Thursday, October 18, 2012
31 Days of Writing in Community- Day 11:The Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 3):"The Community Rule"
"The Community Rule" scroll, or 1QS, seen in the photo below, is the "sort of constitution" for the community at Qumran. In the beginning, researchers also nicknamed it "The Manual of Discipline". This guide-scroll laid out the rules for initiation, participation, discipline, and integration into the community. Scholars debate the possibility that it was a code used for a larger scope of communities (not just Qumran) but it really doesn't matter for this discussion. What's important for us is that there were guidelines. Whatever the source of our code of conduct, all communities have one. There are perameters under which we operate. (Photo & information courtesy of University of Saint Andrews School of Divinity: "The Damascus Document & Community Rule")
In a Community of Practice, the "maturing stage, key community issue is managing the boundaries of the community." Boundaries don't just protect and prevent. They actually facilitate purpose and practice. Rules, expectations, and values can serve as a types of boundaries. A lack of healthy boundaries can "distract a community from its core purpose." Qumran without its focus would have been just another desert hang out. People could have come and gone on a whim, worked or not, copied scrolls or counted sheep. And nothing would have happened. (Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder)
Community Rules empower each member to hold one another accountable. In my classroom, during Peer Editing Days for Research Papers, an astonishing thing happened. Everyone was peer editing, the room was drenched in the absorbed silence of work. Crashing into the silence came a booming voice. "THIS!" announced the sixth grader, offended and aghast, "IS.A.WASTE. OF MY PEER.EDITING.TIME.!" You see, for weeks, we had talked about cheating. How the hard work of someone else was worth not copying it. How everyone was going to bring their best work to peer editing. We had all agreed how angry we'd be if we poured hours of sweat and tears into a paper and some chump showed up with a cut-and -paste job. And here I was, witnessing our agreement, our boundaries, our values, and our practice at work. The paper was a classic (read: badly done) cut-and-paste. Seething from the classroom full of students who had worked (until midnight, revising, painstakingingly!) was righteous indignation. Why? Because the boundaries of our community had been violated- and they weren't having it.
Both rules and violations demonstrate practice and purpose in a community. The rules tell us the expectations we can have about a community. The violations demonstrate the level into which members have bought into the values of the community. For example, had the sixth graders reacted with a shrug or all come with their own lackadaisical efforts, it would be easy to see that there was a breakdown within the community. The rules, the relationships, and the thus the outcomes, would not match.
This match is imperative when finding a writing community. Don't settle for a community that doesn't care. Choose Community Rule that establishes purpose, practice, and product.