‘The Community’s College’ shows us new ways to connect

  • PURA

  • “The Community’s College”

For the Recorder
Published: 12/9/2022 6:28:29 PM
Modified: 12/9/2022 6:28:09 PM
“The Community’s College” by Robert L. Pura and Tara L. ParkerStylus Publishing, 204 pages, $35

Many of us take community colleges like the one in Greenfield for granted.

Over the years, I have known people who have taken on new skills, prepared for four-year college, trained for medical professions, embraced art and begun a lifetime of learning there.

I hadn’t thought much about Greenfield Community College’s mission in the overall community and nation, however, until I read “The Community’s College.”

The book is the brainchild of Robert Pura, who spent almost two decades as the president of GCC, from 2000 to 2017. I asked him by email what led him to conceive of the book.

“The community college movement has long attracted faculty and staff who felt passionately about social/economic justice and mobility through education. I truly feel that as go community colleges, so goes America and our grand experiment in democracy,” he replied.

“I felt it was imperative, especially in this moment in our nation’s history, that I tell their stories.”

The American Association of Colleges and Universities took on the project with Stylus Publishing, and Pura soon found a co-author.

He was recruited by the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston to contribute to its mission to bolster community-college leadership and opportunities.

There he met Tara Parker. Now the dean of that college, she specializes academically in studying “race, equity, and success in higher education,” according to UMass’ website. Pura said he was excited that she wanted to collaborate with him.

“I knew it would be a better book because of her voice, life experiences, and her scholarship. Together we believed that the personal narrative and storytelling of a practitioner coupled with the informed reflections and scholarship of a researcher would be a powerful teaching and learning tool,” he told me.

“The book is meant to be a conversation between the two and with the reader.”

After a general outline of the authors’ belief in the vital role of community colleges, a section draws on Pura’s experiences at GCC to discuss the importance of community building and leadership in these colleges.

The book moves on to describe several community colleges Pura visited to see how these institutions fit into and build on a variety of communities, from rural areas to large cities and from inner cities to Native American lands.

At the end of each narrative by Pura, Parker provides extensive commentary.

The chapters all end with discussion questions.

I asked Pura about the intended audience for the book.

“We set out to write this book for graduate students who aspire to become leaders in community colleges. In conversation with our publishers, it became clear that it is also a book for policy makers and current community college leaders,” he told me.

Some of the philosophical underpinnings may be a little abstruse for the average reader, but overall the book should intrigue anyone with a passion for education and social justice.

The stories of the individual schools profiled are particularly striking and moving. All across this country, Pura and Parker show us, teachers and students are finding new ways to connect with each other and with their neighbors.

One passionate teacher at a Navajo-nation community college in Arizona told Pura, “I am not an educator. I am a community developer and I do that work through education.”

The book is grounded in the work of John Dewey (1859-1952), my humanist father’s favorite philosopher. Following Dewey, the authors write, “We believe that there is an inexorable link between education, community, and democracy.”

Bob Pura and Tara Parker will read from and discuss “The Community’s College” on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m. at The Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St. in Northampton. The public is invited to this free event.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her latest book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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