An emphasis on community is also imortant when attempting to borrow successful educational practices from other countries. For example, Japanese teachers spend considerable time working with the whole class, and they frequently ask students who have made errors to share their thinking with the rest of the class. This can be very valuable because it leads to discussions that deepen the understanding of everyone in the class. However, this practice works only because Japanese teachers have developed a classroom culture in which students are skilled at learning from one another and respect the fact that an analysis of errors is fruitful for learning (Hatano and Inagaki, 1996). Japanese students value listening, so they learn from large class discussions even if they do not have many chances to participate. The culture of American classrooms is often very different—many emphasize the importance of being right and contributing by talking. Teaching and learning must be viewed from the perspective of the overall culture of the society and its relationship to the norms of the classrooms. To simply attempt to import one or two Japanese teaching techniques into American classrooms may not produce the desired results.
The sense of community in a school also appears to be strongly affected by the adults who work in that environment. As Barth (1988) states:
The relationship among adults who live in a school has more to do with the character and quality of the school and with the accomplishments of the students than any other factor.
Studies by Bray (1998) and Talbert and McLaughlin (1993) emphasize the importance of teacher learning communities. We say more about this in Chapter 8.
An analysis of learning environments from the perspective of community also includes a concern for connections between the school environment and the broader community, including homes, community centers, after-school programs, and businesses. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 showed that learning takes time; ideally, what is learned in school can be connected to out-of-school learning and vice versa. Often, however, this ideal is not reached. As John Dewey (1916) noted long ago:
From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experience he gets outside…while on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of the school—its isolation from life.
The importance of connecting the school with outside learning activities can be appreciated by considering Figure 6.3, which shows the percentage of time during a typical school year that students spend in school, sleeping,