The first time I heard the phrase “community learning center,” my brain played one of those word-association tricks. Somewhere between the sound of the sequence of words and comprehension, it locked in on “community learning,” not the more usual and rational “learning center.” This led to a moment of puzzlement: What will the community be learning?
Idiosyncratic? Probably. But with time that initial word link has been like some sort of trace element, casting its own shade of meaning on the phrase. Hear about a school-related meeting where only a handful of people showed up, and the thought pops up: Where is the community in community learning?
Clearly, there is something appealing about sticking a “community” label on schools. In Ohio, the legislature chose to tag charter schools as “community” schools. Presumably, that was to convey the notion that the existing type of public school had come unglued from true community and become “government schools.” The idea of parents and local groups operating, with public money, schools that reflect their values certainly was a softer sell politically than making a pitch for, say, commercial takeover.
The beautiful new school buildings dotting Akron officially are called community learning centers — CLCs for short. In this instance, the label is primarily a legal cover. It reflects the ingenious agreement Mayor Don Plusquellic, the city and the school district devised to vault a financial hurdle in 2003. Akron raised the municipal income tax 0.25 percent, channelling the revenue stream into a matching fund to draw state funding for an $800 million program to rebuild the city schools. In the CLCs, “community” is a straightforward statement of rights: Shared funds equals leveraged city/neighborhood access to the facilities.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.