Let’s stop and ask ourselves what we mean when we use these terms. The words development and education have chequered and sometimes contradictory meanings or interpretations. What’s more, those contradictory interpretations have significant implications for our work.
Community development is a field awash with definitions. Just about every text on the subject that I have read begins with a definition. Sometimes three definitions: one for community, one for development and a combined definition for community development. It is the word development that I wish to focus on in this post.
The common usage understanding of the term development would suggest that development begins with a situation of want, neglect or waste. The purpose of development is then to add something in order to improve or correct the situation.
I’ll come back to the language and ideas of development in a moment. First though, I want to take a trip into the use of the term education. Community education is often employed alongside community development.
Ask people what they mean by the word educate. Mostly you’ll get answers of: instilling knowledge, teaching skills, passing on the culture or similar.
Again, the idea of adding to, improving upon. Indeed, if we think of educating young people we can get an image of a young person’s head with ideas, skills, knowledge and formulae being crammed into it.
So, both development and education have this common usage concept of adding to and/or improving upon at the base of their meanings. There’s nothing wrong with adding to or improving upon. But, we might want to beware that thinking of these terms strictly in this way can blind us to their truly liberating possibilities.
ROOTS OF DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION
Its ironic to consider that the word develop has itself developed over time in the sense that it has changed, adapted and taken on a somewhat different meaning.
Etymology is the study of the derivation of words. Where do they come from,what has been their meaning? Almost like a word family tree. Develop has derived from the French word développer, itself emerging from an Old French word of the 12th Century – voloper and the prefix – des. Voloper meant “to wrap up” and des is a prefix expressing the opposite. Think of the English prefixes de and dis. Thus, we get des-voloper – to unwrap, unfold.
The English word envelope has the same etymology. Think of what we do when we envelope something? What would de-envelope mean?
So, development could be thought of as a process of unwrapping, unfolding, or “bringing out latent possibilities”.
Educate too, has an interesting etymology, this time from Latin. The term comes from the words e (meaning “out”, “from” or “from within”) and ducere (meaning “to lead” or “to draw”). Thus: e-ducere: to draw out.
Hence, if we consider the etymological roots of these two terms, develop and educate, we find concepts that almost suggest the opposite to those in common usage.
With develop, rather than adding to, there is the idea of stripping away, unfolding.
With educate, rather than cramming in, there is the idea of drawing out.
|Photo credit: Brian Metcalfe, flickr.com|
And that is where I think that we can sometimes blind ourselves to empowering and liberating possibilities. If we don’t think about the words we use and our meanings of them, if we blindly accept common usage, then our thoughts can lead our actions into doing something the very opposite of what we wish to do: to empower.
If we begin from an understanding that development or education are about adding on and cramming in then we easily slip into an expert role whereby we know what’s best and we can plan for the development of a community or the education of people.
If, however, we think of development and education as unwrapping, unfolding, drawing out and leading out then we end up in a decidedly different relationship with those we are working with. We end up as co-facilitators on journeys of discovery. We end up as sometimes teacher/sometimes learner. We begin to ask: “who is the expert here?” It just may not be us!