense curiosity. Teachers are interested in their students' lives for professional reasons and students are usually intensely interested in the private lives of their teachers - usually because they find it hard to fathom we have them.

This scrutiny, though occasionally tedious, is born of care and sense of community, and unlike other areas of society it is very difficult for anyone to slip through the net. If a member of the community is sick, worried or in trouble, someone will always notice it.

Communities everywhere are grieving over something. But on Monday morning thousands of communities rumble to life again - learning, playing, shouting and laughing.

Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.

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